How did we get here and why have we set a strike deadline of November 21st?
The CUPE 3906 Unit 1 (Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants-in-lieu) Collective Agreement (CA) expired on August 31, 2022.
Your elected Bargaining Team gave notice to bargain in May, 2022. The university did not find time to meet with us until the end of August, 2022. We bargained over three days, during which time we discovered that the university’s bargaining team did not have a “mandate” to bargain from the Board of Governors.
On September 26, 2022, we finally received a partial monetary offer from the university. We met with the university twice more on September 28 and October 3, 2022.
In a strike vote conducted October 17-19, Unit 1 members voted overwhelmingly in support of a strike (90% in favour) if necessary to secure a fair collective agreement.
We met with the university twice more on October 20 and 27, and while there were minor improvements in their offer, the parties are still very far apart. You can read more about what is still on the table here: Bargaining Bulletin #4.
How likely is a strike? Will we keep negotiating?
Of course we will continue to negotiate. We have another date scheduled for November 18, 2022. It is impossible to say in advance if negotiations will breakdown to the extent that a strike is required. No one wants to go on strike; it’s really a last resort in the legal bargaining process. The credible threat of a strike, including a strong strike vote and an active strike committee, is often enough to push the employer to take our positions seriously at the table. However, we need to be prepared for the possibility of a strike.
What is a picket line?
A picket is a type of protest where workers restrict access to a workplace and withhold labour during a labour dispute. This includes workers holding signs and shouting chants as they walk the picket line. Pickets are sites of camaraderie, with a lot of positive and fulfilling energy, as the group works together to fight for better working and living conditions. Scabbing, or continuing to work while your co-workers are on strike, weakens our leverage at the bargaining table. It is crucial that you do not cross the picket line by continuing to work. This will hurt the bargaining team’s ability to get the best contract–a contract that will govern your work for the next few years. Crossing the picket line will prolong the duration of the strike. Continuing to work will be to the university’s benefit, and to our collective detriment.
Who is responsible for organizing the strike? How can I get involved?
The Strike Committee is responsible for organizing the strike. It is made up of active members of the local. All members of the union are welcome and encouraged to attend. The Committee meets on Thursday evenings at 6pm. Links to register for upcoming meetings can be found at cupe3906.org/meetings.
It is also important to begin signing up for strike duties. The picket duties sign-up form can be found here: sign up form.
How much is strike pay and when does it start?
From Day 1 of a Strike, CUPE National takes on the burden of paying out strike pay and making sure that members’ benefits are maintained in the event of a strike.
Strike pay is calculated as $300 per week for 20 hours of strike duties performed per week.
It is CUPE National’s policy that members must perform 20 hours of strike duties to receive strike pay. Strike duties generally include picket line duties (however there are alternate duties for those who cannot walk a picket line due to accessibility concerns). Strike pay is non-taxable. Only members who are currently working as Teaching Assistant are eligible for strike pay, but everyone is welcome to show support at the picket line.
If you can’t do a full 20 hours of picket duties a week but you still want to participate, please complete the picket duties form with as much availability as possible and indicate that you would like to be contacted to discuss an accommodation.
I have a disability that will prevent me from picketing, can I still participate?
Yes! The Strike Committee has been tasked with designing accommodations for members who need one. There will be lots of work to do in the Strike Office processing strike pay, as well as various other tasks that go into organizing and sustaining an effective strike. If you need an accommodation of some kind, please indicate that when you complete your picket duties sign-up form.
Are we going on strike during a pandemic? Or, what will a strike look like during a pandemic?
There have been many successful strikes won during the pandemic, including in the University sector. Though we are bound by CUPE National’s Strike and Defence Fund regulations, a lot of what a strike by Teaching Assistants/Research Assistants-in-lieu at McMaster during a pandemic would look like would be up to the Local’s Strike Committee, on which any interested member of the union can serve.
Can I cross a picket line for classes? Are classes still going on?
