-November 19th, 2019-
November 8, 2019
As many members of the McMaster community know, CUPE Local 3906 (Unit 1) and the
University jointly requested a ‘no-board’ report following a day of conciliation that failed to break an
impasse and provide the meaningful gains that Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu)
deserve. More information about this can be found at www.bettermac.ca.
One of the key priorities identified by members in our bargaining survey was access to paid TA
training. The importance of said training was reinforced when Unit 1 members returned a historic and
record-breaking strike vote of 87% after McMaster University failed to agree to the Union’s proposals
on this item. Let us be clear: in highlighting the lack of paid TA training, the Union is referring to
university-wide training that would help TAs to become more effective at their jobs. Specifically, the
Union proposed five paid hours for pedagogical training and an additional three paid hours for anti-oppression training.
The employer addressed this issue – which we had already tabled as a priority– on June 24th,
in their eighth set of proposals to the Union. Specifically, they proposed using the following language
in a letter of understanding: “The parties agree to establish a joint committee for the purposes of
exploring the feasibility of establishing an Institution-wide or Faculty specific training program(s) for
new employees.” This would certainly suggest that there is not university-wide (or even faculty specific)
training for new employees.
On November 5th, when the employer provided the union with a “comprehensive proposal,”
they made no mention of university-wide paid TA training on pedagogy or anti-oppression.
For these reasons, you can imagine the Union’s surprise when we read the employer’s
statement on requesting a ‘no-board’ report. In it, they assert that “McMaster also funds benefits
programs and paid training for Teaching Assistants.” To be clear, the University is now claiming that
they fund paid training for Teaching Assistants. Our questions is this: “Oh, really?”
We are left wondering which paid training they provide to TAs – be it pedagogical, anti-oppression,
or both. If we are to take the University’s statement at face value, it is unclear why they
would have refused our above mentioned proposals, let alone why they themselves proposed
“establish[ing] a joint committee for the purposes of exploring the feasibility of establishing an
Institution-wide or Faculty specific training program(s) for new employees.” So we ask again, to which
paid TA training are they referring?
Perhaps they are referring to health and safety training. The Occupational Health and Safety
Act mandates this type of training, so citing it when we have clearly been bargaining over anti-oppression and pedagogical training is disingenuous to say the least. Perhaps they are referring to
training mandated by the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which the employer is required to
offer to employees. We know that the Faculty of Engineering launched a pilot project to provide training to its graduate TAs. If this is what they were referring to, it is unclear why they would not want
to include such an important provision in their proposals, especially in response to our proposals for
paid university-wide TA training.
There is existing language in the Collective Agreement mandating that “the Employer will
provide an orientation… to all newly hired Unit 1 employees in order to provide them with information
about the general operation of the University and resources available to employees that may be of
assistance in the performance of their duties. Employee orientation may include information about
such things as instructional courses and professional development resources that are available to
employees.” This language might tell TAs and RAs in lieu about what is available, but it does not
provide pedagogical or anti-oppression training. Neither party is looking to amend this language, so
surely this is not something worth highlighting. At the department level, some departments carve out
minimal paid training for TAs, but this simply comes out of their allocation of hours, thus leaving less
time for marking and student contact. To us it seems that providing additional paid hours for training
is the least the employer could do, considering that most of our members take home less than $5,ooo
in wages per year once we account for the cost of full-time tuition – the payment of which is a
condition of their employment.
We would urge all TAs to call or e-mail their Department Chairs, the University’s Vice-Provost
and Dean of Graduate Studies (who also happens to be Chair of their bargaining team), as well as the
Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students to inquire about the paid training opportunities we are
supposedly afforded. Some helpful contact information can be found below. We would love to hear the
responses to these inquiries!
• Doug Welch, Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies: 1-905-525-9140 x 24205 or
• Sean Van Koughnett, Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students: 1-905-525-9140 x 27455
We have always been clear about the fact that TAs and RAs in lieu both demand and deserve
paid pedagogical and anti-oppression training. We also know that our students deserve TAs who have
been trained in ways commensurate with the University’s emphasis on excellence in teaching.
