The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) is submitting more than 1,100 union cards signed by research workers to the B.C. Labour Relations Board on Friday.
“Today we are taking a big step forward to ensure all research workers at SFU are finally recognized for the critical labour we provide to the university and the community,” TSSU chair Kayla Hilstob said. “Simon Fraser University only works because we do.”
The submission is the culmination of years of SFU research assistants fighting for their labour rights. The successful summer card-signing blitz is just the latest chapter in TSSU’s long fight for better working conditions at SFU.
After the TSSU organized research assistants (RAs) across all SFU departments and campuses in 2019, the university agreed to “voluntarily” recognize the union. Since then, the union has fought for a first contract for its new members, but the administration has refused to negotiate a fair deal.
SFU has gone back on its recognition agreement by trying to exclude hundreds of RAs. The TSSU fought back against the employer’s baseless claims that student workers are not employees.
In September 2022, a labour arbitrator ruled SFU had violated its voluntary recognition agreement and ordered the university to pay damages to the union. The ruling confirmed that SFU had reneged on its commitment to recognize and negotiate for research workers by excluding student RAs compensated via scholarships and stipends.
SFU has ignored the arbitration ever since. The administration still refuses to negotiate with RAs compensated by scholarship.
Meanwhile the university has tabled insulting offers in negotiations with the RAs it does recognize as employees. SFU’s best offer to date would pay RAs as little as $17 per hour.
“SFU brings in tens of millions of dollars in research funding every year, but president Joy Johnson seems to think it is acceptable to pay the people who do that research as little as the minimum wage,” said Yameena Zaidi, a research assistant in the School of Communication.
SFU’s research funding has more than quintupled over the last 20 years, reaching over $170 million in 2021. Meanwhile, RA pay has remained flat over that time.
The labour relations board has the power to force SFU to finally come to the bargaining table for all research assistants now that the TSSU is submitting union cards signed by more than 55% of RAs at SFU.
The TSSU will continue to fight for fair pay, benefits, protections against harassment and workplace abuse, improved health-and-safety policies, intellectual property rights, tuition deferment, childcare coverage and more.
“SFU underestimated us,” TSSU organizer Catherine Dubé said. “The administration thought it could grind us down with endless evasions and delays. We have shown that research workers cannot be bullied and exploited when we work together.”