RA Union Victories
Research Assistants (RAs) at SFU face a variety of challenges which a union can provide assistance with. RAs are presently included in at least ten Canadian university unions, usually alongside other academic workers like Teaching Assistants and Postdoctoral students. These unions have fought for everything from pay raises to intellectual property protection, bargaining collectively on behalf of their members with the school for improved conditions in many areas.
Carleton University – CUPE 4600
Carleton’s CUPE 4600 faced a dramatic situation in Fall 2018: without notice, the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs cut off benefits claims for TAs and RAs because the budget had been depleted. Advance notice of such a freeze was part of the collective agreement and was not given. By February 2019, the union had negotiated for an additional contribution by the school to the benefits plan and resumed the claim process.
For more on the sudden freeze of benefits claims and the union’s efforts to end it, see The Charlatan’s coverage and visit CUPE 4600’s website here.
Concordia University – TRAC
Teaching and Research Assistants of Concordia (TRAC) began as two Units, splitting TA and RA contracts. Merged in 2016, the 2018 collective agreement covered both positions, and as a five year deal, provides long-term stability and regularity for students.
Unions often run campaigns to educate workers about their rights under the law and regarding their particular collective agreement. You can check out some of TRAC’s employee awareness campaign here.
Lakehead University – CUPE 3905
Unions often administer bursaries and awards to support members and their work. CUPE 3905 awards 15 (sometimes more) $500 Professional Development Bursaries each year to assist with important expenses like conference and event travel, in addition to $1000 Graduate Awards.
You can read more about benefits like the Professional Development Bursary here.
McGill University – AMURE
The Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE) has negotiated for entry into a variety of university plans, including group life insurance, long-term disability, pensions, supplemental health and dental plans, and the short term disability policy. Though access to these plans is often based on the length and total wage of one’s salary, the union fought for wage increases even for casual research assistants, who are largely not eligible for benefits.
You can read more about the union’s fight for increased pay and better benefits here.
McMaster University – CUPE 3906
CUPE 3906 Unit 1, TAs/RAs, is presently in bargaining, operating from a set of priorities passed by membership in a vote before negotiations began. These include greater funding, more paid training, better representation of Indigenous members, expanded health and wellness support, and improved working conditions.
Negotiations with the administration show just how important the union’s ability to bargain collectively is: McMaster has repeatedly insisted on working as if the unpassed Bill 124 is law, which would limit yearly benefits and wage increases to 1%, and has tabled proposals to terminate the minimum length for contracts and end guaranteed TAship for graduate students. Without union representation, these policies could have been implemented without resistance.
Read about the process of ratifying the bargaining team’s priorities & check out the unions’ summaries of the first months of bargaining here.
Memorial University of Newfoundland – TAUMUN
Unions like the Teaching Assistants’ Union of Memorial University of Newfoundland (TAUMUN) often negotiate for and manage discretionary funds which they use to assist their members. Starting in 2019, Memorial University of Newfoundland pays $20,000 into both a travel and employee assistance fund operated by TAUMUN. This money allows the union to subsidize conference trips and other important travel, as well as support members in crisis situations or with unexpected needs.
Listen to several TAUMUN members describe what the union has done for them here.
University of Ottawa – CUPE 2626
CUPE 2626 recently secured paid training for all its members – approximately $200 per person for mandatory Health and Safety time. In the last round of bargaining, the administration sought to remove tuition increase limits, which the union was able to preserve at 1.5% a year. The union also went through extended arbitration to assert the membership rights of co-op and work study students, who were often working for a rate well below union employees. Ultimately CUPE 2626 was able to ensure fair pay, access to benefits and funds, and union representation for research workers of both types.
Read a summary of CUPE 2626’s bargaining priorities and results here.
Queen’s University – PSAC 901
RAs ratified their first collective agreement as part of PSAC 901 at Queen’s University in April 2019. Throughout the campaign for unionisation, the precariousness of research work was a recurring issue, and wage parity with TAs for RAs was ultimately achieved — $42.73/hr. Another major demand was for clarified and strengthened rules around RA’s intellectual property and recognition of their contribution to research, which was implemented in the first collective agreement.
You can read more about the first collective agreement for Queen’s RAs here.
Ryerson University – OPSEU 596
Ryerson’s recent collective agreement includes several important gains, including clarifying and strengthening policies related to harassment and bullying in addition to ensuring union representation and assistance during the grievance process.
You can read more about OPSEU’s gains in their 2018 collective agreement here, including extended health coverage, increased pay, and a variety of other benefits.