McMaster TAs and RAs strike

On Nov. 2, CUPE 3906 Unit 1 representing teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) at McMaster University went on strike.
“The big issues at the moment are getting some deficits and benefits funding,” said Derek Sahota, a masters of engineering student and member of the Unit 1 bargaining team.
Three other issues the union is pushing to reform include capping class sizes, offsetting graduate tuition for domestic students and increasing the number of jobs available to upper year doctorate and masters students.
“On those four big issues McMaster has basically said ‘no they can’t negotiate on all of them,’” said Sahota. “The only thing they want to negotiate on is wages and maybe they will consider putting a little bit of money into benefits, but primarily they want to put money into wages.”
Andrea Farquhar, director of public and government relations, stated that the university did discuss issues beyond wages.
However, regarding class sizes, Farquhar said, “To meet what the student demand is for courses … we need to be able to continue to manage those classrooms as best for students.”
“Depending on the courses you are taking you will have tutorials that have very small numbers or you will have larger numbers,” she added.
The offer currently put forward by the university includes wage increases and reallocating $3 per member of the $150,000 benefit pool towards the dental portion of the benefit plan.
According to Farquhar, the wages would be raised by $1.30 over the course of a two-year contract. For class “A” graduate TAs, this would translate to $39.40 an hour, while it would equal $22.15 for class “B” undergraduate TAs.
Although this was presented as the university’s “best offer,” the union remains adamant on resolving the other issues on the table. “We really feel that now is the time to address these issues,” said Sahota.
“We’ve seen McMaster up-size tutorials to up to 70 students in a single tutorial section and that’s really just barely an education for the students who are paying so much.”
The implications of the strike on students will largely depend on its duration.
“For classes, one thing that is really important to stress, if we can, is that the university is open and classes are continuing which is very different from what happened at York [University] where the university actually closed,” said Farquhar.
Both parties intend to continue meeting at the bargaining table to reach a swift agreement.
“We hope that we can get this resolved sooner rather than later to minimize the effect on students,” said Sahota.