A group of teaching and research assistants say they have not been paid since work began on Jan. 3. And since the deadline for their first paycheque passed on Jan. 27, their newly-formed union, Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia, will be filing grievances against the university with the Commission des normes de travail this week.
Union president Thomas Leonard said that 190 TAs and 42 RAs, out of a total of 1200 members, have yet to be paid for five weeks of work. The employees are students and assistants in the faculties of arts and science and engineering and computer sciences. However, the union grievances will be filed only against the faculty of arts and science since Leonard said he thinks this is a first for the engineering faculty.
TRAC members signed their collective agreement in fall 2010, but it only came into effect on Jan. 3. Leonard said he thinks that the reason for the delay in pay is that contracts in the office have not been processed.
Concordia media relations director Chris Mota said there was more than one reason for the delay. “There are quite a few steps that have to be done before it even gets to payroll, and that could have moved faster,” she said. “In some cases, I’m not sure what the delays were.”
The other reason, she said, is that paperwork was not complete for some of the assistants: “According to the collective agreement, every time a student signs a contract to be a TA, they have to provide proof of membership in TRAC, because they are only members of that collective bargaining unit while under contract.” Some of the contracts brought to the dean’s office did not have their proofs of membership. “It really is a questions of a new system, and everyone finding their way.”
Leonard disagreed. The proof of membership, he said, does not have to be provided in order for a contract to be processed and a student paid. According to the tentative CA for teaching assistants posted on TRAC’s website, all new employees become union members when they are hired by the university and must sign a membership form.
Mota could not say whether amnesty for payment of school fees and tuition had been granted to graduate students who have not yet been paid.
Leonard is familiar with waiting for his salary as a TA, having experienced a delay in the winter 2010 semester. “Ironically, that’s one of the things that got me involved in TRAC,” he said,
adding that he knows of at least one other occasion “where 70, 80, 90 TAs weren’t paid.”
Without their salaries, some students who TA or RA worry about paying for basic things like tuition and rent. “I feel generally disrespected. […] There will be no apology, no compensation, it’s just the way it is at Concordia,” said Yuseph Katiya, a graduate student and TA in geography, planning and environment. “There is no other group of employees on campus that would accept not getting paid for five weeks. […] TAs are sort of disrespected.” Katiya said he hasn’t paid his tuition yet because he’s waiting to receive his salary.
Leonard said he hopes that the filing of the grievances will ultimately send the university a message. “We’re making it an issue. I mean, like I said, it’s complete disregard for the work that TAs are doing […] It’s at least my understanding that all the office of the dean had to do is sign some papers and then send them over [to payroll], and they couldn’t even do that.”
He said TRAC has yet to receive a response from the arts and science dean Brian Lewis’ office. The university has 20 days to respond to the union grievances.