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TRAC and university heading to negotiation table

by Étienne Lajoie October 24, 2017
TRAC and university heading to negotiation table

Upcoming bi-weekly meetings between the two parties to sign new collective agreement

Negotiating the negotiation. That’s the way Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron described the first of a series of bi-weekly meetings between the union and Concordia. The two parties hope to sign a new collective agreement to replace the one that expired on April 30, 2016.

On Oct. 13, according to St-Onge-Perron, Concordia and TRAC determined the way they wished to negotiate and established a protocol. They’re now ready to go, with the negotiations set to start on Oct. 27.

“The discussions have been very positive,” university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr told The Concordian.

Concordia will be represented by an employee from the human resources department, vice-provost of faculty relations Nadia Hardy, and professors from the political science and engineering departments, St-Onge-Perron explained.

Once agreed upon, the new collective agreement will apply retroactively to the 2016-17 academic year and be effective until the end of the 2018-19 academic year.

Seven demands—described by St-Onge-Perron as “big themes”—are on the table. Some are minor issues, such as changing the word “handicap” when talking about people with disabilities in the collective agreement. Four other demands are featured on a flyer TRAC executives will be distributing to the student body this week. They include transparency with regards to teaching and research assistant appointments, higher wages for research assistants, a stop to unpaid work and a ban on contract splitting.

St-Onge-Perron said the last two are especially important to him. According to TRAC communications and mobilization officer Eunbyul Park, the issue of contract splitting was brought up when TRAC executives met with union members from the history department.

St-Onge-Perron explained that contract splitting consists of a teaching assistant being paid a  wage for his time in class, and a second wage for marking papers—which is lower than the wage for being in class.

“It makes no sense. If you’re only marking for a course, it’s fine to have a marker contract, but if you do both for the same course and you’re the same human being, it makes no sense to have two contracts,” St-Onge-Perron said.

In an email to The Concordian, Barr wrote that “all contracts are managed in accordance with the collective agreement, which is negotiated by the parties.”

Article 15.05 of the 2013-16 collective agreement for teaching assistants reads that “marking duties may be the object of separate marker contracts.”

St-Onge-Perron wrote in a subsequent email that, while contract splitting has been allowed since 2013, the measure has only become the norm recently.

“Human resources now encourages departments to split contracts, which has been done in numerous cases in the fall semester,” the TRAC president wrote. “We expect an even higher number of contract splitting in the winter [semester].”

“You pick up [the students’] assignments, you walk to your office and you’re doing a marking job so we’re going to give you a separate marking contract for these hours,” St-Onge-Perron said, describing the situation of teaching assistants who have two contracts.

According to St-Onge-Perron, teaching assistants are paid approximately $24 per hour, and markers are paid approximately $20.

The issue of unpaid work is also important to the TRAC president.  “Right now, some people sign contracts for 130 hours for example, but their workload is so big that they have to [work] 150 or 200 hours, and they’re not paid for these hours,” St-Onge-Perron claimed.

The union is already going into arbitration with the university, advocating for higher wages for its invigilators—one of two groups represented by TRAC, along with the teaching and research assistants.

Some of TRAC’s executives were also present at Montreal’s International Workers’ Day march on May 1, where marchers insisted on raising the minimum wage in Quebec to $15 per hour.

Hoping for more delegates

There are few delegates—liaisons between members and executives—at TRAC. There are “a bit more than 10 [active delegates]”, St-Onge-Perron explained. Adding delegations “is one our priorities,” Park added. The delegates report to the seven TRAC executives.

TRAC delegates can be self-appointed or mandated by their student association, according to St-Onge-Perron. The president said delegates are asked to organize “one meeting per semester per department or faculty.” In these assembly-like meetings, TRAC members are free to express their concerns to delegates, who then inform the executive team.

“Sometimes, [the executives] think ‘this department is going well, there’s no big problem,’ but then when you let people talk, you realize that there are a lot of problems,” St-Onge-Perron said.

A meeting was organized on Oct. 20 by the delegate for the department of mechanical, industrial and aerospace engineering (MIAE), Hossein Kalbasi. St-Onge-Perron said he believes one will soon take place at the John Molson School of Business.

According to St-Onge-Perron, some departments are more contentious than others. Consequently, some complaints come up more often in certain departments than others. “Departments sometimes have different work cultures,” St-Onge-Perron said.

TRAC recently changed the formula for the delegate meetings. “People have more space to speak,” St-Onge-Perron said. “We’re giving more power to the delegates because we want to improve accountability of the executives.”

Number of TRAC members hard to track

There are currently about 2,000 TRAC members, according to St-Onge-Perron, 1,600 of which are teaching or research assistants.

“It changes from one semester to another,” Park explained, “because sometimes research assistants sign contracts midway through the semester.”

According to Barr, the university “keeps data in the payroll system and archives the contracts that are sent by the departments and faculties.” But, according to St-Onge-Perron, the “system is from another century.” St-Onge-Perron said TRAC has access to the list of members on the payroll system.

“We can know today how many TAs and RAs there are […] but for a whole semester it depends because sometimes the RA could be hired for a month, for a semester,” St-Onge-Perron said.

When teaching and research assistants sign their contracts, they must sign the TRAC members form, which is then sent to the union, according to Barr.

“They send us membership forms, on paper form. Not all of them do though. And that has to be put in by hand,” Park said.

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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