CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Blog
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Bottom of the Pack – TA Compensation at McMaster

McMaster University often prides itself on its international reputation as a top 100 research university. However, when it comes to actually compensating the workers and students who have built this impressive reputation, McMaster is solely lacking.

While we could continue on with a lot more commentary, we believe that the graphs below speak for themselves. The straight fact is that McMaster is at the bottom of the barrel of major Ontario universities when it comes to compensating both its undergraduate and graduate TAs.

The union’s proposal to bring a full McMaster graduate TA up from 260 hours to 280 hours would place McMaster firmly in the middle of the pack at $10,640 / year for a full graduate TA. McMaster is a world class university, its time that the administration stops being cheap with its student workers and compensates them fairly for their contributions to higher education.

Comparison of Graduate TA pay at major Ontario Universities

Comparison of Undergraduate TA pay at major Ontario Universities

Methodology: all graphs have been calculated assuming positions are full TA positions. The number of hours in a full TA varies from 260 at McMaster to 280 at Guelph, Windsor and U of T. Vacation pay has been included in all calculations, so the comparison is between gross pay before deductions, taxes and tuition. All rates are current as of Sept 1, 2009, except for Guelph where the most recent data is for Sept 1, 2008.

20 Responses to “Bottom of the Pack – TA Compensation at McMaster”

  1. […] Bottom of the Pack – TA Pay at McMaster Our research team has been hard at work again to compile the rates of pay for TAs at various major Ontario universities. The results may shock you. Despite the fact McMaster University often prides itself on its international reputation as a top 100 research university, when it comes to actually compensating the workers and students who have built this impressive reputation, McMaster falls to the bottom of Ontario Universities. Read more and see the raw data … […]

  2. So what about Research Assistant (RA) money? Aren’t the people receiving those doing the productive useful research that makes McMaster a top research university? Where do we fit on the RA money, and on total compensation.

    • For RA’s there are two groups to consider. RA’s who are employed in lieu of a TA are CUPE 3906 Unit 1 members and are paid at the same rate as TA’s and have access to the same benefits, so the exact same analysis applies. RA’s who are workers but not in lieu of a TA are paid at the discretion of the department and supervisor and we unfortunately don’t have any access to hard statistics for that. These RA’s who aren’t “in lieu” also have no access to benefits, job protections and any of the other protections that being in a union provides. Anecdotal evidence from being an RA in my own department and the offers I received from around the country, also put McMaster near the bottom of the pack for RA compensation (especially once you calculate the loss of important benefits such as dental and vision care).

  3. Are there more data available to do with numbers of TAs? I’d be interested to see the difference in pay, rather than total paid out since the latter really tells nothing without the former.

  4. please disregard my last comment, I didn’t look at the graph carefully enough.

  5. It is irony that so much marketing is done for McMaster by the Management and so little is there actually for the workers of McMaster.

    • McMaster has always seemed stingy with the students. It’s no suprise that the school is under paying the TAs. It will not be beneficial for the students to lose TAs because of a potential strike, but I’d stand behind them. McMaster has all this money to build new buildings and they get enough money from the students in Misc. fees and upselling all of their food, they definitely have some money to spare to take care of some of the people who influence the future of their undergraduate students.

  6. Interesting that Queens is not on the list. Does that mean they pay less than McMaster?

    McMaster has higher endowments than all of the schools on this list (except for UofT).

    • Hi there,

      Yes, McMaster’s endowments and overall budget are suprisingly high compared tio similarly sized are larger universities. McMaster is, per capita, one of the very richest universities in Canada. This is why CUPE and the CAW are frustrated that the employer (the university upper administration) has suggested cuts or freezes (for 3 years!) to funding and benefits.

      Great question about Queens. TAs at Queens are paid a little less than McMaster, actually. (But that’s to be expected, as they are not unionized. It is almost always the case that unionized workers have better pay and benefits than non-unionized workers.) We only included universities of comparable size with TA locals represented by CUPE, as these are the most fair comparison.

      In solidarity,


      • Jesse – you are incorrect. TAs at Waterloo make more than those at Mac and they are not unionized. I took a pay cut when I came to unionized Mac from non-unionized UW.

  7. Is there any talk of getting a tuition settlement apart from wages? I know at UofT their overall funding isn’t that much more than ours (they get $15 000 after tuition) but because they have a tuition scholarship they don’t have to worry about tuition increases outpacing their wages.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for your question. Yes, the union has proposed a tuition rebate model similar to that used successfully at York and Carleton Universitiy. Our proposal will cap fees for graduate student TAs at 2009 (pre-8% increase) levels, so that each graduate student TA would receive, on top of regular pay, a stipend in the amount of any tuition increases this year, compared with last year. This would mean that any wage increase would actually be kept by members and would not be paid back through the tuition increase. The employer has proposed just over 1% per year in wage increases for grad student TAs, which would leave both domestic and international TAs with less money in their pocket. We have told the administration that this is unacceptable, and we continue to puch for our tuition protection proposal. With the support of members, it is possible that something like this can be won. It will largely depend on the strength of our strike mandate vote results, which will be known tomorrow evening.

      In solidarity,


  8. If you included all the Universities where TAs get paid less that McMaster, we actually sit right in the middle.

    I hope this isn’t the type of logic you are using at the bargaining table.

