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CUPE 3906 Unit 1 – representing over 2600 TAs and RAs (in lieu) – has been in negotiations with the McMaster Administration since August 2022. On October 27, 2022, the Union’s Bargaining Team requested the Conciliation Officer to file a “no board” report, triggering a strike/lockout deadline for November 21, 2022. The parties have one mediation date prior to the deadline (November 18th).
A strike at a university has the potential to be an unpleasant and disruptive event. The over 2600 TAs and RAs in lieu (Unit 1) members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 3906 don’t take this action lightly. We want to share with you, our professors and colleagues, the reasons we have to take this road and why we think you should support us.
We are all part of McMaster, which is an excellent institution, and one we are striving, in our own way, to make better. When we refer to “the employer” or “administration,” we are referring to a very small number of decision-makers and policy-setters at the top. The Employer’s bargaining team is beholden to those decision-makers, who have made it clear that TA and RA (in lieu) priorities are not to be addressed in any real, material way in negotiations. So let us be absolutely explicit: we are not striking to hurt faculty or students – we must strike in order to convince McMaster’s senior administration to take our situation seriously. We wish we could do it another way. Our actions are in the long-term interests of the whole campus community and aimed towards improving quality of education, research and student experience.
MAJOR OUTSTANDING ISSUES
- A wage increase commensurate with once in a generation inflation.
- Protections against future tuition increases in the form of a reimbursement, like they have at U of Ottawa and Carleton.
- Close the wage gap between graduate and Undergraduate TA’s.
- Extended work guarantees for graduate students, like they have at U of Toronto, York, and Carleton (a 5th year of guaranteed TA work). Rather than raise the funding floor or offer a meaningful pay increase, McMaster has quietly decided to solve our affordability crisis by allowing us to work an extra 10 hours/week without losing full-time status. All this will do is drag our programs out longer, making the need for extended funding periods even more important.
We are familiar with McMaster’s budgetary documents and know that the money does exist without much of a stretch. Consider the following:
- Since 2016, McMaster University’s yearly consolidated surpluses have totalled over $730 million.
- Despite representing roughly 1/3rd of McMaster’s total workforce, TA wages make-up just 3.7% of McMaster’s total payroll.
- While the average yearly rent in Hamilton has gone up $4,572 since 2019, the maximum yearly gross pay for graduate student TAs/RAs in lieu at McMaster has increased by only $575.87.
- Doug Ford’s Bill 124 capped wage increases for TAs/RAs to 1% per year for 3 years starting in 2019. Had these wages kept pace with inflation during that time, TAs/RAs (in lieu) would be earning $5/hour more than they are today.
We also believe that McMaster administration needs to change its priorities and reconsider certain policies. Our proposals are fair, reasonable, well within McMaster’s means, and pose no undue financial burden to the university whatsoever.
WHAT DOES THE UNION WANT ME TO DO IF THERE IS A STRIKE?
- First, consult MUFA about your legal rights and obligations. Some of your rights are outlined in McMaster’s policy on the “Rights and Responsibilities of Faculty during Work Stoppages”: https://secretariat.mcmaster.ca/app/uploads/2019/06/Rights-and-Responsibilities-during-Work-Stoppages.pdf
- Beyond that, it is hard to say and it depends on your context. We are trying to put as much pressure on the McMaster administration as possible in order to settle as soon as possible. We ask you to help in this effort. This might include writing them a letter demanding they negotiate fairly. It might mean encouraging your students to get informed and do likewise. We would appreciate if you could apprise your students about why we might have to strike and ask them to understand our position.
- For certain, you have the right refuse to perform the work of TAs and RAs (in lieu) at McMaster and we encourage you to do so.
- Some TAs and RAs in lieu may want to scab (i.e., work during the strike and thus undermine the strike effort). Know that you cannot legally encourage or discourage them to scab. But please do let them know about our materials – scabbing has some very serious consequences both personally and professionally. In general, you should refuse to assign them work – this should be directed to your department chair and/or dean. In this way you will not have to contend with dealing with some TAs and RAs (in lieu) on strike and some who are not. This will help avoid some of the interpersonal conflicts that might arise. As well, this is a management problem. our relationship to TAs and RAs (in lieu) in your department may be as an employment supervisor, but not necessarily as “McMaster University, The Employer”, so we encourage you to ask for explicit directions from management. From the union perspective, of course, scabbing is unconscionable and contemptuous of our democratic process. Scabbing means being a “free rider” who will benefit from the shared hardship of striking TAs and RAs (in lieu) while sacrificing nothing. We respect differences of opinion, but the membership has voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike and that is our collective determination. The time, now, is to abide by that democratic decision and stick together. Those who scab will undermine the solidarity of the union and, ironically, extend the duration and amplify the intensity of the strike, which no-one wants.
- If you are reluctant to cross our picket lines, we commend and thank you. Some Faculty will, to the extent they are able, be moving their classes off campus. Your graduate students will especially appreciate not having to cross their own picket lines.
- In general, if you have to cross the picket line, we would appreciate if you would stop by and say hello and lend your support to your students on the lines. Faculty support means a lot to us and if helps us to know we are not alone. Even if you are not in agreement with our approach 100%, please support the principle of our actions and our desire to bargain and settle.
Finally, we would appreciate if you could send letters to the McMaster administration encouraging them to settle this contract equitably and quickly. Please also keep checking our website at http://bettermac.ca.