-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
- When? Where?
The Strike Vote will begin directly after the Strike Vote Special General Membership Meeting, which is taking place on September 23rd in CIBC Hall (MUSC, 3rd Floor) at 12pm.
The Strike Vote will then continue for the following three days from 9AM-5PM at the following locations:
- What is a Strike Vote?
A Strike Vote decides whether or not the Unit’s general membership is willing to grant their Bargaining Team permission to call a strike should negotiations fail. A majority (50%+1) of “yes” votes is required for such authorization.
It is normal for a Union to ask for a strong “strike vote” during the process of any legal contract negotiations in Canada. In fact, CUPE 3906’s TA and RA (in lieu)’ and Sessional Faculty/Hourly Rated Sessional Music Faculty (HRSMF) bargaining teams have asked for a strong strike vote from its membership in virtually every single TA and RA (in lieu) contract negotiations in the past 40+ years.
The exact wording of the strike vote question may vary, but it always asks the same basic question: do you authorize your bargaining team to call a strike if negotiations fail at the bargaining table? A strong “yes” to this question with as many members voting as possible is the best scenario: it says to the Employer that they have a “last chance” to return to the bargaining table through conciliation or mediation and negotiate in good faith to get a deal or else the members are prepared to proceed to the “next steps” in the legal bargaining process: legal strike action.
- What does Voting Yes on a Strike Vote mean?
Voting yes on a strike vote signals that you are unwilling to accept the employer’s most recent offer. Collective bargaining allows us to decide, as a group, under what conditions we are willing to work. A strong strike vote – or a majority “yes” vote with over 85% of our members voting – signals to the employer that the membership is unwilling to work under the conditions they are offering. This is where the strength of collective bargaining is found!
A successful strike vote does not mean there will be a strike. It simply authorizes the bargaining team to call a strike should negotiations fail. In other words, a strong yes vote puts the Union in the best possible position to secure a good deal without needing to call a strike.
- What does Voting No on a Strike Vote mean?
Voting no on a strike vote signals that you are willing to accept the deal the employer has offered. An unsuccessful strike vote (a majority of “no” votes) would essentially force the bargaining team to accept whichever deal the Employer has last put on the table. An unsuccessful strike vote, or even a successful strike vote that is weak, leaves the bargaining team with few options other than accepting the deal and bringing it back to the membership to ratify.
In other words, a failed strike vote or even a weak though successful strike vote would be disastrous for the union’s ability to secure a better agreement for the membership.
- What’s the point of getting a strike vote if Doug Ford’s government passes Bill 124 anyway?
Great question! The problem is, regardless of the threat of Bill 124 becoming legislation when the government returns from summer break, there are concessions (i.e., reductions in our contract rights) that are on the table that have nothing to do with Bill 124 that we have to fight. These include concessions to what’s considered a “normal” number of TA hours per work in a given academic year and whether or not you get to keep the same hours from year-to-year, and whether or not you get to defer a course (e.g., if you’re away on research leave or teaching a course) and thereby maintain your funding even if your studies take longer than your graduate guarantee.
Lastly, given that we are among the first Unions to enter collective bargaining under the threat of Bill 124, we have a responsibility to resist it through every means possible. As members of a union, we have access to legal rights that others do not – including the ability to call strike votes and hold legal strikes. Bill 124 threatens thousands of workers across the province, many of whom will not have access to bargaining until well after the government will reconvene to discuss it. The provincial government – and, by extension, McMaster – seem to expect us and the rest of the public sector to simply accept these concessions with little to no resistance. If we do not resist Bill 124 as much as possible before it becomes law, the fight will be that much harder if it does end up becoming law.
- Who can vote in a Unit 1 (TA and RA in lieu of TA) strike vote?
Only members of Unit 1 (Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants in lieu of Teaching Assistants) may vote in a Unit 1 strike vote. The following members of Unit 1 may vote in a strike vote:
- Members who are working as TAs or RAs (in lieu) this term;
- Members who hold a TA/RA (in lieu) funding guarantee or a contract to work as a TA/RA (in lieu) in the 2019-2020 academic year (i.e., “contract in hand”);
- “Political” members of the union (i.e., members who have held a contract work as a TA or RA in lieu in the last two academic terms—i.e., winter 2019 or spring/summer 2019).
Please note that all members require personal identification to vote. Some members (especially those members in categories ii and iii) may require proof of membership to vote (see: next question).
- What do I need to vote in a strike vote?
- All members must bring photo ID to vote in the strike vote. Photo ID includes your student card, and/or a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license. (Please note that we cannot accept health cards for privacy reasons.)
- Members who are not working as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants (in Lieu of Teaching Assistants) in the FALL 2019 term should bring proof of membership to the vote. A TA or RA in lieu Appointment Letter (e.g., guaranteed funding letter) is acceptable proof of membership.
- Why is the Union sequestering ballots?
If the polling station staff cannot find your name on our membership list (or if you fall into categories ii or iii in the “who can vote” question above), they will ask you to “sequester” your ballot. This means that you will be asked to insert your completed ballot into a blank envelope, which you will then place into another envelope on which the polling station staff will write your name, student number, department and term in which you are, were, or will be employed as a TA or RA (in lieu). Sequestering ballots allows the union to include as many votes as possible because it gives the union the opportunity to verify your membership in other ways if you aren’t on this term’s membership list (e.g., by checking Hours of Work forms). Once the union has verified your membership, the blank envelope containing your ballot is removed from the outside, identifying envelope, and added to a pile of other anonymous envelopes. Once all of the sequestered ballots have been added, the scrutineers open all of the blank envelopes and count the ballots as marked. This way, the union can be certain that you are actually eligible to vote while preserving the anonymity of your ballot.
- Can I vote in the strike vote online? Is there proxy voting?
We are not able to set up the strike vote online for a number of reasons. First, our bylaws do not permit online voting. Second, the online infrastructure to ensure the privacy and eligibility of voters is cost-prohibitive and incompatible with the requirements of our sequestered balloting process.
Proxy voting in strike votes is prohibited.
- Do we get paid during a strike?
Pay from the Employer stops, and benefits coverage could 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. The Union will also establish a Hardship Fund to help members in particularly precarious financial positions. Please note that a strike or a lockout should not impact your scholarship earnings at the University, or any other wages you may receive from non-CUPE 3906 Unit 1 TA or RA (in lieu) employment
For International Members….
- Do I have the right to strike as a non-citizen?
- Will being on strike affect my Permanent Resident application?
- Can I avoid having my picture taken on the picket line?