A strike the way workers put pressure on an Employer to meet their bargaining demands by refusing to do some, or all, of the work upon which the Employer relies. A strike can include various forms of “job actions” such as a cessation of work, a concerted refusal to work or to continue to work, a slowdown, or other concerted activity. What is key is that it is a collectively decided action and that it is designed to put pressure on the Employer.
Teaching Assistants (including Education Mentors), Tutor Markers, Sessional Instructors, ELC/ITP/ITA Instructors, Graduate Facilitators are involved in the strike. Research Assistants and Grant Employees are currently not on strike but must adhere to the TSSU Strike Policy. If picket lines are set up, all TSSU members including Research Assistants must respect the picket lines.
TSSU members perform the majority of teaching work at SFU. Still, the Employer refuses to meaningfully discuss key problems such as increasing class sizes, overwork, the rising cost of living and housing, pensions and benefits for long-service employees. Not only will SFU not address our demands, but they’re also insisting on making massive cuts to the Collective Agreement, including cutting seniority and promotion rights for sessional instructors, ISHF protections for over half of our members, and the scholarship portion of wages for graduate student TAs (to be replaced with wages).
On May 23 and 24 2023, our membership voted to go on strike and tell the Employer that we won’t just accept their cuts and lack of movement towards our demands at the negotiating table. We need to secure an updated, complete contract and aren’t going to wait years and years for it while the cost of living continues to skyrocket.
TSSU/SFU Collective Agreement expired on April 30, 2022. We’ve had over 35 bargaining sessions. At these sessions, TSSU has time and again put forward proposals to address our members’ needs, and the response from the Employer has been to say No outright, to keep delaying, or to claim improvements would have to be offset with monetary concessions. They have approached the process with stalling tactics and a general refusal to consider our proposals. Unfortunately, we realized that without an increased level of pressure to show that we are serious, our attempts to negotiate wouldn’t go anywhere.
You can support the strike by participating in strike actions. Stay informed about the escalating strike actions as they unfolds and do what you can in your department to encourage other members’ participation. Come out to our general meetings, join a committee. Get the latest update on actions by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter/ Instagram.
Job action involves many escalating ‘actions’, up to and including a work stoppage, undertaken by the union membership. The ‘actions’ are usually designed to put maximum pressure on the employer, and limit, as much as possible, the impact on our members and the public. The TSSU will begin with actions that have a lesser impact on the Faculty, and students of SFU (the public), and progress towards actions that put maximum pressure on our Employer: SFU Senior Administration to meet our demands.
Strike action works when we act as a collective. The more members participating in an action adds up to a greater impact and a louder voice. Our strength as a union comes when we act together in solidarity. Remember that the objective is for job action to do its work in the earlier, less intense stages so that it doesn’t need to escalate into a full-scale work stoppage.
In recent months, academic worker unions have gone on strike and won the same kinds of raises and benefits that we are seeking:
- Temple University graduate workers won a 30 % increase in pay from $20,700 to $27,000 by the end of the contract
- McMaster University TAs and RAs won increases up to 21.7 % through the life of the contract
- University of California academic workers won raises up to 66 % in December 2022, average annual graduate student salary increased from 24,000 to $54,000
Collective job action works by showing the employer that the union members are invested in getting a fair contract and unified in their support of the union’s proposals. The biggest consequence of not participating in strike action is that it undermines this display of solidarity, which means that your fellow members’ efforts are more likely to be in vain. On the other hand, the better the participation in early job action, the more likely we are to get an agreement without having to escalate to a picket. If strike action is not successful, we will be forced to accept the employer’s proposed concessions. Also, if you continue to do work that has been “struck” you could be subject to fines. In the case of a full or partial work stoppage, any money you earn in salary by doing struck work would be forfeited.
In accordance with the SFU Strike Policy (GP 5), your supervisor may not impose, nor threaten to impose, any type of sanction (academic or otherwise) as a result of legal behaviour during job action. Furthermore, you cannot be required to cross a picket line. Should such a situation arise, you should contact your departmental steward or the TSSU office without delay.
Attempts by supervisors to influence, intimidate or coerce members into not attending TSSU meetings or information sessions are contrary to the Labour Relations Code. The union may bring these illegal actions to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
Finally, sessional instructors who supervise teaching assistants are reminded that they are expected to abide by all decisions taken by the membership in accordance with TSSU Bylaws.
