Teaching assistants (TAs) at UBC have not called for a strike vote, but instead want to escalate contract negotiations with the university.
In a closed meeting in the Woodward building on Wednesday evening, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2278 (CUPE 2278), which represents TAs at UBC, met to discuss negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.
“We’re pretty much in a position to wrap up all of the non-monetary stuff,” Roger Clarke, chief negotiator for CUPE 2278, said in his presentation, a recording of which was obtained by The Ubyssey. “There’s a few loose ends, we’ve told them they’re not important, what we care about right now is money.”
“Right now there’s a pause in the negotiation so that both parties are assessing how we’re going to move forward,” said Lucie McNeill, director of UBC Public Sffairs. “We’re not negotiating in the media. It all depends on what happens at the table.”
The union is looking for the same wage as TAs at the University of Toronto, who earn $39.92 per hour to UBC’s $28.42 per hour. U of T’s TAs are also renegotiating their agreement, and have set a strike deadline of February 24 if an accord is not reached.
On February 8, in the second of three bargaining sessions since the union met with members in January, CUPE presented all of its wage proposals, which also include tuition waivers and other benefits.
According to Clarke, the university has adopted a “lecturing” tone in bargaining since the first meeting, where the union criticized the university for an increase in salaries for some staff making over $75,000 a year.
“They’re really angry,” Clarke said in the meeting. “They’re mad at the things we’ve been saying, they’re trying to explain away some of the numbers.”
According to McNeill, the wage proposals by the union would cost $22.78 million, with $8.47 million going to tuition waivers for TAs. “What they’re asking for, the way they’re asking for it, it does not conform with the provincial government’s net zero mandate,” she said, referring to the fact that the province has set a 0 per cent increase in pubic sector employee wages.
“They came to the table knowing full well that we’re held by that, so all I can tell you is that our negotiating team was surprised by that,” said MacNeill.
The union now is in the position of continuing to escalate until they have something they can bring back to their members. No bargaining sessions are scheduled before February 29.
The Graduate Student Society has had an eye on the situation, according to Jamie Paris, VP Academic and External. “From the GSS perspective, we walk out of this feeling like this is a very cautious union who is not going to rush people to strike.”
CUPE 2278 refused a request for comment. “We’re in the middle of bargaining, and bargaining is really tight right now. So we don’t want to comment,” said Peter Lane, the union’s general manager. “They [UBC] have actually said to us that we should not be talking to the media.”
McNeill would not confirm that. “I don’t have any information on what exactly was requested of them, in what terms exactly,” she said. “What we don’t talk about in the media is we don’t negotiate in the media because not much is gained by that. You really want to have things happen at the table.”
TAs in the audience seemed supportive. “I have a feeling that the guys here in the front know where they want to get to,” said Carmen Emmell, a PhD student in atmospheric science. “They want to put more pressure on the employer, they want to get some more money for us, and I have the feeling that people in the room were very enthusiastic about doing something about it. They’re going in a good direction.”
McNeill describes herself as an optimist. “At the end of the day, there is going to be an agreement, people are going to have to sign on the dotted line and shake hands, and they’re going to have to work together and be part of a similar enterprise,” she said.
“That’s what we keep in mind, right? Wise people on both sides of the table, that’s what they have in their minds when they’re there.”