Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu) at McMaster University will be on strike as of Monday, November 21st, in an effort to secure good jobs for student workers that provide adequate support during their studies. To ensure that teaching and research assistants can keep up with sky-high inflation after three-years of wage restraint, our key proposals include a wage increase in line with inflation, access to work, protection against tuition increases, and closing the pay gap between graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants.
Our wage proposal is for 9% in year one and 3% in years two and three for graduate TAs, and 20% in year one and 6% in years two and three for undergraduate TAs. This is a wage increase that we feel is needed to ensure we don’t fall further behind the rising cost of living, particularly considering that graduate TAs are provided with fewer than 10 hours per week of work, and many undergraduate TAs work as few as 2.5 hours per week.
However, as we have always communicated to the university, we are seeking improvements in other areas of the collective agreement that are far less costly, and we are open to agreeing to smaller pay increases provided we receive something else that will leave student workers with a stronger sense of financial security.
Access to Work
Graduate TAs only have guaranteed work for 4 years at the PhD level, while the average student takes far longer than that to finish. Master’s students are also limited in the availability of work, and for undergraduate TAs there is currently nothing that guarantees them ongoing work from one semester to the next. We have tabled proposals around a 5th year guaranteed TAship for PhD students and a priority posting system by which overtime graduate students without a guarantee would be considered first for work, followed by existing undergraduate TAs, and then new hires. Either of these options would be a workable basis for providing better job and financial security, and neither would be overly costly to the university.
Protection Against Tuition Increases
We have also tabled language that would pin a student worker’s rate of tuition to their first year. Should tuition go up while they are employed, they would receive some sort of reimbursement to offset the increased costs of tuition. This exists at other universities, and would provide TAs with a sense of financial security against the possibility of a tuition increase.
Closing the Wage Gap
It is important that we start to close the pay gap of nearly $19 per hour between graduate and undergraduate TAs. These TAs perform the exact same work and deserve more equitable compensation. They also work far fewer hours per week than graduate TAs.
McMaster has pointed out that the living wage in Hamilton is $19/hour in an effort to paint our requests as unreasonable, but that same study concluded the living salary is $33,000/year. Teaching and Research Assistants earn nowhere near a living salary. Graduate TAs earn less than $19/hour once they’ve paid their tuition, and must continue to pay tuition in order to have guaranteed access to work. The minimum funding floor including scholarship money is just $13,500/year for graduate TAs to live off of. We are part-time workers, that is true, but for most of us, the university also has rules that dictate how much time we are allowed to work elsewhere, leaving many of us in an impossible situation.
Our proposals are fair, reasonable, exist at comparable universities, and are well within McMaster’s means. The university’s total consolidated surplus during just one year of the pandemic (2020-21) was $232 million. The university has also not been shy about handing out pay increases of 10% or 20% to senior administration when the rate of inflation was far lower and they were already earning far above the quoted living wage for the city.
We remain committed to a settlement and are prepared to return to the table at any time, provided McMaster is prepared to offer something on at least one of those three areas: higher wage increases, better job security, or tuition protection.