Bargaining Bulletin #3
In an effort to ensure a fair and reasonable collective agreement for Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants in lieu, the CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Team has announced that it will be holding a strike vote beginning on October 17th.
“Our proposals are necessary, reasonable, and within the university’s means,” said Chris Fairweather, CUPE 3906 President. “While strike action is a last resort, the university has been unwilling to make any meaningful movement on the priorities needed to ensure that graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants are in a position to succeed as students and workers,” he added.
In May 2022, faced with once-in-a-generation inflation in the cost of living and stagnant wages and funding packages, TAs and RAs ratified a package of bargaining priorities based on feedback contained in a survey of the membership and identified financial security and compensation, mental/physical health and wellness, and improved working conditions as their top priorities.
The university did not meet with the bargaining team until the last week of August, just one week before the Collective Agreement expired. During that week of bargaining, CUPE was informed that the university did not have a “mandate” from the Board of Governors, and so our Collective Agreement expired without us being able to negotiate wages, benefits, or any of our other substantive proposals.
The bargaining team met with the university again three times between September 26 and October 3, 2022, and while the parties have agreed to some small improvements with respect to working conditions, major priorities of financial security and mental/physical health and wellness remain unaddressed. After having finally arrived with a ‘mandate,’ the university is offering far less than the current rate of inflation and is proposing to sustain the large pay gap between graduate and undergraduate TAs. “This is unacceptable for a group of workers who saw real wages decline over the past three years due to the province’s Bill 124. The university’s proposal will only push us further behind,” stated Fairweather.
While the university has agreed to include language around a new reproductive health fund, they are not offering any new money for benefits with which to pay for it, and is suggesting that in order to fund benefits increases the union will have to accept even lower pay increases. The university is unwilling to agree to tuition reimbursement language, leaving us vulnerable to having what little pay increases they are offering swallowed up by future tuition increases, and also unwilling to extend employment guarantee periods to reflect the actual average time it takes to complete our programs.
With this sizable gap between what the university is offering and what Teaching Assistants and Research-Assistants-in-lieu deserve, the elected Bargaining Team has made the difficult decision to call for a strike vote. More details are forthcoming, but the Bargaining Team is asking all members to vote yes and demonstrate their ongoing support for our bargaining priorities at the table.
“Not only are the things we’re asking for reasonable, they exist at other comparable universities in Ontario, and they are well within McMaster’s means to provide. The university is wealthy, and has only grown wealthier over the course of the pandemic” noted Fairweather. According to the university’s financial statements, McMaster brought in $232 million in “excess revenues” in 2020-2021 alone. Meanwhile, Teaching Assistants are falling further and further behind as the cost of basic necessities, like rent and groceries, skyrocket. A strong strike mandate will show the university that Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu) are behind their union, and that they are willing to take job action, if necessary, to secure a fair collective agreement.