    Trent ($9228.00)
    Lakehead ($8724.00 – $9513.00)
    Brock ($9860.60)
    Waterloo ($8864.00)

    • Hi Ken,

      Thanks for bringing up an important point. When we compare to other universities its important we explain our criteria for the comparison. McMaster, with 20,000+ undergraduate and 3000+ graduate students is considered a research intensive mid-sized university. In making our comparison graph there were three main criteria for inclusion into the graph:

      1) At least mid-sized universities (15,000+ undergradutes)
      2) Research Intensive (>1000 graduate students)
      3) Unionized workforce

      Trent and Lakehead are both small schools, with less than 1000 graduate students and less than 10,000 undergraduates each and so the comparison in that case is not apples to apples. Brock is much more of a teaching university, again with less than 1000 graduate students, although if we added them into the comparison they’d sit right beside McMaster at the bottom. Waterloo is certainly comparable as a university in research intensity, as well as number of students to McMaster; however, TAs are Waterloo aren’t unionized and so have no collective voice to argue for fair wages for them. As such, we don’t think its fair to include Waterloo in the comparison.

      Thanks for the question,


  9. I have been a student at McMaster for a long time as an undergraduate and grad student and during the last strike the union ‘won’ a battle to insure that students that had completed an undergraduate degree were paid as much as graduate student TAs. At a first glance this makes some sense but in reality all it seemed to do in the departments and faculties I have dealt with was stop the hiring of these people. So now instead of a recently graduated student being able to work for a few months as a TA making over $20.00 and gaining valuable experience they simply are not considered to be hired even if they are the most qualified. Do you have a response to this? I might be way off with this but I would like the unions response.

    My second question is I think more simple. Does the union have any right to fight for increased TA budgets in schools and departments? In the past the department has solved their funding issues associated with hire TA costs by simple hiring fewer TAs, especially undergraduate ones. In many departments a graduate TA/RA is guaranteed and beyond that undergraduate students are hired to fill the in gaps. If the costs go up but budgets do not change there will be even more service type courses on campus that have 600 people, one TA and exclusively multiple choice tests. Does the union have a response opinion on that potential issue?

    Thank you.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for your comments, which shed light on the tactics used by our employer to find ways to circumvent the gains made by workers at the bargaining table. Indeed, some departments have shifted toward hiring undergraduate (Class “B”) TAs because they have a lower wage rate. This is an issue that we’re trying to address at the bargaining table, but the employer will always try to find ways to subvert anmd take back any gains we make. If we stand together, we can find ways to protct our contract during it’s lifetime, but that requires a very informed and active membership. Whatever we win this year will need to be defended — it sounds as though you agree, so please watch for committees, general meetings and other ways to get involved in the local as we continue bargaining, and once we have a new contract.

      Regarding your second point, it may be the case that some departments have cut TA positions in specific courses, but overall there has not been a decrease in positions as our wages and benefits have increased. Rather, there has been an INCREASE in the number of net TA positions, and also has there been an increase in the number of undergrad (Class “B”) positions. Departments have been able to continue with the same number, or a greater number, of TA positions, even as wages have increased, because TA salaries are a very small part of overall departmental budgets. Indeed, an increase of 3% to the cost of TAs is much less costly than yearly staff, faculty, administrative and material cost increases. Indeed, CAW members just recently negoatiated a $1000 per members wage signing bonus (top-up) on top of their wage increase and normal yearly step increases. The signing bonus ALONE, at about $2.2 Million, was more costly that our ENTIRE proposals package in the first year. Indeed, TAs comprose less than 3% of the overall university budget, whereas faculty and staff (fewer in number) employee groups are each worth more more than 25% of the total university budget.

      My point is that increases for hard-working CUPE 3906 members are not only deserved but are, in the grand scheme of the overall budget, affordable. In fact, our proposed increase in year one of under 2 Million costitutes less than .25% of the university budget.

      I share your concerns, and I agree that the university may continue to use some strategies you suggest above, but I do not believe they MUST. Indeed, they have choices, and often they choose to make cuts that hurt students and negative impact the quality of education at McMaster. This is very unfortunate, and CUPE 3906 will continue to fight this. Can you lend a hand?

      In solidarity,


    • There should be a difference in TA rates from what exist now. Undergrad TAs should make a certain amount, MA student TAs should make more, and PhD TAs should make the most. If we are considered more qualified as grad students than undergrad TAs are, and therefore deserving of more pay, then isn’t it logical that PhD TAs should make more than MA TAs as we are more qualified than them? If the union was to fight for this I could easily get behind a strike to which I am currently opposed.

  10. Can you please source your data or inform me where can I find independent data for the employment packages (hourly wages, health benefits, etc) offered by other Ontario and Canadian universities? I would also be interested to see what the wages were for York before they went on strike. Finally, given your three criteria are there only 8 universities in Ontario which you are able to compare yourself to?

  11. Of the schools shown in the graph, how easy is it for their students to get TA positions? To the best of my knowledge, Ryerson makes it very difficult to Masters students to get a TA position. This, of course, would make it easier to pay TAs higher.

    • TA positions are actually quite hard to come by for graduate students at McMaster. Only about half of the graduate students at McMaster have TA positions.

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