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

Union’s Proposals Explained in Simple Terms

At CUPE 3906, we are working hard to ensure an open, accessible and democratic bargaining process.   As such, Unit 1 members developed and voted on their their proposals democratically last Spring, and your elected bargaining team and executive committee maintain our bargaining blog as a way to allow all members, and all members of the McMaster community, to know what’s happening at the table and behind these scenes at every stage of negotiations.  But for those who are not familiar with collective bargaining and contract language, the process can be confusing and frustrating.  In hopes of clarifying things for you, our loyal blog readers and valued members and supporters, we offer below a summary, in plain terms, of the key issues in this bargaining round. 

Benefits

A key sticking point here is that the administration has proposed to freeze the current total amount of money in benefits funds while these funds continue to be in deficit, that is they are currently underfunded. The key benefits that this affects are the vision coverage, hardship fund, UHIP rebate for international student TAs, and childcare fund for TAs. With increased usage and the same amount of money, the dollar amount of benefits will have to be cut when the benefits are pretty small to begin with ($100 / year for childcare for example). We’ve asked that these funds be properly funded to their current usage levels.
The union has also proposed to that the administration fund the extended health care premiums for undergraduate and graduate TAs and contribute to dental coverage for undergraduate TAs.

Wages

Wage rates for TAs are broken down into two different categories, one for undergraduate TAs ($19.95 / hr + vac pay) and one for graduate ($36.54 / hr + vacation pay). We’ve proposed to freeze the graduate rate of pay at $36.54 and the Administration has proposed to raise it each year. We’ve asked for a freeze because most graduate TAs are ok with the current wage rate and would rather have the money put into benefits and other places where the impact is greater.

A key reason for asking for a wage freeze for members comprising about 85-90% of the unit by compensation, is that for every $1 dollar the administration has to put into wages, $.10 gets lost into payroll deductions (CPP, EI, etc) and the employee puts in another $.09 in deductions as well. So that $1 the administration contributed becomes $.81 to TAs (this is BEFORE income taxes potentially take more). We’d rather they put the $1 into benefits, where TAs get to see the full $1. So really, if the administration is tight for money, it makes no sense to put money into wages as they’d have a much greater impact by contributing to benefits for each TA.

For undergraduate TAs, we’ve proposed to bring them more in line with the provincial norm. At U of T, for example, undergraduate TAs are paid 84% of the wage rate of graduate TAs. At McMaster, they’re paid 55% of the wage rate. We see no reason for that sort of inequity and argue that the administration should work to bring the wage rates closer together. Our current proposal on the table would have undergraduate TAs paid $28.85 / hr or 79% of a graduate TA, and the administration has proposed they are paid $21.83 / hr by the end of year 3, or 60% of a graduate TA.

Quality of Education and Overwork

McMaster’s graduate TAs are hired for chunks of 260 hours over two academic terms, unfortunately this is amongst the lowest number of paid hours for graduate TAs in Ontario. The reality is the actual work that needs to be done is pretty similar across all universities and most TAs see their jobs as “work until the work is done,” as they don’t want to hurt the quality of education for their students. As a result, most TAs significantly work beyond their paid hours. The union has proposed to raise the number of paid hours and cap the student to TA ratio in labs, tutorials and for marking. The goal of these proposals is to get undergraduate students more access to TAs and to give TAs the opportunity to properly comment on student work while reducing the incidence of overwork.
The way that the TA hiring system is currently setup means that 5th and 6th year Ph.D students are actually the least likely to be hired as TAs. We don’t think this makes any sense as these students are likely to be the most knowledgeable and most experienced TAs, so we’ve got a proposal to ensure these upper year students get offered TA positions, if they desire them.
Read more about quality of education : here.

Tuition Increases and Accessibility of Education

McMaster’s Board of Governor’s raised tuition for domestic graduate students by the maximum allowed 8% / year for the coming academic year. Tuition for graduate students actually comes directly off our paycheques, so in September, the monthly paycheques for all graduate student TAs will actually decrease, rather than the slight increase you might expect. This trend is worrying because there’s nothing preventing the BoG from raising tuition another 8% next year and the way they’ve been talking, it certainly seems like they might.
Similarly, undergraduate students have seen 4% across the board increases (which the maximum legislated amount). Applying the same long term trend, we worry about serious long term consequences to constant increases in the cost of education.

Even with the administration’s proposed wage increases, graduate student TAs will take home $300-$700 less per year on their paycheques and have access to less benefits. Obviously this is a pretty raw deal at the moment, but we have lots of proposals on how to ensure TAs end up better off, not worse off each year.

Read more about tuition hikes : here .

Where’s the money to come from?

All of the above proposals seem like a lot, but if we can get the employer to agree to freeze graduate TA wages, then the money they’ve put into wages can fund around half of our current benefits proposals. We’ve also come up with a proposal that saves the administration at minimum tens of thousands of dollars per year, by changing the mechanism behind paying graduate student TAs (using something called grant-in-aid), these savings could then be used to at least maintain the current costs of our benefits.

On the issue of quality of education, McMaster also received $5.1 million this year from the Provincial government to improve “accessibility and quality” of education at the university. We’re proposing just 1/3 of that money be dedicated to hiring more TAs to reduce the student to TA ratio, which would be a huge benefit to undergraduate students.

So the union’s bargaining team is really hopeful we can reach a negotiated settlement by working through all of these issues at the table. We will be meeting with the Employer’s bargaining team along with a provincial conciliation officer on Sept 30th and then on Oct 14, 15, and 16.

You can follow the progress at the table on our blog at: https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com.

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2 Responses to “Union’s Proposals Explained in Simple Terms”

  1. […] Union Proposals in Simple Terms At CUPE 3906, we are working hard to ensure an open, accessible and democratic bargaining process.   As such, Unit 1 members developed and voted on their their proposals democratically last Spring, and your elected bargainign team and executive committee maintain our bargaining blog as a way to allow all members, and all members of the McMaster community, to know what’s happening at the table and behind these scenes at every stage of negotiations.  But for those who are not familiar with collective bargaining and contract language, the process can be confusing and frustrating.  In hopes of clarifying things for you, our loyal blog readers and valued members and supporters, we have prepared a summary, in plain terms, of the key issues in this bargaining round. […]

  2. i just needed to tell you that your forum is great

    thank you

    voyance


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