TRAC President Jeremy Tessier said the union is “happy with how the negotiations went.”
The union of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) has reached an agreement in principle with Concordia.
On June 21, after eight months of negotiations, the union arrived at an agreement with the administration for the period of May 1, 2016 to May 31, 2021.
“I am very proud of the work both teams did at the table, genuinely engaging in a principle-based bargaining exercise and jointly working on solutions to commonly identified problems,” Nadia Hardy, vice-provost of Faculty Relations, was quoted as saying in a university press release.
“We’re happy with how the negotiations went,” said TRAC President Jeremy Tessier.
All that’s left before the agreement comes into force is for Concordia’s Board of Governors to approve it in September, and then for Tessier and Concordia President Alan Shepard to sign it.
Negotiations had reached an impasse in March when the university’s negotiating team revealed it had not been given a mandate to negotiate beyond the 2017-18 year.
As part of the new agreement, all of Concordia’s teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) will receive both retroactive pay increases and regular pay increases between now and 2020. Starting June 1, 2020 RAs will be paid $15.76 an hour for undergraduates, $20.20 for master’s students and $27.21 for doctoral students. Prior to the agreement, their wages were $14.23, $18.27 and $24.65, respectively, roughly a 10 per cent increase for each.
Starting in June 2020, both TAs and markers will earn $26.47 an hour. This is an increase of about 6 per cent from $24.93 an hour for TAs and about 31 per cent from $20.21 for markers. The wages of markers and TAs will be gradually harmonized through a series of regular pay increases so that starting in June 2020, they will be paid the same wage.
The practice of paying different hourly wages for assisting in the classroom and for marking tests and assignments, even when the tasks were carried out by the same person, is known as “contract splitting,” and was another key issue throughout the negotiations. Prior to 2017, some departments, mainly in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, engaged in contract splitting, since assisting in lectures and lab demonstrations in ENCS requires a more specialized set of skills. However, beginning in 2017, more departments in other faculties began adopting the practice. With the signing of the new collective agreement, departments will revert to previous practices, meaning only those that engaged in contract splitting before 2017 will continue to do so.
The grievance process for TRAC members was ratified to give members 30 days after the end of their contract to submit a complaint. Previously, grievances against professors had to be filed within 20 days of the member becoming aware of the issue. However, Tessier said this model is inappropriate for an academic setting. “Our relationship with the employer is not just a simple employee-employer relation,” he said. “There’s also other things that are at stake, like your academic progress, your relationship with the department, all these things that could affect future work.”
Tessier said the draft agreement was overwhelmingly approved by TRAC’s general assembly when it was presented in July.
Once the agreement comes into force, Tessier said the union’s focus will shift to making sure the agreement is properly enforced and understood by both students and teachers.
This is the first time that TAs and RAs, who unionized in 2007, will be united under one agreement. A separate negotiation process is still underway for exam invigilators, who are negotiating their first collective agreement since unionizing in 2015. Tessier said he is “optimistic” they will reach an agreement by January 2019.
Every TA and RA at Concordia is a member of TRAC. Tessier says the union has about 3,200 members at any given time, including about 1,800 active members per semester and those who have been employed within the last year. It is a local chapter of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which itself represents more than 180,000 workers across the country.
Former TRAC President Alexandre St-Onge-Perron also approved of the deal. “I think the new agreement will bring significant improvements for TAs and RAs and it does achieve the objectives we had after the consultations with members last year,” he said in an e-mail to The Concordian.
Both the current and former presidents attributed the union’s success to the strong activism of its members. “It was a good effort on the part of our membership to mobilize and make sure that we’re seen on campus and that our presence is known,” said Tessier. Notably, TRAC members and their allies protested outside of two Board of Governors meetings over the summer to raise awareness for their cause, and in February presented University President Alan Shepard with a giant Valentine’s day card signed by the union’s members.
“It is because they participated in their union during the last year that they can celebrate victory today,” said St-Onge-Perron.