Teaching Support Staff Union begins first bargaining session with SFU for RA rights

After over a year of delays, SFU agrees to grant research assistants standard employee rights

Photo taken before COVID-19. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Written by: Jaymee Salsi, News Writer

On March 23, 2021, the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) and SFU administration had their first meeting to negotiate a collective agreement. To bring SFU to the bargaining table, the TSSU gave the university multiple legal notices, publicly campaigned for the RA rights, and built community support to pressure the administration.

With the consultation of RAs, the TSSU presented a proposal that focused on:

  • Including RAs in all types of research work
  • Providing job transparency
  • Protection against inequities such as harassment and intellectual property theft
  • Respecting research workers by building a fair wage and benefit system
  • Extending existing TSSU Collective Agreement rights and benefits to RAs

SFU administration agreed to give RAs a “payroll deduction for tuition, grievance procedure, bullying and harassment, and health and safety precautions,” TSSU chief stewards Seamus Bright Grayer and Katie Gravestock told The Peak.

According to Gravestock and Grayer, the university’s proposal focused on the definitions of “research” and “research assistant work.” SFU also wanted the terms in the Collective Agreement to reflect the BC Employment Standards Act, Gravestock and Grayer said. The chief stewards consider this agreement to be “the bare minimum for workers in BC.” 

For the TSSU, “a collective agreement means gaining access to mental-health coverage and sick leave.”

RAs are currently excluded from standard SFU employee medical and dental benefits. They have reported receiving unfair and irregular wages. As the university prepares to reopen in September, Gravestock and Grayer believe gaining rights for these items is especially important.

This first bargaining session had been delayed since 2019 when the university signed an agreement with the TSSU. The Memorandum of Agreement of Voluntary Recognition stated bargaining would begin by May 2020.

Vice president, research and international pro tem Dugan O’Neil previously told The Peak, “a number of complications [arose] in the process of identifying and transitioning RAs to becoming SFU employees.”

O’Neil said the current terms and conditions of RA employment can change once collective bargaining with the TSSU is finished.

“Every day that goes by is a day where RAs on campus are left without crucial rights and protections [ . . . ] SFU has treated researchers as second class workers for too long and it’s well past time to right that wrong,” Gravestock and Grayer said.