On May 6th, CUPE 3906 served McMaster University with notice to bargain for Teaching Assistants (Unit 1) and Postdoctoral Fellows (Unit 3), whose Collective Agreements are set to expire on August 31. After three and a half months of waiting, the university finally joined us at the bargaining table for four days of bargaining shared between both units.
On August 24th, the university’s bargaining team informed us that they were not prepared to bargain anything pertaining to money because the Board of Governors failed to give them a mandate. Usually, this mandate would be given well in advance and would offer the university’s bargaining team a sense of what kinds of changes the university is willing to make–and crucially, how much the university is willing to spend–to renew our Collective Agreements.
The union and the university have made good progress on some non-monetary items, such as updating gender pronouns and common language in the agreements, clarifying members’ rights to take pregnancy leave in the event of a still birth or miscarriage and parental leaves for adoptions, clarifying members’ rights to participate in safety planning in situations of domestic and sexual violence, and adding a TA Training article to the Unit 1 Agreement. But with the university unable (or unwilling) to negotiate things like wages, benefits enhancements, extended graduate funding guarantees and protections against future tuition increases for Teaching Assistants, or workload issues and retirement security for Postdocs, we find ourselves in the shocking position of arriving at an impasse on key issues after just four days.
We are calling on the relevant bodies at the university to meet and confirm a bargaining mandate immediately. We are also calling for that mandate to include:
Large enough pay increases to compensate for the alarming rise in the cost of living that workers are experiencing across Ontario;
Funding guarantees for graduate students that reflect how long our programs actually take;
A progressive and inclusive benefits package that allows every TA and Postdoc to take care of themselves and do their best work, including leaves and funds for reproductive health;
Protections from future tuition increases that could otherwise cut into our wages and put us even further behind, especially for international student workers; and
Allow Postdoctoral Fellows to address overwork in a meaningful way and to begin to save for retirement.
Our Collective Agreements expire today, so it is crucial that the university acts immediately. For this reason, the union’s bargaining teams have filed for conciliation, requesting that the government appoint an external mediator who can hopefully facilitate productive discussions when we return to the table.