Volume 12, Number 4 October 8, 2004

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TA union drive fails, but dialogue starts with HR

Although a drive to certify U of S teaching assistants (TAs) under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) banner fell short in April, graduate students continue to express concern about working conditions and wages for those hired for teaching and other duties.

And now those concerns have led to a dialogue among the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), the College of Graduate Studies and Research, and the University’s Human Resources Division (HRD), in a search for better understanding of the issues and possible solutions.

HRD Resource Advisor Sherry Peters said the union certification effort “was a signal to the University that we need to find out where their concerns are. There was enough interest that the University is concerned about what concerns grad students.”

An early September meeting was attended by officials of GSA, HRD and the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.

Melanie Dyck, GSA Vice-President of Finance, said the student group raised a number of issues at the meeting, including:

  • The need for detailed job descriptions and signed contracts for TAs.
  • A desire for outside mediators to settle disputes involving graduate students.
  • A concern that some TAs work more hours than they are paid for.
  • Wages.

Dyck said GSA chose not to make specific wage demands. “We left the matter of wages open,” she said, “because we don’t want to adversely affect any current or future TAs. HRD is looking at the matter and we want them to come back to us with their suggestions. The problem is that there is no timeline.”

GSA planned to reiterate its call for follow-up on the TA concerns, and the establishment of a timeline for addressing them, at a regular monthly meeting between the students’ association and the College of Graduate Studies and Research on Oct. 4. Dyck added that GSA is hopeful the process will be successful.

“We really want to hear from HR before entertaining the idea of renewing the union drive.”

HRD’s Peters said the September meeting with the GSA and the College of Grad Studies “made strides” in determining the needs of grad students. “We want to make sure their experience here at the University is a good one,” she added.

The union drive was called off by CUPE in May when it became clear that a vote by students April 16, 20, 21 and 22 did not meet the required level of support to proceed. Colleen Leier, a national staff representative for CUPE in Saskatoon, told On Campus News Oct. 1 the circumstance of the vote contributed to the union’s decision to withdraw its certification application to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (LRB).

In an unusual move, at the request of the parties the LRB held the vote before hearing CUPE’s certification application. The goal of the mid-April timing was to allow most eligible students to vote. But Leier said the union remained concerned that the voting dates eliminated many eligible students who had already left the University at the end of the academic year.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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