Union members vote “yes” to strike vote

TSSU members last went on strike in 2012. - Photo courtesy of vancouverwob.blogspot.ca
TSSU members last went on strike in 2012. - Photo courtesy of vancouverwob.blogspot.ca
TSSU members last went on strike in 2012. – Photo courtesy of vancouverwob.blogspot.ca

After almost a year of negotiations with SFU, the university’s Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the option to take job action this summer.

In a vote held between March 24 and 26, 92 per cent of TSSU voting members voted against the current offer from the university. Their previous collective agreement expired on April 30, 2014.

As a result, the university’s teaching assistants, tutor markers, sessionals, and English language and culture interpreters will now decide whether to engage the strike vote to commence job action, or choose to wait.

Should the union choose to engage in job action, they would be putting pressure on the administration without withdrawing their services, therefore retaining their wages. However, they must hold an additional vote should they wish to initiate a picket line and withhold all services.

Since February of this year, there have been 15 bargaining sessions between the two sides, with neither reaching an agreement. “Without some additional pressure, it is the opinion of the contract committee that no progress can be made and we will be forced to accept the employer’s concessions,” stated the TSSU website.

“Our members have spoken with a unified voice, and they are demanding that SFU’s administration engage in serious, good faith bargaining to address their concerns,” said Derek Sahota, spokesperson for the TSSU, in a press release. Sahota referred to the current agreement as “a broken system,” which he believes SFU could easily repair at no extra cost.

The TSSU’s Chief Steward, Reagan Belan, outlined what she felt were the key issues facing the union: job security for sessional instructors; benefits and equity for continuing language instructors at Harbour Centre; priority access to teaching assistant work for graduate students, and equal pay for equal work for all teaching assistants.

“Most teaching assistants balance the responsibilities of their jobs with full-time work as graduate students, while many sessional instructors maintain several jobs to earn a living,” said Belan in the release.

The TSSU held a Special General Meeting (SGM) on March 27 to ratify the vote and elect members to a strike committee, who will decide the union’s course of action in the upcoming weeks.

Although the university was unable to give an updated comment before press time, their “Labour Issue” web page published the following statement early March 27: “We understand that TSSU members have voted in favour of a strike. The University remains committed to a negotiated settlement that can only take place with both sides at the bargaining table, striving to achieve a new collective agreement.”

The statement continued to note, “Even with a strike vote in hand, the union can elect to return to the bargaining table and resume negotiations.”