UBC’s unionized teaching assistants, represented by the CUPE 2278 union local, have voted 76 per cent in favour of taking job action.
The union intends to leave mediation with UBC and announce 72-hour strike notice as soon as they are able.
“The next steps are to book out of the Labour Relations Board mediation,” said CUPE 2278 president Conrad King. “Once that’s been completed, then we’re going to serve the employer with a 72 hour job action notice.” He said that he expected it to take 24 hours for the union to leave mediation.
King said he didn’t think the union was gaining any ground in talks with UBC. The last mediation session between the two parties was on Oct. 12. “We feel that didn’t work,” said King.
He said he couldn’t yet disclose what form job action from the TAs will take. “That’s something we don’t necessarily want to inform the employer,” he said.
According to King, 691 of the union’s roughly 3,000 members voted on Wednesday.
The union decided to hold an informal vote of their membership to make sure that there was strong support for going on strike. According to union spokesperson Trish Everett, this happened because roughly a third of the union’s members are new graduate students who were not present for the strike vote that passed last spring.
The union wants higher wages, comparable to those of teaching assistants at the University of Toronto, hiring preference for fifth-year PhD students and third-year Master’s students, and some form of tuition waiver from the university. The university is bound by the provincial net zero and cooperative gains mandates in these negotiations, which prevent or restrict wage hikes in publicly-funded jobs.
Director of UBC Public Affairs Lucie McNeill said that the university is not interested in offering a full tuition waiver to TAs.
“We believe there is an employment relationship that exists between the university and its 3,000 TAs that are members of CUPE 2278, and that is quite separate [from] the student relationship that exists them when they are graduate students,” she said. “Tuition is simply not part of that package.”
McNeill said that the university hopes to return to mediation with the union soon. UBC has offered the union the option of negotiating with a higher-profile mediator at the Labour Relations Board, or bringing in a private mediator.
When a private mediator was brought in for talks between UBC and the service and support workers of CUPE 116, a deal was reached in 34 hours of negotiation over one weekend.
McNeill said, for now, the university will wait and see what happens.
“When they do serve the university with 72 hour strike notice, we will be ready,” said McNeill.