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Research Assistants are now members of the TSSU!

On November 15, 2019 SFU and TSSU signed a Memorandum of Agreement of Voluntary Recognition (“Agreement”) recognizing TSSU as the bargaining agent for research assistants (RAs) and grant employees.

This Agreement was the result of a successful organizing drive led by a grassroots team of organizers that resulted in the signing of over 924 membership cards out of approximately 1300-1500 workers. 

From November 2019 to May 2020, SFU violated every fundamental term of the agreement: they withheld necessary contact information of RA members from the Union, indefinitely postponed the recognition of any RAs at SFU as employees, and are attempting to radically limit the RA category, leaving out all scholarship, stipend, and work-study employees.

In response, the TSSU membership voted to pursue legal action against the University, and we filed for arbitration.

After two days of mediation with the Union, SFU was issued an order to relinquish a list of well-over 1,500 research assistants (RAs) to TSSU by June 23, 2020.

While we are satisfied with this outcome, this data should have been provided to the Union within 30 days of the signing of the November 15, 2019 Voluntary Recognition Agreement. 

The process of sorting through this list and determining eligibility will now finally begin as promised. RAs and others on the list should expect to be contacted by TSSU over the coming weeks. However, due to SFU’s questionable administrative practices, not everyone on the given list are or will be TSSU members.

It has been at great cost to RAs and their Union that it has taken over half a year for SFU Admin to honour their word. The University would have surely continued to drag its feet if we didn’t put up a fight. It is only because of our collective power as a union and as a movement that we have been able to secure the implementation of this first step outlined in the Voluntary Recognition Agreement signed last year. We thank the greater SFU and labour communities for their enduring support for RAs at the University.

Our work is not over. We expect the University to continue to treat RAs as second-class members of the SFU community. RAs must continue to fight for the recognition of their research as work – together, we can make sure all 1,500+ research assistants will be recognized as employees of the University and that bargaining commences as soon as possible. We will not stop until we’ve won the benefits and rights that all other SFU employees receive: health benefits, sick leave, MSP coverage, and more!

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What does the agreement say?

The Agreement outlines a process and a timeline to begin bargaining with three key promises: 

  • All persons who are RAs or grant employees are recognized as employees of SFU, either as “Included Persons” in TSSU’s bargaining unit, or as employees in another bargaining unit. (Clause 1)
  • SFU is required to meet with TSSU every 30 days and to bring a preliminary list of RAs and non-RAs to each meeting. (Clause 2)
  • Hard date of May 1, 2020 to begin collective bargaining with provision of finalized list to TSSU in advance. (Clause 4)

Explicitly included as an Appendix to the Agreement are RAs and grant employees who are paid as scholarship or stipend, undergraduate research award employees and work-study employees, University Research Assistants, and other similar workers. Postdoctoral fellows and University Research Associates are explicitly excluded.

Click here to see the full Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), otherwise known as ‘the Agreement’ 

How has SFU broken the agreement?

In the 6 months that have transpired since the agreement was signed, TSSU has not been provided with a single RA’s name. Bargaining has not commenced, nor could it commence due the failure of SFU to follow the agreement. Every fundamental element of the Agreement has been violated.

Going into mediation, SFU Administration continues to pursue a re-definition of RAs in violation of our mutual agreement. They are attempting to reduce those who are considered RAs and who are employees of the University to only those individuals who do laboratory work.

Not only is this in violation of our agreement; this would mean excluding a large portion of the RAs working in the humanities and social sciences and fundamentally undermining what they do as outside “research work”.

Detailed breakdown of agreement violations:

