How did we get here and what are the issues?
It’s been a long journey, but the short story is that we have reached an impasse at the bargaining table with our employer, McMaster University. They have refused to make any movement on key issues, such as tuition reimbursement, extended work guarantees, wage inequity between TAs, and additional hours on the current minimum hour contracts. You can find all of our bargaining bulletins with more detailed information on the issues at http://bettermac.ca.
The major issues that we are fighting for are:
- 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).
What is a Strike?
A Union has the legal right to strike during the negotiation process if it follows the appropriate timelines set out by the Ontario Labour Relations Act. A strike typically involves a full withdrawal of labour accompanied by job action – typically meaning that members will operate picket lines on campus during business hours of the university for the duration of the strike.
What is a lockout?
The Employer has the legal right to “lockout” its workers during the negotiation process if they follow the appropriate timelines set out by the Ontario Labour Relations Act. A lockout occurs when an employer literally locks its workers out of the workplace during contract negotiations to get what it wants. Workers typically set up picket lines during a lockout to draw attention to the situation in negotiations.
Are Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu of TAs) at McMaster (CUPE 3906 Unit 1 members) going on strike or will they be locked out this November?
CUPE 3906’s Unit 1 bargaining team requested that our Conciliation Officer file a “no board report” in late October, 2022. This will trigger a legal strike/lockout on November 21st if a new collective agreement is not reached.
We are scheduled to meet with the employer’s bargaining team again on November 18th, 2022, to continue negotiations. In the event of a strike or lockout, negotiations will continue throughout as long as both parties are willing to continue negotiating.
What are my rights as an Undergraduate Student in this situation?
Your rights are outlined in the McMaster Policy addressing the “Rights Responsibilities of Undergraduates During Work Stoppages”: https://secretariat.mcmaster.ca/app/uploads/2019/06/Rights-Responsibilities-of-Undergraduates-During-Work-Stoppages.pdf
Undergraduate Classes may continue in the event of a strike or lockout. The delivery method of some classes may change if tenured faculty choose not to cross a picket line.
Tutorials and labs may be cancelled.
Some of your tutorials and labs may be taught by “replacement workers” or TAs who choose to cross their own picket line. We are trying to inform such people that they have no Collective Agreement rights or protections if they continue to work, and the Union cannot assist them if they have workplace problems. Also, such people doing such work only make a strike last longer and jeopardize the outcome for their colleagues.
Most workers at McMaster (including Sessional Faculty and Postdoctoral Fellows) have the right not to do the work of those who are on strike or are locked out. We ask those workers not to perform our work if we are on strike or locked out. As above, performing the work of other workers who are on strike or locked out only makes the strike or lockout last longer.
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 and show support, the shorter the strike.
Why is the Union disrupting students and other people on campus to get what it wants?
A strike (including the withdrawal of labour) is the way a group of workers can effectively protest attacks on their collective rights by an Employer. In this situation, a strike beginning on November 21st, 2022, is the only legal way that TAs and RAs in lieu can do this.
How can I help my TAs?
It means a lot to your TAs to know when they have the support of their students. Going on strike is a last resort, and many TAs are hesitant to defend their rights and the rights of their colleagues if it means negatively impacting their students in anyway. The fact of the matter is that undergraduate students actually have significant rights and power during labour relations disruptions—more so than the workers involved in the labour relations process. You have the right not to be penalized for supporting your TAs and attending to your studies. Use your rights! The University cares about what students think, and your vocal support of your professors can help make a labour disruption end more quickly. Work with other like-minded students to make your voices even louder.
Where can I find out more about the negotiation process or the strike?
Please check out our website, www.bettermac.ca or http://cupe3906.org with any questions you may have. You can also reach out to our Undergraduate Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you are a TA, email@example.com.
Background and outstanding bargaining issues:
CUPE 3906, the Legal bargaining agent for Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu) (called “Unit 1”) have been negotiating with the McMaster University Administration’s Bargaining Team since August 2022. The parties are re-negotiating a Collective Agreement that protected the workplace rights of Unit 1 members that expired on August 31, 2022.
In the past two months of negotiations, the Union and the Employer had the assistance of a government-appointed Conciliation Officer to help the parties arrive at a deal. In late October, the Union’s Bargaining Team declared that the Parties reached an impasse, and requested the Conciliation Officer to issue a legal document called a “No Board Report,” which triggers a legal lockout or strike date 17 days from the date the document is filed with the government.
You can find all of our bargaining bulletins with more detailed information on the issues at http://bettermac.ca.