Why do we need a union or a collective agreement?
Collective bargaining allows for all of us who serve as TAs to negotiate with the employer together, rather than leaving each TA on his or her own to negotiate individually with the university. Regardless of our different disciplines, duties, and responsibilities, collective bargaining allows for all TAs to negotiate with the employer as one, for the betterment of all of us, and for all future TAs who come to Western. PSAC Local 610 serves to protect our collective rights as workers and to provide a variety of benefits to you, the members.
Aren’t we just looking for more money or higher wages?
The simple answer is no. When the union goes to the negotiating table, we are looking at more than just increased wages. Thanks to collective bargaining, TAs at Western have been able to win extended health benefits, improved training, financial assistance for members in need, and better wages. Also, the collective agreement covers a broad spectrum of workplace issues. These include: hours of work, health and safety, medical/sick/conference leaves, pregnancy/parental leave, overtime, discipline, harassment in the workplace, academic freedom, and intellectual property.
Do I still have a contract since the collective agreement expired August 31st, 2015?
Yes. During bargaining, TAs continue to work under the terms of the expired collective agreement until a new collective agreement is reached and ratified by our membership (all of the TAs across campus) and by the employer. This is guaranteed under the Provincial Labour Relations Act. If there are changes in wages, they would be retroactive and therefore backdated to September 1, 2015 once a new collective agreement is ratified.
Why is there a negotiations committee and a bargaining team? What is the difference? Shouldn’t there only be one?
Good question. The negotiations committee met from January to July to review and discuss in detail the expiring collective agreement. The committee was made up of members from different faculties and departments. They also created and analyzed the online bargaining survey conducted in February and March and the questionnaires that were sent out to the union’s membership during solidarity events. The bargaining team is smaller than the negotiations committee, and it is composed of representatives who will be negotiating the new collective agreement with the employer. While the Negotiations Committee was an open committee, wherein any PSAC Local 610 member could join and let his or her voice be heard, the members of the Negotiation Team were specially selected from the entire Local 610 membership across all degrees and divisions, so all TAs are optimally represented.
Where did the Local come up with their demands?
The Local’s demands are based on feedback from our members, determined, in particular, by departmental solidarity events and the online bargaining survey conducted in the 2015 Winter Term, and, in general, by workplace issues our members have encountered over the length of the current Collective Agreement. Therefore, these demands are YOUR demands, and your bargaining team is striving to get the best deal possible for you, as well as for future TAs.
Why is the union making things difficult at the bargaining table? Why don’t they just agree to the university’s proposals?
Because the Local’s demands are based entirely on feedback we’ve received from our members, your bargaining team is striving to get the best deal possible for YOU, our members. These do not coincide with the demands of those from management, who want the best deal for THEM. Unfortunately many of our members continue to live below the poverty line, without sufficient access to health care, child care, professional development opportunities, or sustainable wages. Although negotiations can be difficult, our goal will always be to achieve the best possible agreement based on our membership’s interests and priorities. However, compromises can be reached, if both sides are willing to be flexible. FORTUNATELY, both the Local and the employer have a 20-year history of bargaining in good faith to reach a fair agreement for all parties. It is important to remember that we all stand on the shoulders of the members who came before us. They made gains not only for themselves, but for future TAs, which includes all of US! The Local needs to ensure not only that it works for the best possible deal for you, our members now, but that it also fights for the next generation of members as well.
Are we going on strike?
There is no way to say for certain. But it is possible. Your union, PSAC Local 610, has never had to go on strike in its 20-year history. Yet even without strike action, the Local has managed to win significant gains for our members at the bargaining table. We hope that trend continues during this round. A strike is ultimately the last resort we can take to achieve our collective goals. It is disruptive to both our members and the employer. The employer loses valuable employees who ensure the strong teaching mandate of Western is maintained. Undergraduates lose invaluable classroom time, assistance, and education provided by our members. Because of our commitment to teaching, we as TAs don’t want to take ourselves away from our students, as we value our time in the classroom and in the lab. HOWEVER, in order to be in a strong negotiating position to win our demands at the bargaining table, we need to be prepared for all options – including a strike. A strike is the very last job action we want to take. It is important to remember, a strike can only occur after an affirmative vote by the membership of PSAC Local 610, so the strike decision ultimately rests with YOU!
Besides a strike, there is another possible result of unsuccessful bargaining: a lock-out. The employer could lock us out of the workplace if the negotiations are not going in their favour. The union would have no control over this. Like a strike, a lock-out is seen as a last resort. Unlike a strike, lock-outs are viewed as a desperate act by the employer to force their demands on us by forcing the PSAC Local 610 membership into submission.
Will I still get paid if we go on strike or if we are locked-out?
Yes and No. You will not be paid by the employer for your TA duties for the duration of a strike or lock-out, as you would be temporarily not working for the employer. However, PSAC provides strike pay, which is also available during lock-outs, for members who perform strike-related duties, such as picketing, for 4 hours per day. The rate of strike pay is $56.25 per day.
What will happen to my courses/comprehensive exams/thesis defence if we go on strike?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer for this. This ultimately would depend on whether the university chooses to continue classes and academic studies during a strike, which the Local cannot control. However, it is likely that you would be responsible for continuing your academic studies in the event of a strike, although some measure of accommodation may be offered. Again, this will ultimately be decided upon by the University Administration.
I’m an undergraduate student. Why should I care about TAs and collective bargaining?
TAs are very frequently your first points of contact as you engage with university coursework during your undergraduate career. We teach many of your introductory classes, run your tutorials, mark and grade your assignments and exams, meet with you to discuss concerns you might have about the courses or ways to improve. Because we value the education and experience we provide you with during your time at Western, we must ensure that we are provided for as well. If your TAs haven’t eaten in a couple of days because they have to buy medicine or provide essentials for a child and can’t afford food, they would clearly be unable to adequately provide for your educational needs because they cannot provide for even their own most basic needs. If TAs are teaching courses about which they have no knowledge or prior training, the stress involved would similarly render them incapable of giving you the best education possible. If TAs have to teach tutorials while they are sick and without any sick leave, you wouldn’t get them at their best, plus YOU GET SICK TOO! Those of you who are thinking of pursuing more advanced degrees, how would you feel if the tables were turned? Remember, when and if you go to graduate school, that hundreds of TAs before you will have fought for the rights you will enjoy. We are not just negotiating for ourselves as TAs, we are negotiating to enhance your education AND your future!
How can I get involved?
There are a couple of ways to get involved during the bargaining process. You can get involved with the Communications Committee by emailing the Communications Chair (), following us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PSAC610 and https://www.facebook.com/groups/10150128669460570/), and watching out for bargaining updates in the PSAC Local 610 email newsletter and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/PSAC610). You can also join the mobilization team. Contact them through their Twitter account: https://twitter.com/uwo_tas.
PSAC Local 610