No. The law protects union members’ right to participate in collective job action. This includes protecting them from dismissal or any disciplinary action by their employer, during or after job action.
It’s entirely legal for international student members to participate in a strike, perform strike duties, and/or show support for the Union during contract negotiations. Receiving strike pay and performing strike duties are allowable under your permit to attend SFU. A strike doesn’t change the fact that SFU is your Employer and the place where you are going to school.
During job action, you will not lose wages. As job action doesn’t involve a work stoppage,TAs, TMs, Graduate Facilitators, ELC/ITP/ITA, and Sessional Instructors will continue to work, and get paid. Since the TSSU needs active volunteers during job action, you actually could end up with more money during job action if you’re willing to volunteer your time towards a committee. The Membership Mobilization Committee is stipended and if you’re interested in joining you should contact email@example.com to find out the next meeting time.
If the job action escalates to a full work stoppage then the employer is unlikely to pay you for work you do not do. The decision to go to a full work stoppage will only be made with the approval of a full vote of the membership of the TSSU, as per the TSSU’s Strike Policy. In the event of a work stoppage, strike pay will be available for those who participate in the strike (including Research Assistants) through picketing or doing alternative duties assigned by the strike coordinating committee.
Strike pay is not meant to be a wage, rather it is meant to help offset the burden of a work stoppage on our members. The only time that strike pay is necessary is when we have put up picket lines and all work is stopped. For a member to obtain strike pay in this situation they must volunteer their time to participate in the picket line or other assigned duty. You can find details about strike pay in the strike policy.
Show your solidarity with your fellow teachers by speaking to your colleagues and students about the issues that have led to the strike. Support any TSSU members that you have contact with in their job actions. We have postcards that say “I support TSSU” that you can put on your door and we encourage you to visibly show your solidarity. Further, respect our Picket Lines and do not cross them. We have also drafted an outline of a letter you can address to Joy Johnson, SFU’s president. You can sign the letter here. You can find other ways to support the strike here.
What if I am an undergraduate student and I want to support you, but I’m not sure if my instructor will retaliate against me?
As per the SFU Senate Motion S00-12 approved in 2000, “the University respects the right of students or course instructors, as a matter of conscience, to refuse to cross a picket line in a labor dispute.” (see https://strike.tssu.ca/studentpicket). The same statement also specifies that it is the duty of the student to write to their instructor explaining that they do not wish to cross picket lines, but students must complete course requirements.
No. Strikes are effective because they are disruptive, and disruption inevitably causes short-term inconvenience. But the harm to students from our not striking may be far greater than short-term inconvenience. Many students are organizing already to support our contract demands because they know that our demands are for the good of our entire community. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We are fighting to end precarity among workers who teach them, which means that students will benefit. Pushing back against the corporate university and defending public education is an important teachable moment for our students. If you would like a student-facing powerpoint slide to add to your lectures please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Any work-to-rule action or work stoppage only affects members who are currently employed. Other forms of job action, particularly those that are designed to show solidarity, can be undertaken by all members regardless of their employment status. Emails indicating what form of job action will be initiated and when will be sent to all members. Keep in mind that the Strike Policy applies to all members, working or not. In particular, no member may perform struck work.
I have a contract this term. How do I stay up to date on the status of job action and find out what I’m supposed to be doing?
Regular emails will be sent to all members. These emails will detail what form of job action is to be done by each member group (TA, TM, GF, Education Mentors, Sessional Instructor or ELC/ITP/ITA Instructor). In addition, you can contact the TSSU office at any time (AQ 5129/5130, email@example.com, 778-782-4735) with any questions or concerns. You are also encouraged to attend General Membership Meetings each month, and weekly Strike Committee Meetings. Times and locations for these meetings will be available at tssu.ca soon; in the meantime, they are available by contacting the office. You are also encouraged to stay in contact with your department steward.
Decisions about what strike action to take, and when, are made by the Strike Committee. This committee is made up of six TSSU members, who are elected by the membership at a Special General Meeting following the Strike Vote of the entire membership held in March 2023.
All TSSU members are welcome to attend the Strike Committee and Greater Strike Committee meetings and are encouraged to participate in the discussion. Ultimately, after hearing input from everyone present, the decisions will be made by the Strike Committee members. Times and locations for these meetings will be available at tssu.ca soon; in the meantime, they are available by contacting the office (AQ 5129/5130, firstname.lastname@example.org, 778-782-4735).