McMaster TAs, RAs in Hamilton taking strike vote in 2 weeks

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Published October 5, 2022 at 11:07 am

The CUPE local that reps teaching assistants and research assistants at McMaster University in Hamilton will start a strike vote on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

This morning, the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 3906 unit 1 bargaining team informed members that a strike vote will begin on Oct. 17. The membership’s collective agreement (CA) expired at the end of August, just before the start of the fall term at McMaster. The sides held three bargaining sessions last week, which were their first since having three in late August just before the CA expired.

The local’s statement says there has been progress with small improvements in regard to to working conditions, while major priorities of financial security and mental/physical health and wellness remain unaddressed. They also charge that McMaster is proposing to “sustain (a) large pay gap between graduate and undergraduate TAs.” That class of employees have had real-dollars pay decreases since 2019 due to the Premier Doug Ford-led Ontario PC Party government’s Bill 124.

“Our proposals are necessary, reasonable, and within the university’s means,” said Chris Fairweather, CUPE 3906 President. “While strike action is a last resort, the university has been unwilling to make any meaningful movement on the priorities needed to ensure that graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants are in a position to succeed as students and workers.”

In its last update to members on Sept. 27, prior to those aforementioned meetings, local 3906 listed seven priorities for workers. At that stage in the game, they said McMaster had “no response” to five out of the seven. The university’s response was “no” to a proposal for an extended work guarantee for grad students, which CUPE says is in place at three other Ontario universities (Carleton, Toronto and York).

Also, a proposal for “(a) modest, portable retirement savings program” for post-doctoral fellows was turned down, with the university allegedly responding, “35 years old on average is ‘too young’to be worried about that.” That form of program is also in place at Ontario Tech, Toronto Metropolitan and Waterloo.

McMaster was recently ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world in the Shanghai Ranking’s 2022 Academic Ranking of World Universities. It was ranked 90th out of 5,000 universities worldwide, with a clinical medicine program ranked No. 47 (and No. 2 in Canada).

The civil engineering, library and information science, metallurgical engineering, public health and transportation science and engineering also earned top-100 rankings.

Bill 124, which came into force 11 months ago, limits many Ontario public sector employees are limited to 1-per-cent annual pay raises, regardless of the inflation rate. The inflation rate in Canada is 6.8 per cent and has never been lower than 4.7 since Bill 124 took effect.

Labour representatives have charged that the bill is responsible for the staffing crisis in Ontario healthcare. A constutional challenge to Bill 124 was launched three weeks ago. The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario recently said the province would be on the hook for up $8.4 billion in retroactive pay if the court case is successful.

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