If York has categorized you as a Graduate Assistant (GA) then you are an employee and a member of CUPE 3903. Unfortunately, since 2016 over 700 of these GA positions were eliminated as York shifted to the fellowship funding model. The fellowship funding model was supposed to replace the work component of your funding package with a fellowship that covers the cost of tuition (no work required). In reality many of those positions still exist. GAs have just been replaced with work-study positions, student volunteers, credit-based work, or other non-unionized positions.
York has reclassified some GA positions as Research Assistantships (RAs). RAs are not employees of the university and are not members of CUPE 3903. While York may now categorize these positions as RAs, they are legally wrong to do so. Regardless of what York calls the position, if you are doing administrative, research or other work that is not predominantly related to the completion of your degree requirements you should be a GA.
Why should I care?
If York has misclassified you as an RA then you are not considered an employee of the university and are not a CUPE 3903 member. That means you won’t have access to the benefits, funds and protections you would get as a union member.
Only CUPE 3903 members (GAs) get access to:
- A robust health benefits plan through Sunlife. The plan includes prescription drug, vision, and dental coverage along with physiotherapy, massage, psychotherapy and other paramedical services. The plan will cover your partner and dependents as well, at no additional cost.
- An Extended Health Benefits Fund to cover your additional health expenses not covered by the Sunlife plan.
- A fund to help cover unexpected financial hardships (Ways and Means Fund), a Sexual Assault Survivor Support Fund, a Trans Fund, a Childcare Fund and discounts at on campus childcare.
- A Professional Development Fund, Tuition Cost Rebates (Graduate Financial Assistance), access to special CUPE 3903 exclusive graduate student bursaries, guaranteed summer funding and funds to help cover your UHIP payments.
- Union representation to help protect your rights as a worker, and help you gain access to leaves and other benefits not provided to non-unionized students.
If you are misclassified as an RA:
- You will have a much less substantial health benefits plan through the York University Graduate Student Association (YUGSA), for which you will need to pay.
- Your RA income will not be taxed (GA wages are taxed) but you will not be able to access any of the funds and benefits provided above. You will not receive Vacation Pay either (normally 4% of wages).
The elimination of more than 700 GA positions is clearly meant to weaken the union by drastically reducing its membership, and it will put former members in a precarious position. York is doing this union-busting on the backs of the graduate students who depend on that work and the benefits it guarantees. York cannot simply further exploit students by turning this labour into volunteer work or degrade students’ education by shifting this necessary labour into credit-based work.