McMaster’s recent statement is either embarrassingly uninformed or deliberately misleading, and we
hold that the only correct course of action would be for them to immediately offer a retraction and
President of CUPE 3906
Following the outstanding support we have seen from members, Unit 1’s bargaining team came to the table today ready to move negotiations forward. We came to the table with a firm commitment to removing all concessions and to securing significant and meaningful gains on priorities you have continually endorsed throughout this process.
We spent over 12 hours communicating with our conciliator and the employer and provided significant movement on our proposals in an effort to keep negotiations moving. Sadly, around 9pm, after we had dedicated several hours to a comprehensive and meaningful pass, we were informed that over half of the employer’s bargaining team – including their Chair – had already left. Beyond causing us significant frustration, we take this as a sign of minimal serious engagement in the process on their part.
Despite this development (or lack thereof), we tabled the proposal we had completed thus far, including a firm re-commitment to our consistent stance on removing all concessions from our contract and the need for significant movement on your stated bargaining priorities as they were ratified prior to the commencement of negotiations.
The few members of their bargaining team who remained then signalled to the conciliator that they were not willing to meaningfully consider our priorities. Both parties then jointly filed for a No Board Report, thus triggering movement into a legal strike/lockout position prior to the end of November.
Filing a No Board Report puts pressure on both the union and the employer to reach an agreement prior to this deadline, provided that both parties are willing to negotiate.
We have secured a mediation date on November 19th and are working to secure more. We hope that by then, McMaster will realize that offering de facto pay cuts and concessions on job security to already precarious employees is not the way to a Brighter World, nor to a #BetterMac. It would also be prudent of the employer to recognize that given the rising cost of living for our members, protections against tuition increases would offer much needed security in an increasingly unpredictable economy. Further, we hope the employer will recognize that paid pedagogical training is not only a simple and reasonable request for any employee group, but that it is specifically reasonable for Teaching Assistants within a world-renowned university.
We remain eager to reach a fair agreement that reflects your priorities ahead of this deadline, and hopeful that the employer’s entire bargaining team will come to the table on the 19th ready to do the same.
In the meantime, we will be proceeding with all necessary preparations to ensure that we can be in the best possible position to defend our members’ interests in the event of a strike being called.
One of the best ways to avert a strike is by making the Employer feel the pressure of an engaged membership. We’re already off to an amazing start with an 87% strike vote — a historic mandate for Unit 1. Today we are asking that you help us build on this momentum by informing the University Secretariat and Board of Governors of your support for the CUPE 3906 Unit 1 bargaining team and the priorities ratified by our members. Consider taking 5 minutes out of your day to let the “right” people know it will be in the University’s best interests to negotiate a fair deal ASAP:
- Call the Secretariat at 1-905-525-1940 ext. 24337 or
- Email the Board of Governors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also use social media to share our most recent bargaining infographic (attached to this email) and/or stories about how your TAs have helped you. Keep us in the know by using #BetterMac or by tagging us @CUPE3906. TAs make the university tick, and ideally McMaster will come to realize this fact without us having to show them through a work stoppage!
We will continue to inform you of our progress at the bargaining table as much as possible. For a complete list of bargaining updates, please visit https://bettermac.ca.
Unit 1 Bargaining Team
It’s no secret that academics love their pets! Less known, though, is the fact that our pets have been some of our strongest and bravest supporters in the current round of bargaining with McMaster. Be they dogs, cats, or guinea pigs – they’re all fed up with how the University has handled its negotiations with Units 1 and 3 and they’re not afraid to say it!
If you have a pet who loves TAs and postdocs, we’d love for you to participate in this campaign! There are several laminated signs in the union office (KTH B111) for folks to borrow. Some are specific to dogs and cats and some speak to key bargaining priorities such as TA training, 5th year TA guarantees, better wages, and closing the pay gap between undergraduate and graduate TAs. We will also be making printable PDF versions of these signs available in a separate post.