Undergraduate and Graduate Classes usually continue in the event of a strike. Some grad classes might be held off-campus if tenured faculty choose to hold them but not to cross a picket line on campus. The union understands that some Unit 1 members have a “dual” role as Employees and students at McMaster. In the event of a strike, we ask you to cease all assigned Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant-in-lieu duties and come join your colleagues on the picket line. You may continue to go to academic classes or perform your personal academic research if we are on strike.
What do I do if my students ask me questions about a strike?
When you are in the lab or the classroom, you have a responsibility to fulfill your duties as a Teaching Assistant. That being said, questions may come up in conversation about the likelihood of a strike at McMaster. Feel free to inform students that they have rights and protections in the event of a strike. These rights and protections are outlined in McMaster University’s Policy on the “Rights and Responsibilities of Undergraduate Students During Work Stoppages that Substantially Disrupt Academic Activities.” (You can find a copy of the policy here.) You can also feel free to direct students to our website, www.bettermac.ca, for answers to commonly asked questions about the negotiations.
I’m an international student member. Is it legal for me to participate in a strike?
It’s entirely legal for international student members to participate in a strike, perform strike duties, and/or show support for the Union during contract negotiations. Receiving strike pay and performing strike duties are allowable under your permit to attend McMaster as a student and worker. A strike doesn’t change the fact that McMaster University is your Employer and the place where you are going to school.
Can I work while I’m on strike?
We ask Teaching Assistants/Research Assistants-in-lieu to stop performing any and all duties that fall under your TA/RA-in-lieu contracts in the event of a strike. Working as a Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant-in-lieu while your peers are out on strike (known as “scabbing”) weakens the union’s position and actually prolongs the strike. It jeopardizes every right and protection that your peers (and Teaching Assistants/Research Assistants-in-lieu members before you) have been struggling to attain for your benefit. At the end of the day, you will be enjoying the rights and benefits that your peers are fighting to protect, and they can only be successful with everyone’s support and participation!
*Please note that if you hold other, non-CUPE 3906 Unit 1 job positions on campus (e.g. Sessional Faculty, UNIFOR member, hospitality staff person, etc.), you are probably contractually obligated to continue to work under the terms of your non-CUPE 3906 Unit 1 employment. That being said, you likely have provisions in your contract under which the Employer cannot ask you to perform the work of Teaching Assistants/Research Assistants-in-lieu if they are on strike. If you are a Unit 2 member (Sessional Faculty) and have a question about your rights and responsibilities in the event of a Unit 1 strike, please contact the union at email@example.com.
Can my supervisor compel me to work as a Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant-in-lieu during a strike?
No. It is not legal for your supervisor, department chair, or a member of the University Administration to compel you to perform TA/RA-in-lieu duties during a legal strike, or retaliate against you for participating in a legal strike. Your supervisor should know this, because:
they are protected from “scabbing” (or performing “replacement worker” work) in the event of a strike under McMaster’s Policies and Guidelines, and likely also under the terms of their own Collective Agreement(s) or employment contract(s);
the Employer usually briefs other Employees on campus (including Faculty in supervisory roles) on what is legal and what is not legal in the event of a legal strike.
If you are asked by your supervisor or your Department Chair to continue your work as a TA/RA-in-lieu or to work as a “replacement worker” in the event of a legal strike, please let the Union know and we can help you.
Do I keep my benefits during a strike?
Thankfully, CUPE 3906 and CUPE National are currently able to maintain members’ benefits in the event of a strike. If there are any changes to the administration of the benefits (e.g., where to drop off claims, etc.), we would give the membership plenty of notice of such changes.
To whom do I refer questions about the negotiation process or the strike vote?
Please check out www.bettermac.ca or www.cupe3906.org with any questions you may have. If you don’t find an answer on the website, please contact our Strike Committee Co-Chairs, Amanda and Shelby, at firstname.lastname@example.org our Mobilizer, Vic, at email@example.com, or our Staff Representatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.