Rally for Solidarity

Rally for Solidarity: Support for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Jessica Singer

With an ongoing negotiation process between the University and PSAC Local 610, the Graduate Teaching Assistants held an event where family members, students, professors, and other members of the London community gathered to stand in solidarity with the GTA’s as they face a potential strike.  

This support was evident at the Rally for Solidarity on UCC’s Concrete Beach at Western University which started at 5:00pm, many there in red showing their support for the Graduate Teaching Assistants with flags, music, and a variety of short speeches. 

Without compensation for the extra help and effort they put into their relationships with students and further contributions to their faculties, campus committees, the community, and beyond, the Teaching Assistants and their union asked for the support from students, families, and other community members to put pressure on the University and this negotiations process. 

While Public Service Alliance of Canada, Local 610, the teaching assistants bargaining agent, has been negotiating with the University towards a new Collective Agreement for several months, the University requested a “no board” report on March 23rd, while Union members earlier held a vote which proposed a strong strike mandate if necessary. 

The University gave their ‘last’ offer of a Contract Agreement on March 27th, one that the Union believed did not deliver a strong enough mandate to improve benefits, pay, and further compensations. 

At 12:01 a.m. on April 13th the University will also be able to lock out the teaching assistants, who will therefore be unable to fulfill tasks such as tutorials, office hours, and marking or proctoring exams. However, the Union still has to vote on the final offer proposed on April 11th and 12th.

Shannon Potter, the president of the PSAC Local 610 and a PhD candidate in Economics on the bargaining team, recommends that the GTA’s vote “no.”

I spoke with her about how this process unfolded, while she also highlighted how both sides should continue with healthy negotiations to reach a fair agreement.

The Union explains how negotiation processes are necessary when it comes to articulating and working towards ending the unfair treatment affecting those who provide personalized help and teach students, while often completing their own studies, without fair pay or benefits.

I was able to chat with member of the bargaining team Dmitrii Marin, a PhD candidate in Computer Science, who also discussed the importance of going back to the bargaining table with the University.  

I also talked with Vanessa Lilly, a Teaching Assistant in the Women’s Studies and Feminist Research department at the University, who highlighted the need for movements like this to not only increase visibility, but to help provide the public with information about the often confusing information circulating regarding the GTA’s position in this negotiation.

A petition by the PSAC Local 610 explains how over half of Western GTAs have difficulties supporting themselves financially, often finishing their graduate programs with debt, making around $11,000. Indeed, many work overtime, with less than 1% getting paid for this work.

While the current arrangements proposed do not compensate Teaching Assistant’s financial needs, the Union and other members urge support and continuing negotiations to reach a fair agreement if a strike is to take place, one which would be necessary to change these unfair circumstances (more information can be viewed on the site, http://www.psac610.ca/index.php/2-uncategorised/224-psac-local-610-statement-in-response-to-western-mass-communication-about-gta-bargaining, while a petition is available at https://www.change.org/p/western-university-western-acknowledge-the-financ…).