Funding for Teaching Assistants is Under Attack

On March 5, 2018, Teaching Assistants (Unit 1), Contract Faculty (Unit 2) and Graduate Assistants (Unit 3) at York University went on strike. The York administration has claimed that there are no real issues on the table for Unit 1. If that were true, why would we be on strike?

The reality is that York has proposed to completely restructure how funding for Teaching Assistants is paid out. They want to do this again, after doing so in September of 2016 resulted in massive chaos, the loss of more than 700 Unit 3 jobs (now more than 800!), loss of summer funding, and increased potential for York to move funding around and apply it to tuition or claw back total funding.

Here are four reasons why the proposed changes in Unit 1 funding should deeply concern every Teaching Assistant:

  1. There is no protection from unilateral changes. Last summer, many Unit 1s went without any funding when York implemented their fellowship funding model without going through the bargaining process. If the fellowship funding model is how York wants to pay our funding, this model must be included in our collective agreement so that it cannot be unilaterally changed again. York’s refusal to do this is concerning because it means they can continue to make unilateral changes to our funding without us having any say. If they have no more plans to mess with our funding, why not include it in our collective agreement?
  2. They are punishing students for securing scholarships or other work. For PhD students who are Unit 1s, York can take back the entirety of their minimum guarantee (around $5400) from money earned through scholarships, research assistantships, or other forms of funding. Master’s students who are Unit 1 members get their fellowship funding cut by almost half. The union wants to enshrine protections into our collective agreement so that what you earn, you get to keep.
  3. York wants to reduce members’ financial autonomy. The good news is that we have successfully negotiated the return of summer funding for those who need it! The bad news is that, in its penultimate pass on February 28, York sneakily introduced language that excluded summer funding from the forms of funding that are protected from being applied to tuition without the member’s consent. This means that, should you owe York tuition for any reason, they could take a large chunk out of your already minimal summer funding without your consent. Members need the flexibility to budget and make autonomous financial decisions as needed.
  4. These changes are an assault on our capacities to both excel in our own research as well as the teaching of our undergraduate students. It should deeply worry us that this administration is discouraging an engaged and successful research climate at York by taking away our financial security and disincentivizing securing external awards or research/teaching work. This union has historically fought on behalf of future students, making sure that we support accessible education for all. When our members walked the picket lines in 2000-01, 2008-09, and 2015 it was so that we could pursue graduate education with stable/adequate year-round funding. We owe it to incoming students, who deserve the same benefits of union membership that we’ve had.