SFU Research Assistants successfully unionize after three month campaign

Over 900 RAs signed union cards to join TSSU

A large crowd gathered to celebrate the research assistants unionizing in 2019. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarson / The Peak

By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Editor

Research assistants (RAs) at Simon Fraser University have successfully unionized with SFU’s Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU). Though RAs are an important part of virtually every research university in Canada, SFU’s RAs are the first in Western Canada to form a union. 

Previously, the TSSU represented teaching assistants and graduate facilitators of the Student Learning Commons (SLC). The campaign to unionize RAs was publicly announced in November of 2019, as previously reported by The Peak. 

The successful campaign ensures that the approximately 1,500 RAs at SFU will now be formally represented by TSSU. The campaign required 45% of RAs at SFU to sign a union card by November 20, after which the BC Labour Relations Board would hold a secret-ballot vote for RAs to vote on unionizing. Over 900 of SFU’s RAs signed on to support the initial step towards unionization. 

A joint statement issued today by SFU and TSSU stated that SFU would voluntarily recognize TSSU as the official union for all RAs, allowing them to skip the requirement to hold a vote.

According to a press release issued by TSSU: “RAs at SFU are often denied formal, written contracts and struggle with inconsistent pay, job insecurity, overwork, and substandard or dangerous working conditions. RAs have regularly reported being required to work 50+ hour weeks in addition to their academic commitments.”

On Thursday November 20 at 1 p.m. a victory rally was held at Cornerstone on SFU’s Burnaby Mountain to celebrate the campaign. There were many speakers at the event, including Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson, Simon Fraser Student Society President Giovanni HoSang, fourth year First Nations Studies major and RA Alison Wick, TSSU Coordinator Alicia Massie, TSSU Organizer Jade Ho, representatives from BC Government and Services Employee Union, and Unite Here. HoSang led the large crowd in chants, and there was later drumming and a saxophone being played to celebrate the historic win.

A pamphlet for the unionization campaign described the benefits of unionization as: “Protect[ing] good working conditions and relationships; advocat[ing] for vulnerable and overworked RAs; improv[ing] the working lives of every RA at SFU.” 

“Research is work,” says RA and TSSU organizer Jade Ho,​ ​“We believe all workers at SFU should be granted basic employment rights, and it is only by unionizing that we as RAs can guarantee these rights for ourselves.”