1. What is a strike?

A strike typically involves a full withdrawal of labour, meaning that Unit 1 members will cease any and all duties associated with their roles as TAs/RAs in lieu. This includes anything detailed on your hours of work forms, and typically entails grading, leading tutorials or labs, responding to student emails, holding office hours, or meeting with your employment supervisor. This withdrawal of labour is accompanied by job action – typically meaning that members will operate picket lines on campus during university business hours for the duration of the strike.

  1. Are we going on strike?

 CUPE 3906’s Unit 1 bargaining team and McMaster’s bargaining team both filed a no board report at the end of one day of conciliation on November 5th. This triggers a legal strike/lockout position by the end of November. This does not guarantee a strike, but it does mean that if negotiations continue to fail by that deadline, a strike can be called by the Unit 1 bargaining team. The Employer may also choose to “lock out” TAs/RAs in lieu on or after November 25, 2019, if a deal is not reached by that day.  A “lock out” is when an Employer refuses to let employees work unless they agree to certain terms in negotiation.

We are scheduled to meet and continue negotiations with the employer’s bargaining team on November 19th. In the event of a strike or lockout, negotiations will continue throughout as long as both parties are willing to continue negotiating.

  1. What about my pay?

If a strike is called, pay from the employer stops, and some benefits coverages would likely be interrupted.

Instead of working 10 hours a week for their regular TA pay, striking Unit 1 members can receive strike pay in the amount of $15/hour for up to 20 hours a week of strike duties, for a total of $300 per week. Strike pay is not taxable income – meaning you will receive the full $300/week without deductions. The Union will also establish a Hardship Fund to help members in particularly precarious financial positions.

  1. What duties do I need to complete to collect strike pay?

In short, you will be on a picket line for a maximum of 20 hours per week, which usually means 4 hours per weekday. You will need to sign in and out with your picket captain at the beginning and end of your shifts. Signing in and out is very important because you cannot get paid for strike duties unless there is an official record that you performed strike duties.

  1. Are there any accommodations for strike duties?

Our strike committee is hard at work completing our strike policy which will ensure that those who are unable to walk a picket line are offered alternate duties and paid appropriately.

  1. Does being on an international visa affect any of this?

No. All workers are covered by labour law and enjoy the same rights regardless of citizenship. You cannot lose your visa or work permit by voting in a strike or ratification vote or by taking part in a strike or job action.

  1. What about my scholarships?

Because your scholarships and other academic funding is not part of your TA work or pay, those funds will not be disrupted. You will still receive these payments.

  1. What about my own research or coursework?

Your bargaining unit work as a TA, RA in lieu, tutor, etc. is separate from your academic research work. If you have ongoing academic research or course commitments, you should feel free to come to campus to attend to them. Should a strike be called, we ask that you stand in solidarity with other Unit 1 members by ceasing to perform your bargaining unit work. We also ask that you use University facilities such as the library as little as possible.

  1. Can I keep doing my TA/RA in lieu work after a strike is called?

You cannot continue to work as a TA/RA-in-lieu and collect strike pay. Working through a strike, or “scabbing,” also limits the effectiveness of the strike, meaning that your striking colleagues have a much more difficult fight without you. As the old saying goes: “the longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.” When the strike or lockout is over and everyone goes back to work, everyone will have the same contract, so why risk making it a worse contract by dividing the membership and making the strike drag on by refusing to participate in strike/lockout duties?

In the event of a strike, the University may offer you the opportunity to continue to work; however, if you choose to do so, you will not be covered by any of the language in the existing collective agreement. You will not have access to the grievance procedure, Collective Agreement rights to health and safety, or the protection of the Union should something happen.  You may also be paid at a lower rate than is stipulated in the Collective Agreement stipulates (as low as $14 per hour), and your access to benefits may be interrupted.

  1. How long could a strike last?

For as long as it takes to obtain a fair and equitable Collective Agreement. Negotiations would continue during a strike. Nobody wants a prolonged strike, and, generally speaking, the more people who participate, the shorter the strike

  1. How can I help my students?

You should not engage in any of your regular teaching duties during a strike. This includes holding classes or tutorials and consulting with students. However, we encourage members to direct students who are concerned about a potential strike prior to the commencement of job action to some materials we have prepared on that topic.   You can also direct students to updates on our website and social media.  According to McMaster policy, undergraduate students have rights in the event of a “labour stoppage”, which can be viewed at https://secretariat.mcmaster.ca/app/uploads/2019/06/Rights-Responsibilities-of-Undergraduates-During-Work-Stoppages.pdf

You can help students by directing them to this policy so that they know their rights in the event of a strike or lockout.

Two helpful points taken from this policy to which you may want to direct students, specifically:

  • Students may be unable, or may choose not to, participate in academic activities during a work stoppage; in such cases students shall not be penalized academically. Nevertheless, students remain responsible for meeting course requirements. Students, therefore, have a right to extended deadlines, make-up tests and assignments, reasonable alternative access to course materials, and/or other special arrangements as may be appropriate; and
  • A student who considers that a disruption has unreasonably affected his/her grade in a course may appeal the grade in accordance with the procedures described in the Student Appeal Procedures. Any time limit specified in the Student Appeal Procedures that occurs during a disruption shall be extended accordingly.
  1. How can I help avert a Strike?

There are many ways you can help us avert a strike:

  • Reach out to your undergrads in the ways outlined above
  • Join our strike committee (email angie@cupe3906.org)
  • Pay attention to any rallies or events we are holding and show up!
  • Call the University Secretariat (905-525-9140 ext. 24337) or email the Board of Governors at McMaster (boardofgovernors@mcmaster.ca) and tell them to negotiate a fair contract with TAs.
  • Come to the office (KTH B111) to pick up stickers, pins, and other #BetterMac materials to wear in solidarity.
  • Speak to your fellow TAs to make sure they are informed.
  • Reach out to:
    • Doug Welch, Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies: 1-905-525-9140 x 24205 or deangrad@mcmaster.ca
    • or
    • Sean Van Koughnett, Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students: 1-905-525-9140 x 27455
    • Ask them to support their TAs with a fair contract!
  • Follow us on Social Media – like, share, and engage in our posts.

For any other questions, email president@cupe3906.org