CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Blog
~ your issues, your process, your contract ~

Strike-Breaking (working during the strike) — FAQ

Dear Unit 1 Members,

Last week, Human Resources sent out a message to all TAs and RAs regarding its plan to allow members to choose to break the legal strike by McMaster TAs and RAs by performing bargaining unit work and continuing to be paid for such work during the strike. In the interest of ensuring that all members have the information they need to make an informed decision in the event of a strike, our bargaining team would like to address the alarming statements made by the administration.

Strike-breaking, by continuing to perform TA/RA duties

McMaster says:
“You are not legally compelled to join a strike and you can choose to continue working. If you choose to do so, your pay will continue as normal; of course, you will be expected to fulfill all of your normal TA duties.”

The truth:

  • Unit 1 members (ie. YOU) voted this Summer and Fall to support their elected bargaining team in calling a strike if necessary in order to win a fair collectove agreement. A strike will only be called if the bargaining team believes this is the only way to ensure that we win a fair contract for all members present and future.
  • Your TA/RA work is separate from your academic and research commitments. If you have experiments that need your attention, or have classes to attend, your union is not asking you to jeopardize that work. You are allowed to come to campus to perform these roles. That said, faculty members (represented by MUFA) may choose to support the strike by moving classes off campus. You can wear a button or a red felt square on your coat or bag as you come onto campus to show your support for the strike while still fulfilling these academic requirements on campus.
  • While it is true that each member can choose to not join picket lines, those who continue to perform bargaining unit work (TA/RA duties) during a strike weaken the capacity of union members to effectively exert their collective strength in the workplace in order to win a fair contract. Members who break the strike by continuing to do TA/RA work cause a strike to be longer, as they take pressure off the employer to resolve the strike. Further, they act unfairly toward other members of their union, by reaping the rewards of the gains made in bargaining due to the struggles of others. Does this seem fair?
  • In an attempt to avoid giving us a fair contract, the McMaster administration is devising a plan to attempt to pay members who break the strike by continuing to perform TA/RA work, but has not informed CUPE of its plan, and we are not confident the administration will be able to ensure that members who break the strike by performing TA/RA work are paid properly at the end of November. On the other hand, TAs and RAs who support the strike by performing 20 hours per week of duties are GUARANTEED to receive strike pay of $200 EVERY WEEK during the strike.
  • McMaster’s plan involves having strike-breaking TAs and RAs perform modified duties, such as additional marking or other work that is normally performed by other TAs and RAs who are supporting the strike. This will pose administrative problems once the strike is resolved and we have won a fair contract, as all TA/RA Hours of Work Forms will then need to revised in order to avoid grievances against departments. Note that you CANNOT perform the work of other RAs or of TAs in other courses.

What happens to my pay if I withdraw my services and support the strike

McMaster says:
“TAs who choose to participate in the strike will not be paid for each day of the strike. Pay will cease on the first day of the strike, for the duration of the strike. The amount of pay lost will be a function of the actual date that the strike commences, the duration of the strike, and the period during whcih the TA participated in the strike.”

The Truth:

  • The only way to ensure a short and successful strike is for members to actively support the strike by withholding their labour and joining the picket lines or performing other strike support duties to the extent they are able, to a maximum of 20 hours per week.
  • The strike deadline was set such that you will have been paid on October 29th, so that the strike will have the least impact on your monthly wages.
  • If you are not working during the strike the employer can withhold your pay. However, the employer CANNOT withhold scholarship/bursary/external funding money during a strike, and all of these WILL continue to be paid normally.
  • CUPE 3906 and CUPE National have established strike funds to allow members supporting the strike to be paid at a monthly rate that is almost equivalent to TA/RA wages after taxes and other deductions. Strike pay is a maximum of $200/week and slightly more than $800/month for those who picket or do alternative duties for 20 hours per week. This $800/month is gross, take home pay. For most undergrad TAs, this is MORE than you are recieving at present.
  • During a strike, your TA/RA work cannot be performed by members of other unions on campus, including Faculty (MUFA) and Sessional Faculty (CUPE 3906, Unit 2), or members of CAW, SEIU, and IUOE. These unions have recognized the right to strike by enshrining their contracts protections against being forced to scab. This means that, unless other TAs or RAs with whom you work decide to break the strike and perform your duties, your contracted work will be waiting for you after the strike is over.
  • If the strike is short, as is expected if members are supportive, MEMBERS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO LOSE ANY PAY, as individual employment contracts will still need to be completed, and guarantees will still need to be honoured. As such, in the past, those who have supported a strike and then completed their contract hours at the conclusion of the strike have actually MADE money and NOT lost any money. This HAS been the case in the past at McMaster and across the province in TA/RA strikes.
  • Even in the event of a longer strike, any contract hours that are performed toward your contracted hours of this term, even if they are performed next term, MUST be paid. How this will work will be negotiated into the”Back to Work Protocol,” and negotiating a fair protocol is generally a key aspect to ending a strike successfully, so they are generally fair.

