As a member of TSSU, you are working with over 1,500 employees across SFU to ensure access to safe, secure, and reliable working conditions for all students and workers at the University.

Looking for more information about working & studying at SFU?

Join us during orientation!

New to SFU and Unions?
Here’s some information to get you started:

What is TSSU?

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) is an independent, non-hierarchical, and feminist union founded at SFU in 1978.

TSSU is a direct democracy. All major decisions and actions taken by the Union are decided by vote at General Membership Meetings. Every member has a say.

TSSU is constantly changing as its membership grows and the Union represents new employee categories at SFU. As the newest members of TSSU, RAs will have a big part in determining how the Union will best serve all students and workers at the University.

Union 101

What is a union?

Unions are organizations of working people. Unions provide members the legal means to collectively improve their lives, primarily by protecting and advocating for fellow members in their workplaces.

Unions make workplaces democratic by giving members a fair say in how their work is carried out and administered. Without a union, workplaces would be completely dominated by the whims of the employer. Being a union member gives you a voice.

Unions protect members’ rights by negotiating and then holding the employer accountable to a Collective Agreement, which lays out responsibilities and duties, as well as pay and benefits. TSSU understands that its members’ lives and the struggles they face extend outside the workplace. That’s why TSSU is a social movement union, meaning its members advocate for the rights of all students and workers, on- and off-campus.

What is a collective agreement?

A Collective Agreement (CA) is a legally-binding contract between employers, a union, and its membership. It defines the terms and conditions of an employee’s work, detailing agreed-upon job duties, hours of work, and rates of pay, as well as procedures for hiring and discipline. CAs are reached through a process called collective bargaining, and are ratified (accepted via a vote) by union members. If the employer fails to live up to the terms of the CA, the union can represent, protect, and advocate for its workers through the grievance process.

For information about RA bargaining, or to get involved, visit https://bargaining.tssu.ca/

TSSU’s current CA can be found here.

What is bargaining?

Collective bargaining for a Collective Agreement (CA) harnesses the combined power of workers to improve their working conditions in ways that would be impossible if workers negotiated individually with their employer. 

Most of the time, this means the employer and the union meet to negotiate changes to an existing CA, which is then ratified (voted upon) by members of the union.

The TSSU-SFU CA does not yet contain any articles covering RA conditions of work. These must be drafted and negotiated by the new RA Contract Committee, in ongoing consultation with RA members. We will be posting updates here on researchiswork.com.

Past experience at SFU has shown that the employer, SFU admin, does not negotiate until pressure from outside of the bargaining table forces them to.

RA Unionization at SFU

(Very) brief history of how RAs unionized

The news SFU administration was going to make unilateral changes to RA working conditions spurred a grassroots movement of RAs.

In the spring and summer of 2019, a movement was built within the union and among RAs to discover where and under what conditions RAs were working at SFU. In the fall of 2019 an organizing drive was launched and 928 RAs of an estimated 1500 working that semester signed union membership cards.

In November 2019, SFU administration and the TSSU signed a legally binding Memorandum of Agreement in which the TSSU was recognized as the union of all RAs.

What counts as research work?

There is a staggering variety in the work research assistants perform at SFU. Here are some of the tasks which are part of research work.

In a Lab
Data collection
Equipment maintenance
Cleaning

On a Computer
Data collection, entry, and analysis
Literature review
Conference planning
Report and paper writing

In the Field
Data collection
Documentation
Archival research

The road to the first-ever RA collective agreement

While SFU officially recognizes RAs as members of TSSU – granting them some rights afforded to all Union members – we don’t yet have a Collective Agreement!

The making of the first-ever RA Collective Agreement with TSSU is an open, participatory process. We at TSSU believe that all RAs should have a say in the future of their work – that’s why it’s important you get involved!

  1. Surveying
    A team of RAs have been working together since November 2019 to reach out to all RAs at SFU and survey them about their work: what issues they face as research workers, what they like about their current working conditions, and what they want to see in their future Collective Agreement.
  1. Drafting proposals
    TSSU’s Contract Committee – a democratically elected committee with 6 dedicated RA seats – will use the survey results to draft a set of proposals for the RA Collective Agreement.
  2. Ratifying proposals
    Once the TSSU Contract Committee has drafted proposals, the first positions on all the Collective Agreement articles are put together in what we call “the package”.

    The package is presented by the Contract Committee to all TSSU members for discussion and questions. The proposals are then either ratified as is, or sent back to the Contract Committee to redraft and be brought before the members again for ratification.

    Only if the ratification vote is successful are the proposals ready to be presented to the employer in Bargaining.
  1. Bargaining
    Collective Bargaining is a formal negotiation process between labour unions and employers to create a legally binding Collective Agreement that defines the workplace rights and responsibilities of workers and their employer.  

    Bargaining can be a lengthy process, with the TSSU and SFU administration taking turns presenting proposals and discussing them.

    As a directly democratic union, TSSU has fought for the right of any TSSU member to attend bargaining sessions as an observer. Note: because Collective Bargaining is a legally binding process, only the Contract Committee members can speak to the employer directly during bargaining as discussions are “with prejudice”.

    Collective Bargaining doesn’t have to be a difficult process. It could be a place of civil discussion where both parties try to achieve the best results for SFU’s workers and students. Unfortunately, SFU has a history of being extremely disrespectful and dishonest, and has often attempted to undermine the people who make the University function.

    After the process of Collective Bargaining comes to an end we will arrive at a Tentative Agreement. This is a version of the Collective Agreement that both TSSU and SFU’s teams can (usually begrudgingly) agree to. This agreement is then brought back to TSSU’s General Membership. If we reject it, we go back to the negotiations. If we accept it, then we have a new Collective Agreement!

What do RAs have access to as TSSU members?

RAs are voting members of TSSU! This means RAs can vote in TSSU elections, on tentative collective agreements, in any strike vote, and at all General Membership Meetings.

Just as important, RAs can join all TSSU committees including:

  • Executive 
  • Stewards
  • Anti-Harassment
  • Contract
  • Finance
  • Grievance
  • Internal Relations
  • Member Mobilization
  • Solidarity and Social Justice
  • Joint Health and Safety (with SFU admin)

Advocacy, OH&S Rights

Workplace problems can be hard to navigate, be they health and safety concerns or trouble with a supervisor. As members of the TSSU, RAs can draw on the expertise of a team who knows the ins-and-outs of SFU and your rights as a worker.

From a sounding board, to sitting in on a meeting with you, to formal grievance proceedings, TSSU stewards, anti-harassment committee members, occupational health and safety experts are here to help you — on your terms.

You can contact our advocacy team at chief_steward@tssu.ca or dereks@tssu.ca.

Childcare Fund

At the 20 November 2019 General Membership Meeting, RAs were welcomed into the TSSU and granted equal access to the Childcare Fund.

All TSSU members who have children under the age of 13, or those with children up to the age of 18 requiring additional care due to a physical or developmental disability, are eligible to apply. No receipts are required, just children.

The application only takes a few minutes and does not involve a means test or disclosure of any financial information. Applications open at the start of each semester and close at the end of week three of the semester.

Please visit https://www.tssu.ca/childcare/ for more information.

The Childcare Fund has been underfunded by the SFU administration for years. We are fighting hard to increase it to a level that will help TSSU members in a tangible way.

Get in Touch

Who can I contact if I have a question or issue?

For any general questions feel free to reach out to tssu@tssu.ca.

For specific issues around your work or position, please contact our advocacy team at chief_steward@tssu.ca or dereks@tssu.ca.