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PSAC Local 610
University of Western Ontario
1313 Somerville House
London, ON  N6A 3K7

General Inquiries:
519.661.4137 (p)
519.850.2998 (f)
psac610@psac610.ca

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Monday- Friday: 10am - 2pm

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PSAC Local 610 statement in response to Western mass communication about GTA bargaining

On March 19, 2018 Janice Deakin, provost and vice president of Western, wrote a letter (see the letter here) to undergraduate students and instructors addressing potential labour action involving Graduate Teaching Assistants. This email was not sent to the graduate student body, nor was it sent to the Local prior to release. We believe that this communication is missing material information provided below.

 

The Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) are also graduate students at Western. Our primary occupation at Western is research. The University has repeatedly said that the acceptable number of employment hours is up to 10 hours a week. The earnings of a GTA are $12,210 per year (equivalent of 280 hours per year). Moreover, as graduate students, in many cases we receive scholarships, but have to pay tuition as well. Without taking into account the full funding (including earnings) provided by Western, it is not possible to judge the TAs conditions. Our survey (820 members participated) shows that 43% of the Union’s members have a net income below $11,000 per year or $917/month. These are largely Masters and international PhD members. For comparison, the rent for a Western-owned apartment is $950 per month (see here).

The majority of our members do not have tuition fees included in their funding support. Any increase in tuition negatively impacts their net income. Over recent years the increase in tuition has exceeded the increase in our earnings, both in absolute and percentage values. In addition to this, the cost of living increase has exceeded our earning increase in the last several years. This means Western’s GTAs earn less money every year. The usage of the Union’s Food support program (food bank) has doubled. The University may cite the minimum funding guarantee of $13,000 a year plus tuition (see here). However, this guarantee does not apply to Masters and does not include the ancillary fees (around $1,500) and mandatory supplementary fee for international students ($612). While the existence of this guarantee is positive, it only provides survival-level funds, at half of the poverty line, and is in fact lower than what Western estimates to be the minimum cost of living in London (see here).

One of the main factors causing stress and precarity among graduate students is the mismatch of the funding period and actual duration of the graduate programs. One of our main demands (mandated by the membership on Oct 5th general meeting) is to extend the GTA employment period to better match the duration of the program.

We are bargaining for basic fairness: our members should not fall behind with inflation and increase in tuition fees. Graduate students should not be the only financially responsible party for long program completion times.

We hope that Western and Dr. Deakin were not deliberately trying to mislead the undergraduate student body and instructors with this email. The selective presentation of values with no context or explanation of their calculation does not allow undergraduates and instructors to create informed opinions. Dr. Deakin may simply be ignorant of the reality of Western GTA’s financial situations. Western seems to believe that we are paid above the provincial average; we believe that once the facts are made clear to the Provost, the misleading information provided by the employer will be corrected in direct communication with the undergraduates and instructors.

Westen has stopped paying the Union Health Care Plan and Financial Assistant Fund during bargaining. Depriving our members of benefits, while they are fulfilling their duties as per the expired collective agreement, is totally unfair and serves only to further harm already vulnerable workers.

We are committed to provide the best learning experience for Western students. Although it is not at our interest to go on strike (as this can cause considerable disruption for the campus community), unfortunately, the financial realities of being a GTA have not been addressed by the University. The provost’s letter is one of the indications of that. Western seems to be pushing us towards labour action. We are committed to the bargaining process and urge the University to come to the bargaining table with a fair deal for GTAs.

In solidarity,

 

PSAC Local 610

PSAC610 / SOGS COMMON INFO:

A significant portion of our members are also members of the University of Western Ontario Society of Graduate Students.