What happens to my benefits during a strike

McMaster says:
“TAs should contact the union directly to determine if any of these benefits (vision, childcare, UHIP, dental, Hardship) will be continued in the event of a strike.”

The Truth:

  • In the event of a strike, CUPE National will continue to pay the employer portion of your Dental premiums, so that NO MEMBER WILL LOSE DENTAL BENEFITS.
  • Vision benefits, UHIP rebates, and Childcare subsidies WILL CONTINUE AS NORMAL.
  • There will be Hardship Funds (that DO NOT have to be re-paid) for members who find themselves struggling financially due to the strike. CUPE 3906 has set tens of thousands of dollars aside for Hardship claims, and have also been promised donations from sister locals in the event of a strike.
  • THE EMPLOYER’S CURRENT OFFER WILL RESULT IN A REDUCTION IN YOUR CURRENT BENEFITS. If the strike is successful, or if the employer averts a strike by providing a fair contract, YOUR BENEFITS ARE EXPECTED TO INCREASE.

Most Importantly

Do NOT sign anything prior to November 2 that obligates you to break the strike by continuing to perform TA/RA work. This will weaken the capacity of your bargaining team to win a fair contract at the table, and as such will make a strike more likely. If we all stand together this week, your bargaining team believes it is possible to win a fair contract that protects and enhances your current benefits, protects your current wages from being eroded due to tuition increases and promotes accessible and quiality graduate and undergraduate education at McMaster today and in the future.

We will continue to work with our employer, our National union, and our union Executive to ensure a fair contract for everyone. We will do our best to answer all questions regarding what happens in the event of a strike at the Strike Information Session this Wednesday evening (watch the blog for details:  https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com) and then we will publish over the list-serv all the information provided there.

Of course, we all care about our students. That’s why we’re trying to make structural changes to our contract that also concretely address longterm issues, such as overcrowded classrooms, TA to student ratios, and ensuring that the most qualified TAs are given a fair chance to be hired.

Finally, we will continue to do everything we can to absolutely minimize the negative impact of a strike on members and to ensure that, if we must go on strike, the strike is successful. Thanks very much for your ongoing support, and we hope to see you Wednesday evening.  You can also call us at the office anytime at x24003 or reach us anytime at bargaining@cupe3906.org.

Continue to think critically and examine the actual packages offered by both sides — read our blog: https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com

20 Responses to “Strike-Breaking (working during the strike) — FAQ”

  1. I love the pressure you are putting on the union members to not break the strike. My favorite part is the possibility of ” for a union to take legal action” against those that choose to exercise this right. Furthermore, I also love how nowhere in your post did you mention the benefit of the students at McMaster that this strike will create. Oh wait it wont.

  2. I need a letter of reference from the Professor I TA for? If I go on strike he may not provide mw with my letter of recommendation or it will be of poorer quality. What should I do?!?

    • Hi John,

      This is one of the difficult situations TAs often find ourselves in, being both students and workers. Your choice to go on strike and picket should not in any way affect your letter of recommendation and your department chair should already have sent a message to all of the professors in their department letting them know they have to respect TAs rights as workers. That being said, its still legitimate to have concerns.

      Because situations really vary, your best course of action is to contact the union staff and just let them know the full details of your situation and your concerns so we can help you figure out a solution. Its probably not best to post details right on the blog, instead you can email staff@cupe3906.org or call at McMaster extension 24003.

