A man adds to the wall of apology erected on the damaged windows of The Bay after the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. Photo taken on June 16, 2011. Full story
Posted on May 16, 2011.
This article was originally published in the May 16, 2011 issue of The Peak.
The union that represents SFU’s TAs, sessional instructors, and other teaching support employees is going public with its frustration with the current round of contract negotiations, claiming that the university administration is refusing to engage in substantive bargaining.
The Teaching Support Staff Union’s most recent contract expired on March 30, 2010, and while negotiations started the following summer, they grounded to a halt this past March when the TSSU took a break from the bargaining table to consult with its membership.
The problem, according to TSSU chief steward, Joel Blok, is that “from our perspective, we haven’t had any substantive engagement or response from the university.”
Specifically, Blok reports that while the TSSU has made a number of proposals to address issues raised by its membership and change the language in the contract, university negotiators have responded to all of the proposals by saying that the university does not agree that a problem exists and that it will not agree to the changes. The sole exception, according to Blok, was a change to the name of a position.
University administration did not comment on the accusations; representatives from the university’s human resources and media relations offices declined The Peak’s requests for an interview, explaining that the university does not discuss contract negotiations away from the bargaining table.
By contrast, Blok suggested that the TSSU is making their complaints public in order to put pressure on the administration. “We absolutely want to bargain,” he said. “We want to have a contract, as well. In terms of getting them to the table, to some extent that’s a decision that they’re going to have to make.”
“They’re not acknowledging that there is a significant problem that needs to be changed,” he added. “I think it’ll be a matter of demonstrating to the administration and to the university community that there actually are some issues, there are ways of making things better here . . . The more that we can make that apparent to folks, if the administration is paying attention, hopefully we can get back to the table to address these issues.”
Since the university’s bargaining team is negotiating a public-sector contract, they are bound by the terms of the provincial government’s Public Sector Employers Council negotiating mandate, which specifies that employers must negotiate two-year contracts that include no net increases in compensation costs. Although wage increases are allowed under this mandate, they must be balanced with cost reductions in other compensation areas such as benefits.
Blok asserted that many of the changes that the university has rejected have nothing to do with compensation, however, the examples of proposing that SFU graduate students be given priority when the university is hiring TAs, and of taking measures to improve job security for sessional instructors.
On the possibility of taking job action, Blok stated that “it’s always there in the background. At the end of the day, nobody wants to have a strike . . . [it will] be a matter of what kind of response we get from the administration around things and what kind of response we get from the membership about things. At this point, there hasn’t been much conversation around that, but it’s always there in the air whenever bargaining happens.”
“One of the things that we want the university to engage in and discuss, is that we do a lot of the teaching here,” Blok concluded. “We want to see them actually value that teaching.”
I'm David Proctor, Vancouver-based freelance journalist. I graduated SFU with double majors in communication and political science in 2011, and was news editor of The Peak for over two years. I have also written extensively for the Vancouver edition of Metro News. Today, I seek freelancing opportunities and regular news-writing work.