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U of C prepares to enter mediation with graduate TAs as contract negotiations stall

By Gabriela Dzięgielewska, October 24 2023—

Nine months into labour negotiations between graduate teaching and research assistants (TAs and RAs, respectively) and the University of Calgary, a new contract has not been signed. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Hunter Yaworski, the chair of the Graduate Labour Union (GLU) representing around 2000 employed graduate students, commented on why the negotiations are continuing into October. 

“We are at an impasse on a few key articles in collective bargaining. That means things are delayed and they’re not particularly close to getting resolved,” said Yaworski. 

Employed graduate students at the U of C work under a collective agreement. Their previous collective agreement with the U of C expired in December 2022. Negotiations for a new agreement commenced in January 2023 and are ongoing. Until a new agreement comes into effect, the terms of the old contract continue to apply.

The GLU and U of C have attended seven official bargaining meetings thus far, with the most recent one taking place at the beginning of October. With no progress at the bargaining table, the GLU indicated their intention to file for mediation with the U of C, whereby a provincially appointed neutral third party will assist in reaching a resolution.  

“Mediation is also an important step towards a potential job action. Under Alberta law, if mediation fails, the union will be in a position to take a strike vote following a cooling off period,” read an update from the GLU released to the Gauntlet.

In response, the university proposed another virtual bargaining session to which the GLU agreed. The bargaining session is set to take place in the near future, though no official date has been made public. 

The GLU explained they accepted the university’s proposal for another bargaining session to provide a final opportunity for the U of C to reach an agreement with the GLU. 

“In essence, the team sees this as a final opportunity for the university to withdraw their concessionary demands and reach an agreement that both parties can live with. Failing that, we will proceed to filing for mediation and prepare to mobilize our members for a strike vote and job action, if necessary.” continued the update. 

Yaworski emphasized the goal of the GLU during this bargaining period is to secure a fair deal for its membership. 

“At the end of the day, we’re fighting to try to make a better environment and a better workplace for graduate students at the University of Calgary. That’s our intention, that’s our only goal and that’s all we want. We want the best deal possible for our students,” stated Yaworski. 

If the mediation between the GLU and the University of Calgary continues to stall, the GLU emphasizes that they plan on escalating the situation.

“Mediation is not legally binding. So, if things continue to hit a wall, there’s various things that we can do. We can escalate, we can hold rallies and protests on campus to bring certain issues to light. If we wanted to, we could do something like a strike vote,” continued Yaworski. 

Yaworski emphasized the importance of showing the university the support graduate TAs provide to professors and students alike. 

“Stand in solidarity with TAs and RAs. In some cases that might mean if you’ve attended a lab, if you have questions about lab material, try to ask the professor. Show the prof that the TAs are important, that they do important work, and that the work needs to get done.”

In a statement to the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary asserted its commitment to continuing bargaining in October and reaching a fair deal with the graduate TAs. 

“The University of Calgary has been negotiating with the Graduate Students’ Association for several months and recently exchanged monetary offers. While we do not negotiate in public, we remain committed to reaching a fair and reasonable settlement with the Graduate Students’ Association. We look forward to continuing constructive discussions with the Graduate Students’ Association in early October,” read the statement. 

During the sixth bargaining session in September, the university and the GLU exchanged monetary offers to begin addressing the financial needs of the graduate TAs. The monetary offer from the GLU reflected a lack of wage increases for Graduate Assistants since 2017. 

Among others, the GLU proposed an 8.4 per cent wage increase for Graduate Assistants Teaching (GAT) and Graduate Assistants Non-Teaching (GANT) in Year 1 of a proposed three-year agreement to adjust for inflation, a three per cent general wage increase for GATs and GANTs in each subsequent year of the collective agreement and the retention of an hourly equivalent of GATs and GANTs for Markers and Student Writing Tutors. For Graduate Assistants Research (GAR), the GLU proposed a $3.97 per hour wage increase from the current $18.03 per hour in Year 1 to adjust for inflation. 

In an update to their membership, the GLU explained the reasoning behind their monetary proposal. 

“While the team is aware that these demands provide increases significantly higher than the pattern of increases negotiated in the province, we also know that the pattern will not address our members’ pressing needs,” reads the statement on the GLU’s website

The university responded with its own proposal of a 2.5 per cent wage increase for GATs and GANTs and the retention of a minimum wage for GARs, both to come into effect 30 days after the ratification of the new agreement. 

Yaworski explained that employed graduate students rely on TAships and other Graduate Assistant positions such as GANTs and GARs to supplement their standard yearly funding packages.

“TAships are part of our funding. So, thesis-based students, be it a master’s or Ph.D. level, have minimum funding packages. They’re quite low, but they are supposed to get us through the program and to pay for our research. A good chunk of that funding for a lot of students comes largely from TA ships,” said Yaworski. “Minimum Ph.D. funding is less than 30 grand across the board. The master’s is $12,000.” 

Up-to-date details on the progress of the bargaining sessions between the GLU and the University of Calgary can be found here.

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