      Derek

  3. I pay my tuition on a monthly basis out of my TA pay – what happens to that during the strike? I assume this only becomes a concern if the strike lasts until the next paycheck is supposed to come.

    • There’s a couple of different situations:

      Situation a) you have scholarship / bursary / other income on your paycheque besides your TA. Then McMaster will just deduct your tuition from that money.

      Situation b) Your TA is your only income OR you don’t have sufficient money to cover your tuition. You’d have to inquire at the cashier’s office, but it will be up to them to sort out how you pay your tuition.

  4. “Further, they act unfairly toward other members of their union, by reaping the rewards of the gains made in bargaining due to the struggles of others. Does this seem fair? ”

    I ask you… does it seem fair that even though I don’t support CUPE at all, that I am forced into the union and have to pay your dues? Don’t talk to me about fair when you are taking my money against my will, then annoying me with calls for solidarity via e-mail.

    I will not only continue to work as a TA, but I will offer my services (for free) to any undergrad that feels wronged by this TA strike, to the best of my ability.

    Derek, I know you will reply to this, and so I want to put in a pre-emptive ‘agree to disagree’. No personal offense meant, it’s just how I feel.

    • Hi Avery,

      I’d just like to point out that you would have a lot less money than CUPE is taking in dues if we weren’t unionized. The reason we have decent wages and benefits is because of past work done by the union to obtain them for us.

      I’m really curious why you don’t support CUPE; I’d be very interested in hearing your reasoning.

      I don’t understand why a person wouldn’t support a union that improves his or her pay, benefits, and working conditions, and improves learning conditions for the students by working to convince the university to reduce class sizes. Seems to me that if you really do care about your students, you’d want to limit the size of labs and tutorials so you could spend more time helping them.

      So please help me out here with an explanation of why you don’t support the union. Your goals seem to be to have more money in your pocket, and to do your best to help your students learn. These goals align precisely with the goals of the union.

  5. This FAQ has been updated / changed. There used to be a paragraph stating that CUPE 3906 will identify those who choose to scab and that it is possible for CUPE to take legal action against those people.

    Was this statement removed because it was inaccurate?

    • This is more an executive matter than a bargaining team matter, so I’ll try to do my best to respond. Under the CUPE constitution (and indeed most Union constitutions), it is possible to pursue action to penalize members in the bargaining unit who do choose to scab. The reason why this exists is because those members who scab gain all the benefits of a new collective agreement without having to suffer like all of the members who do support the strike.

      We strongly encourage members who do not want to picket to withdraw their labour, rather than scabbing. If a TA strike does occur, it is the accepted practise in the academic sector for unions to negotiate a return to work protocol which includes payment of at least 90% of the wages being paid out to employees. Even at York, where the strike lasted 3 months, the members who returned to work after the strike received at least 90% of their regular guaranteed pay, on top of strike pay if they agreed to picket.

      Since this whole situation is purely a hypothetical and no decision has been made on doing anything, the statement you mention has been removed. Just to re-state the position, it is possible under the constitution, but the executive and membership haven’t made any decision on this at the moment and the bargaining team certainly hopes we don’t ever have to.

      • Derek – the fact that you would persecute those who choose not to follow you is demonstrative of all that is wrong with unions these days. Who the hell do you people think you are? You want to take someone to court? Go right ahead. Shit, I volunteer to be the one you persecute as I will launch a counter suit for being forced to be part of a union of which I want no part and being forced to pay union dues. You want a court battle? Bring it on.

    • David, that would be typical union tactics wouldn’t it? They talk about rights but persecute anyone who exercises their right not to strike. Idiots. I will not join this strike and I dare them to persecute me because of that.

      • Hey “Me”,

        If you didn’t want to be part of a union, why did you accept a TA job? You CHOSE to accept work as a TA. It is a unionized position. Nobody forced you to become a TA at McMaster.

