TSSU has been forced into implementing new approach in contract negotiations

By Joel Blok
Image by: TSSU

The members of the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), which is composed of all TAs, TMs, continuing language instructors, and Sessionals here at SFU, are in discussion about the possibility of taking job action in the coming months. A motion was introduced at the May 24 General Membership Meeting proposing a strike vote for mid-June. This strike vote could have widespread implications for SFU, as TSSU members are essential to the university’s ability to function on many levels.

The TSSU’s members are many of the people who interact directly with students, who deliver some of SFU’s largest courses, and who evaluate and provide student feedback. SFU prides itself on being an engaged university, and it is often the TAs, TMs, and instructors who truly engage with students.

The TSSU’s most recent collective agreement with the university expired in early 2010, and negotiations for a new agreement have been ongoing since then. Conversation has focused on improvements to working conditions, updating the agreement’s language, and ensuring pay equity for TSSU members. Many of the proposals put forth by the TSSU offer cost-free improvements to the university that are simultaneously beneficial to our members, SFU’s undergraduate students, and university administrators.

Additionally, the TSSU has proposed compensation increases that would allow its members to achieve parity with rising costs, including tuition. Without the modest increases we have proposed, TSSU members will continue to lose ground. Many of our members have dependents and student loan debt; they are stretched to the limit and simply cannot afford to take what amounts to a pay-cut through rising costs.

The university administration has made clear their intention to negotiate a collective agreement with nearly no changes aside from several TSSU concessions. Even a TSSU proposal that is designed to simply bring our workplace health and safety language into agreement with WorkSafe BC regulations has proven too contentious for the university. This is not an isolated example, as the TSSU has not been able to obtain the employer’s agreement for basic changes to the collective agreement that acknowledge that SFU now has more than two campuses, is using new administrative procedures, or that there have been changes to provincial laws since the last agreement. In some cases, more money has been spent on the university negotiators’ salaries by disputing a proposal than the proposals would have cost to implement.

After two years of bargaining, the TSSU’s contract committee is convinced that only a new approach can yield any results. This is the motivation behind calling a strike vote: to provide the administration with a mandate to truly engage in bargaining. And, as a fully democratic organization, it is TSSU’s members who decide whether to hold a strike vote and, when held, they will decide between job action, and an effective pay cut and growing list of unaddressed problems.

TSSU will offer many opportunities over the coming weeks for its members and the SFU community to engage in an informed dialogue about this strike vote and the broader issues that concern us all. TSSU prides itself as being one of SFU’s most democratic organizations, and we therefore welcome all debate and discussion as we move forward. You can take part in this discussion through Facebook and Twitter, drop by the TSSU office, or come to the upcoming town hall meetings.