Last week, over 1000 days after SFU agreed to voluntarily recognize TSSU as the union for Research Assistants and Grant Employees (RAs), the arbitrator issued a decision. This binding ruling resolves the ongoing dispute about whether this recognition includes 800 RAs primarily in the Sciences and Applied Sciences who are paid as scholarship/stipend from a grant. The entire ruling is available; the analysis and decision starts on page 112. The arbitrator has decided that:
In the words of the arbitrator:
"[SFU's] approach was not in the spirit, intention or words of the agreement." [paragraph 439];
"Often [TSSU] was treated as an interloper rather than a collaborator." [paragraph 440];
"The behaviour is not a credit to SFU as an institution or its organizational capability to act in a manner on which contracting parties can rely with confidence." [paragraph 441]; and
"[...] it is common sense that in July 2022 the SFU research enterprise did not pay almost 800 graduate students over $250,000 a week for over 17,000 hours commitment with no responsibilities and no performance of assigned duties." [paragraph 445].
This is a monumental victory for research assistants not just at SFU, but across the country. We have long known that research is work, but for decades we have been told by those with power that graduate student RAs merely "think or meander" and thus produce nothing of value to PIs or the institution. The collective power of RAs through the 2019 organizing drive won a "sea change" in SFU's treatment through the voluntary recognition agreement, and now the arbitrator has confirmed this change must occur.
The ruling takes away SFU's last defense for their refusal to bargain about RAs, and the next step is for an immediate return to the bargaining table. Our goal remains as always, a fair deal for all RAs that respects their critical contributions to research at SFU. Subsequently, the determination of the "true scholarship" situations and the determination of the quantity of damages will need to occur. The arbitrator has ordered those determinations to be completed by the end of 2022.