You can post your own photos to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag us @CUPE3906, OR send them our way via Messenger or email using email@example.com. We hope that many of you will join us as we continue to increase pressure on the University and look forward to building even greater solidarity in the weeks to come!
CUPE 3906 Bargaining Bulletin #6
Unit 3: Postdoctoral Fellows
OCTOBER 23rd, 2019
HAMILTON, ON — On Monday, October 21st – and for the first time since mid-August – your Unit 3 bargaining team met with the Employer.
We have finally begun to see some positive movement on benefits (such as the health care spending account, family dental rebate, and professional development), and we believe this is the result of an engaged and mobilized membership. That said, Bill 124 remains a stumbling block as the Employer seeks to keep compensation to a minimum. We remain concerned about the employer’s proposals on vacation, which are a rollback from the current entitlement. The bargaining team hopes to secure additional dates with the Employer’s team in next month.
Our President wrote an open letter to the McMaster Board of Governors urging Board members to bargain according to what the Employer thinks Postdocs deserve, and not according to the Conservative Government’s draft legislation. A copy of the letter can be viewed at: https://bettermac.ca/2019/10/18/open-letter-to-the-mcmaster-board-of-governors/
Unit 3 is CUPE 3906’s smallest unit with just over 170 members, and consists of postdoctoral fellows working at McMaster University. The current collective agreement expires on August 31.
A particularly special thanks goes out to Adam Fortais, a Unit 1 member and host of the Scientificanada Podcast. Adam has just created our very own “CUPEcast” for your listening pleasure. Episode 1 gives an overview of Local 3906 and the current round of bargaining. It is incredibly well done and we’re very excited to hear more! Thank you, Adam!
While the McMaster Board of Governors put a lot of work into making themselves inaccessible to the McMaster community, we have managed to send the following letter to a number of them ahead of their meeting this Thursday, October 24th.
Stay tuned for more details on how you can help us remind the Board of Governors that they serve us, not the Ford Government.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— CUPE 3906 MEMBERS GIVE STRONG STRIKE MANDATE
Hamilton, ON— At the end of last week, CUPE 3906 (Unit 1) members provided their bargaining team with a clear strike vote mandate and in so doing have sent a strong message to McMaster: bargain the fair contract that TAs and RAs in lieu deserve. Membership turnout for this vote was the highest in living memory, with 87% voting to authorize strike action, if necessary. These results highlight the importance of the issues at stake to the membership.
The union’s bargaining team is heartened and motivated by the support that an 87% ‘YES’ result represents. The outcome of this vote illustrates a real commitment to the needs identified by the membership, including paid pedagogical and anti-oppression TA training, strengthened graduate guarantees, equitable wages between undergraduate and graduate TAs, better representation for Indigenous members, an increase to the minimum number of hours on a contract, and protection against tuition increases. Having heard the collective voice of our membership, the union is empowered to bargain a fair Collective Agreement for a #BetterMac and deliver real gains to TAs and RAs in lieu.
The results of this vote do not mean that a strike is forthcoming, but do empower the bargaining team to call a strike should negotiations not provide meaningful gains to members. The next step in the bargaining process is conciliation, in which a provincially appointed conciliation officer will meet with the parties.
Local 3906 will put the support of its members into action at the bargaining table and are committed to membership engagement throughout the process. Keep an eye out for our updates and additional bargaining support initiatives.
CUPE Local 3906 (Unit 1) represents approximately 2700 teaching assistants and research assistants (in lieu) at McMaster University.
The McMaster University Graduate Student Association (GSA) recently issued this letter of support:
It is abundantly clear that TAs and RAs in lieu are united in their insistence upon a fair offer from McMaster University. As the GSA rightly notes, the wages of graduate students are “barely enough to support a single adult, much less one who may be supporting a family.” Yet despite this, the employer is seeking to reduce the entitlement to a minimal number of hours associated with a graduate TA guarantee. This will see graduate TAs falling even further behind. A fifth year guarantee – which would be more consistent with the average duration of a graduate program – is needed to ensure that graduate students aren’t without income prior to their graduation. It’s time for a #BetterMac