Research Assistants vote and finally get their union

Underpaid and unfulfilling jobs can be the bane of a student’s existence. But there is another option: jobs that students can work while attending school, with better pay than McDonald’s and better hours than a bar.

Not only does working as a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) have all the above benefits, those coveted jobs are now unionized.

After a long campaign to push for a union, a whopping 91.7 per cent of RAs that went to the polls from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 voted in favour of unionization, with the TAs voting to follow suit.

Adrian Dimitru, who has worked as an RA in the past in the Political Science Department, has also worked with the campaign since their first meeting in December. He said 67 per cent of RAs voted, explaining, “Only the students with contracts as RAs in the winter semester were eligible. It’s a great result. We were sort of expecting it, but we were still very happy about it.

Anastasia Voutou, an engineering graduate from Concordia, has been on board the campaign since the beginning. She said that since the official start of the campaign in February 2006, they had set up information tables throughout the Concordia campuses to help students and workers become aware of their rights.

“The point was to make people, including the ones working as TAs and RAs, aware of the situation,” said Voutou.

“We want to make sure people understand there is a basic minimum of acceptable standards.”

Compared to the schools that are unionized across Canada, Concordia is lagging behind.

McGill University’s TAs and RAs are under the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM). According to their website, TA’s and RA’s salaries vary from department to department, “but currently the rate for all departments is $21.52 hourly (a net rise in pay for everybody).”

Voutou said the issue for Concordia’s RAs is not only one of pay.

“The people working as TAs and RAs are not only students, but people that have graduated, people working on their Masters, or even people that are taking some time off school in between semesters because they can’t afford it at the time.”

Some are parents, or out-of-province students, paying astronomical tuition fees, she said.

“The union would most definitely help them, as it is sometimes their only source of income. Even for the students that are doing this job part-time, the hours that they spend on preparing a lecture or grading papers could be time spent on other things, such as homework,” said Voutou.

Despite the obvious benefits of the jobs, there are still complaints by some of those filling the positions. RAs complained they graded papers in unsafe lab conditions. Some TAs who spent long hours correcting papers and preparing lecture notes felt they were largely under-compensated for the work.

Renato Miguel, a structural design student at Concordia, said he makes more money as a bus boy than he does as a TA. “But that being said, experience does count for something.”

Miguel went on to say that he was not going to take part in the vote for the TA’s unionization in October, because he’s “only doing this for a year. I think of it as letting the people who really care vote.”

Making sure that everyone who was eligible to vote – did actually get out to vote – was incredibly difficult, said Dimitru. At least fifty per cent of eligible voters must vote in order to meet quorum.

Because very few TAs and RAs are registered Dimitru said, “We had to go around and talk to all of the TAs and the RAs and get them to sign cards between February and April to register them for the voting.”

The effort and the time put in was worth it as the number of voters proved.

Oct. 16 – Nov. 10 the polls will be open for the TA’s unionization vote.


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