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Update #17: News from Negotiations

In this post you’ll find a bullet-point breakdown of the good and bad news from our most recent bargaining session, then a summary of the day, and detailed info on TSSU proposals.

The News is Bad, the News is Good: 

TSSU’s Contract Committee reporting! In this post you’ll find a bullet-point breakdown of the good and bad news from our most recent bargaining session, then a summary of the day, and detailed info on TSSU proposals. First, though, help spread the word: we’ve secured MSP for International Students! Thanks to our members’ tireless efforts and faculty and community support, we’ve pushed SFU Administration back to fulfilling their promises. Thanks to everyone who helped to protect our health!

Here’s a quick summary of the subset of issues we discussed on January 27, and what TSSU is asking on these issues:

  1. Codify *Academic Freedom* for all TSSU members; 
  2. Guarantee *four (4) days paid time off* around thesis defense and time off for degree-qualifying exams;
  3. Build a stable workplace for Graduate Facilitators and protect their autonomy;
  4. Share the *data* about our work and our members that SFU Administration collects;
  5. Provide space at *all* SFU campuses for us to share with other Unions and employee groups;
  6. Post all jobs on a regular schedule, and include an estimated workload so we can plan our lives and a system for notifying our members when work is available;
  7. Create a separation student evaluations and hiring decisions, and only use student evaluation as a feedback for teachers to use to improve our teaching;

After 9 months of negotiations, SFU Administration has finally offered serious responses on these key issues, but the news isn’t all good.  On Monday, 27 January 2020, we received counter-proposals. SFU Administration’s responses would, if accepted:

  1. Codify Academic Freedom for Sessionals and ELC/ITP instructors;
  2. Guarantee *two (2) days* off work for thesis defense and time off for qualifying exams, if authorized by department chairs; and
  3. Provide some of the data about our work, and “endeavor” to provide us offices.

This isn’t all we want, but it’s movement toward agreement on these issues. However, the good moves were tempered by other offers, ones which are not so nice:

  1. Exclude TAs, GFs, and TMs from Academic Freedom protections;
  2. Make GF work in the Student Learning Commons more precarious;
  3. Reduce the priority of GFs who take time off for their studies;
  4. Continue posting jobs without workload estimates;
  5. Do not notify out-of-work GFs when there are new jobs;
  6. Keep the timesheet model for some GF Pay, rather than a salary model (like all other teaching positions at the University); 
  7. No regular date for Sessional Instructor postings;
  8. Use student evaluations to gauge employee performance (but not alone).

Other updates: SFU Administration has yet to withdraw their proposal to gut Sessional Instructor job security, and we have yet to discuss pay and benefits.

Brief Summary of the Day:

The day began with the Union presenting the fourth position for the article on Graduate Facilitators. While there has been some progress on attaining rights for Graduate Facilitators, SFU Administration is still insisting that GFs are to be paid hourly with timesheets rather than through a salary system (as all other teaching staff at SFU are paid). SFU Administration agreed to consider our proposal and reply, so part of their committee spent the rest of the day in caucus to work on a response. 

Next, we presented a revised position on Teaching Assistants and Tutor Markers, which proposes a merger of the two job categories while moving closer to SFU Administration’s position on a few issues. The Union is waiting for a detailed response from SFU Administration; they were planning to offer a counter-proposal Monday, but have delayed it until they consider our revised offer. If you’re a TA or TM, you’ll want to watch the next session.

Details

The bad news comes first, in four parts:

1) SFU Administration doesn’t want TAs, GFs, or TMs to have Academic Freedom protection in our Collective Agreement, and they’re doing it by defining “academic staff” as Sessional Instructors and ELC/ITP instructors *only*. In effect, this would put a large portion of our membership in a more precarious position in their classrooms because it doesn’t provide protection through the Collective Agreement. We need to stand together and oppose this attempt to divide our union: all TSSU members deserve to have Academic Freedom — the basis for members of the University community to examine, question, and criticize society and the University — protected in the Collective Agreement. Interpreting “academic staff” to exclude hundreds of teachers from this protection shows SFU Administration’s attitude toward teaching and teachers: we’re a class below academics.

2) There’s an offer on the table for Graduate Facilitators, and while it lines up with member goals in some ways, SFU Administration’s proposal leaves GFs without job security and would pay them by request via timesheets, rather than a regular salary (something other teachers at SFU don’t have to do). Their proposal ties keeping your job to evaluation of your performance as a GF, but doesn’t define exactly what criteria can be used to measure your performance. We’ve seen how these systems can be abused to target specific workers. The icing on this particular cake is that if a GF takes time off work for their studies, there’s no guarantee they’ll have a job when they return. 

3) Administration rejected our proposals for a common posting date and more notice for Sessional Instructor jobs. Negotiations continue.

4) SFU Administration continues to maintain the current situation with regards to student evaluations. This is despite quoting the findings of a recent arbitration decision in Ontario that specifically outlines the problems with practices which are similar to practices at SFU.

But there’s good news, too. In Academic Decisions (Article 12), TSSU’s proposal for four (4) days off around thesis defense and time off before a “degree-qualifying exam” would be a new right for student-workers in our CA. SFU Administration countered with two (2) days for thesis defense and each day off for qualifying exams, but only if the Chair approves. We hope this will help members align their work and studies, and their counter-proposal is a show of progress towards a new collective agreement. They have, however, included a “no cost” clause, which means other TAs will probably end up substituting on these days. The other piece of good news comes from SFU Administration’s attitude toward TSSU; they’ve offered to “endeavour” to keep TSSU on Burnaby, Vancouver, and Surrey campuses by providing office space, but no promises. And they’re not going to give us much notice before eviction. If we take this deal, we might need to organize a union moving party on short notice, so start saving boxes.

Our members’ demonstration of their resolve through the MSP campaign and RA organizing drive have begun to move Admin at the bargaining table. To help keep up the pressure and get the contract we need, come to a union meeting, get involved with the Membership Mobilization Committee, or have us visit your club, group, caucus, or department. We’re reachable via tssu@tssu.ca or in the office(s)!

In solidarity,

Contract Committee

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