        If you don’t want to be in a union, go to Waterloo or some other university with non-unionized TA positions, and enjoy the crap pay. Better yet, go get a job at Walmart and enjoy making minimum wage. No chance of a big, bad, union bothering you there…

      • Hey Trish,
        I chose to become a TA because it will prepare me for a teaching position upon graduation but I had no choice about that position being unionized. Had I had the choice, I would have accepted the position but as a non-union member. But that choice wasn’t available (really democratic isn’t it?). As for other schools like Waterloo, perhaps you should avoid talking about things of which you have no knowledge. I went to Waterloo before coming to Mac and I took a pay cut when I came here. That’s right, the ‘crap pay’ you describe was higher at UW than it is at Mac. Nice try though. Too bad the facts don’t support your ridiculous claims.

      • WOW! Who is this Trish character?

        So, we should decide which school to do our PhD’s at, based on whether or not they are unionized in the TA portion of our roles as graduate students, which, for me anyways, represents about 8% of the work I do in any given year?!?!

        What kind of backwards thinking is this?

        I came here because of McMaster’s great science, not because of it’s great union.

        It is because of people like Trish that we are in this mess to begin with. I am fully confidant though, that if they let us vote on this, it will all be over soon.

        Anyways, I have to run… I have a tutorial to teach!!!

  6. I want to say I agree with pretty much everything Avery said.

    I know a number of people that believe this union does not speak for them, did vote, and voted against the strike.

    Now we are in a position where we either 1) “do nothing” and get no money and cannot get by, 2) picket for something we don’t believe in (I cannot emphasize that enough) but do so because it keeps us in the good books with our fellow union members, or 3) “cross the picket lines” at the risk of offending our fellow union members and weakening the bargaining position.

    “Insanely busy” is likely a huge understatement as to your current schedule and I want to say I very much appreciate that these are responded to. But, because I know these are read, I will add something that I’d said a week or so ago on a different page. It is irrelevant to the discussion on this page, so feel free to do as you please with the posting.

    The last cupe email I received was October 1st at 6:33pm. WHY?? Clearly my email address was on some email list. Now it is not? When I looked on the cupe3906.org site, there is no email archive. To receive email updates, one must register at the site. And one cannot register on the site. This function is not working.

    And on this blog, the email archive link…

    https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com/email-archive/

    …has one email there that I can see, and it is from October 13th. I know there have been emails since then. Many as I understand it. PLEASE fix something so that I (and others that are not on whichever mailing list is used) can read what’s going on. I have subscribed to the RSS thing, but the emails aren’t there either.

  7. Speaking again about things being fair…I do not agree with a strike that so adversely affects the students, who should NOT have to pay for a disagreement between those who assist in delivering their education and the organization employing them. I think it is completely unfair to leave students hanging out to dry like that.

    As an undergraduate student myself, I know what it would be like to have tutorials, labs etc. cancelled, especially at this time of year. The class that I TA for just had its midterm, and many students are going to be getting their test back, seeing their grades, and realizing that they need help. The professor obviously cannot give the attention needed to a class of 600+ students to allow them the best possible chance to succeed.

    I also realize that, as an undergraduate student, perhaps my perspective on the situation is different, in terms of pay, benefits, etc., but I personally have no problem with the deal being given to me. I am incredibly grateful for a job that pays me over $20 an hour, especially when I have never made more than $12. No, not enough to refuse assistance to the students who need us, which is why I sought this job in the first place. I was not hired yet when the vote was underway, so I literally had no say in whether or not to strike. I realize there are many sides to the story, and I am grateful for the benefits I have (which I realize have been achieved through the bargaining process) but I wish more consideration would be given to the students. I am not convinced that this is one of those times when striking is absolutely necessary.

  8. By the way…by “legal action” the worst you can do is take away our CUPE voting rights, which to be honest a lot of us that are crossing, don’t really care about!

    You say it’s not fair if we cross to the other members, but I am a firm believer that what you’re doing is not fair. I just wanted to teach, I never asked you to represent me. I never asked you to fight for everything you have been fighting for. To be quite frank, I would do this same job for half the salary and no benefits, because I’m doing it for the students. As such, even if I don’t get paid during this period, I will continue to teach my students and help them learn – because as is often forgotten in a University strike…this is a LEARNING INSTITUTION!

  9. If you want more money and more benefits, might i suggest you get a real job. Those who cannot “do” , teach; those who cannot “teach”, TA/RA.
    Instead of striking go look for a real job and stop complaining about 40$ an hour you get.


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