What this meansWhat happened
1Simon Fraser University (“SFU”) agrees to recognize the Teaching Support Staff Union (“TSSU”) voluntarily as the bargaining agent for those persons who hold positions as research assistants or grant employees at SFU who are or who will become employees of SFU and who are not otherwise properly included in the bargaining unit of another union which is certified as a bargaining agent for employees of SFU (“Included Persons”).TSSU becomes the Union (“bargaining agent”) for RAs and grant employees, except those who become a member of a different union because they were improperly classified. Following the agreement, TSSU voted to include RAs as members on November 20, 2019 giving them full voting and membership rights. SFU refuses to recognize TSSU as the Union for RAs, for example saying in it’s fact-sheet ” Currently, grant-funded RAs are not employees of the university, and therefore RAs are not yet recognized members of the TSSU.”
2Further to this voluntary recognition agreement (“Agreement”), SFU will undertake to determine in a timely way those positions which should reasonably be characterized as positions held by Included Persons and those positions which are properly included in the bargaining unit of another union which is certified as a bargaining agent for employees of SFU (“Excluded Persons”). TSSU and SFU shall meet at least once every 30 days from the signing of this document until the completion of the process. At least 3 days in advance of each meeting, SFU shall provide TSSU with the latest preliminary list of Included Persons, Excluded Persons, and the persons whose classification is yet to be determined.SFU has to do the sorting of who is a TSSU RA and who properly belongs in CUPE 3338 / APSA quickly. SFU has to meet with TSSU every 30 days and provide an updated list of RAs.First meeting happened on Dec 13, 2020. SFU brought no data, and indicated it would not be sharing any list pursuant to the agreement. They said the meeting was a “meet and greet.” Not a single list or single name of an RA, grant employee or excluded person has been provided to TSSU as of May 19, 2020.
3SFU and TSSU agree that persons who hold an appointment as a post-doctoral fellow or as a University Research Associate are not Included Persons. Such persons are, therefore, expressly excluded from the scope of this Agreement.Post-docs and University Research Associates are excluded. During negotiations SFU told us there were only ~26 research associates. During the process this ballooned to 70+, but SFU refuses to show us any lists or provide any information as to the rationale for those exclusions.
4On the earlier of the completion of the process described in clause 2 above or May 1, 2020, SFU and TSSU will begin collective bargaining to establish the terms and conditions of employment that will be added to the existing collective agreement between SFU and the TSSU to govern the employment of Included Persons. Subsequent to the completion of the process described in clause 2, a list of Included Persons, their departments and email addresses shall be provided to TSSU.Bargaining starts May 1, 2020 at the latest and TSSU receives the finalized list in advance.Bargaining has not started, is likely delayed until at least September 2020, and not a single list or single name of an RA, grant employee or excluded person has been provided to TSSU as of May 19, 2020
5To the extent the current terms and conditions of employment (“Current Terms”) of an Included Person are within SFU’s control, the parties agree the terms and conditions of employment and related matters shall remain as status quo for Included Persons.Until we get to a collective agreement, everyone’s working conditions cannot get worse.As far as we know this has not been violated; however.
6TSSU will defer any application to the Labour Relations Board for a variance of its bargaining unit to include Included Persons until at least November 14, 2020. The purpose of this deferral is to provide SFU with sufficient time to undertake the process required by clause 2 above and SFU and TSSU with sufficient time to undertake the collective bargaining required by clause 4 above. This date may be amended by mutual agreement.TSSU won’t go to the Labour Board to file our cards for at least a year.TSSU has dutifully fulfilled this part!
7SFU and TSSU understand and accept that a voluntary recognition agreement requires the employees who will be represented by the voluntarily recognized bargaining agent to ratify such representation in a manner which would, if challenged, be satisfactory to the Labour Relations Board. Should the Included Persons either fail or refuse to ratify this representation in such a manner, it will become void and its content and any measures taken by either SFU or the TSSU to implement its content will be without prejudice to such steps or positions as may be taken by either SFU or the TSSU in connection with any proceedings which may then arise from or relate to the TSSU’s efforts to organize the Included Persons.After we negotiate the first Collective Agreement, RAs and Grant employees get to vote on it, and a yes vote approves both the contract and the TSSU as the certified bargaining agent for RAs and grant employees.TSSU has dutifully fulfilled this part and looks forward to holding a vote, once we get to a contract.
8At all times during the currency of this Agreement, SFU and TSSU must act in good faith, and will take such further steps as may be reasonable or necessary to give effect to this Agreement.Both sides act in good faith.TSSU has made every effort to fulfill the agreement including offering numerous other options when SFU hit roadblocks, none of which were taken.
9SFU and TSSU agree to appoint Jim Dorsey, to mediate and/or arbitrate under Part 8 of the Labour Code any difference which may arise between them regarding the implementation of this Agreement.  For certainty, the implementation of this Agreement does not include any matters connected with or arising from the collective bargaining required under clause 4.If there’s a dispute there’s a built in mediator / arbitrator appointed but this doesn’t mean binding arbitration for Collective Bargaining, just the voluntary recognition.TSSU has now exercised its right under this clause to bring in the arbitrator.
10The Labour Code and the decisions of the Labour Board dealing with voluntary recognition agreements must be applied in all respects to this agreement by both parties.
AppendixIncluded within the TSSU bargaining unit are research assistants and grant employees, including but not limited to:
-those individuals who receive compensation from grants as scholarship and/or stipend
-holders of NSERC USRA and equivalent funded by SFU
-work-study student employees

The above list of included employees is not exhaustive and the parties discussed that during implementation it may be expanded as new information is obtained. A community of interest approach would be the guiding factor in determining the appropriate bargaining unit.
Scholarship RAs, USRAs, and work-study student employees are all explicitly includedSFU has tried to exclude scholarship RAs and work-study RAs on multiple occasions during the process.