Sunday, August 28, 2016
Last updated: 11 months ago

McElroy: The TA union maximizes their leverage, at the cost of public relations

Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey

Tomorrow is your last day of classes. And, should you be compelled to ignore the sweet siren of afternoon drinking and attend your class, you might want to say goodbye to your TA.

Not just for the day, but for the foreseeable future.

Both sides are being mum on official statements, but here is what we know.

On Thursday, March 22, CUPE 2278 held a strike vote. Their management said that a “yes” vote wouldn’t automatically result in a strike, but would give them leverage at the bargaining table.

35 per cent of TAs voted, and 81 per cent of them voted in favour. In the two weeks since, productive bargaining hasn’t seemed to happen. Far from it.

Within a week of the strike vote, and three days after the first meeting with UBC following the vote, the union called meetings for strike coordinators and picket captains. Presumably to give more “leverage.”

UBC responded by ramping up preparations for a strike, and stated that “The Union’s apparent movement towards job action is perplexing.”

So, we are at the point where, realistically, a strike could be called at any time, and it would be unsurprising.

It would be nice to know exactly where both sides are on negotiations, how much the threat of a strike has been raised, or on what points they have reached agreement in the last week.

We don’t, and neither do students, unfortunately, because both sides have enacted a media blackout. So information is scarce. There’s a public debate happening with good information on the UBC Insiders website, but that’s about it.

It’s frustrating, but not something to cry wolf over. Collective bargaining can be poisoned by media reports and public pressure, and good-faith bargaining can sometimes work better in private. So it’s understandable that the public doesn’t have full information.

What’s less understandable is the lack of information available for TAs.

Many have been left in the dark about basic facts, including: would they have to work a picket line to get strike pay? If so, for how many hours? How can they get involved with the Strike Coordination Committee? Is there any estimate on when a strike might happen? How have negotiations gone this week?

If you ask your TA about these facts, or if you go CUPE 2278′s Facebook page (where a letter critical of them was removed from the page), you will get the general impression that this is a union leadership more committed to striking than getting their membership on board with their actions.

That being said, union management isn’t crazy. In fact, they might even be shrewd. By limiting information, by keeping people in suspense over the long weekend before exams, by abruptly raising the tension of the situation over the past week, they are putting pressure on UBC.

All things being equal, a strike at UBC will probably only last for up to two weeks before the provincial government intervenes with some sort of binding arbritration. If you’re CUPE 2278, wouldn’t you want those two weeks to happen when students, parents of students and alumni would be pleading with UBC to settle? Wouldn’t you want it to be at the end of the year, so TAs don’t have to return to dealing with students in an incredibly awkward situation?

Give credit where it’s due: if the union wants to create a situation most conducive to extracting concessions from UBC, if it wants TAs to have the best working conditions over the next few years possible, they’re going about it in the right way.

But if it wants to have the full support of their membership and ordinary undergraduate students…that’s another story.