CUPE 2278 FAQ for undergraduates about Job Action

by Stephen Petrina on October 28, 2012

FAQ for Undergraduate Students at UBC
on Teaching Assistant Job Action

  • What is a union and why is it important? 
    • A union is an organized group of workers who come together to make decisions about the conditions of their work. Through union membership, workers can impact wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, and other work-related issues. Historically, because of the work of unions, we now have awesome things we kind of take for granted like weekends, the 40-hour work week, compensation if you’re injured on the job, unemployment insurance, job safety standards, minimum wages and so on. By coming together unions give a group of people a stronger voice in trying to advocate for themselves with their employer and to achieve collective benefits. Think of the student union for instance who advocate on your behalf to keep tuition and fees lower, provide space for student groups on campus, advocate for students’ rights on campus etc.
  • What are the big issues for the TAs at UBC?
    • TAs have asked the university for the following key items
    1. An increase in wages (which have not changed since 2010, and were first agreed to back in 2005)
    2. Job security in the form of extended hiring preference (because the average time it takes to complete a masters or doctorate degree is way longer than the two or four year contract currently in existence.
    3. A tuition waiver of some kind (because we must be students to work as TAs so a tuition increase means a de facto pay cut)
    4. A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for wages so that the province cannot freeze TA wages arbitrarily as they have done with their “Net Zero Mandate” that covers 2010-2012. (Management at UBC got an average of 3% increases each year in remuneration during this time because of their contract language, while TAs got nothing.)
    5. Assistance with childcare costs, which have gone up dramatically in the last few years at UBC and pose a substantial burden on young families that is often the economic equivalent of an additional rent payment each month.
  • What is a strike?
    • A strike is “any cessation or refusal to work by employees, in combination or accordance with a common understanding, where the goal is to restrict or limit service to the employer.”  (Labour Relations Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 244, s. 1)
    • This can encompass everything from a refusal to work overtime, to rotating strikes (where only part of the union is on strike at any one time), to creative ways of drawing attention to our labour power. This can also mean a full-blown stoppage of work. Each Job Action/Strike is different and depends largely on the specifics of the union engaging in such activity.
  • What does a strike entail?
    • Remember, it is the university’s responsibility to ensure that you have a stable teaching workforce who are adequately compensated for their experience and training. You might consider adding your own pressure by contacting the university and demanding they offer a fair deal so a settlement can be achieved and life can get back to normal.
    • Depending on what job action the union members are doing on a given day you may experience nothing unusual, you may come across a picket line, you may get fliers and hand outs, you may see parades and marches, who knows… each strike is different and each union does it differently.
    • For most grad students, being a TA is the best part of the experience! As such, we hope to minimize disruption to the learning environment as much as possible while still getting the attention and the respect of the university. If there is no cooperation on the part of the university, pressure will likely increase over time as the job action escalates and you may feel a bigger effect.
  • What is a picket line?
    • Picketing is a form of protest in which people (called picketers) congregate outside a place of work or location where an event is taking place. Often, this is done in an attempt to dissuade others from going in (“crossing the picket line”), but it can also be done to draw public attention to a cause.
    • It can have a number of aims, but is generally to put pressure on the party targeted to meet particular demands and/or cease operations. This pressure is achieved by harming the business through loss of customers and negative publicity, or by discouraging or preventing workers and/or customers from entering the site and thereby preventing the business from operating normally. Picketing is a common tactic used by trade unions during strikes, which will try to persuade members of other unions and non-unionized workers from working. (
  • What does it mean to cross a picket line?
    • Crossing a picket line means you ignore the union’s demonstration and go into the building or place they are picketing. off. You are legally allowed to cross a picket line and no one should prevent you from doing so, but they may try to convince you to support their cause.
    • Crossing a picket line is something you should not do without first considering the effect it may have.
    • The point of a picket line is to draw attention to a group’s cause when they feel they are being treated unjustly. By ignoring that, you are telling the group and their employer that you do not support their cause and that the status quo is okay. If you do not agree that the CUPE 2278 workers deserve a living wage and job security, then let your conscience be your guide.
    • If you absolutely need to get past a picket for some reason, but still support the cause, seek out the picket captain who is in charge and explain to them what’s going on, especially if it affects your studies, and you will be allowed to cross with their ok. Ultimately the decision to cross a picket or not is a personal choice and we can’t tell you what to do, so please give this some thought before you come across a picket.
  • I don’t want to cross the picket line. What do I need to do?
    • See more information from UBC
    • If you choose not to cross the picket line, you must inform the Dean of the Faculty in which you are registered that you intend not to cross the picket line. Students choosing not to cross picket lines must, within two working days of the commencement of a strike or prior to their first exam, whichever comes first, inform the Dean of the Faculty in which they are registered or in the case of graduate students, the Dean of the Faculty offering their program of study. Students must inform the Dean in person or in writing (i.e. letter or e-mail,) that they will not be attending classes or writing examinations during the strike.
    • Students must provide: their full names, their UBC student IDs, and the course(s) in which they are currently registered. You may not declare your intentions retroactively. If you do not inform your Faculty, the University will assume that you are attending all examinations, classes and course-related activities.
    • Please note that even if you decide not to cross the picket lines, you are required to come to campus to determine whether there is a picket line at all entrances to the building in which your exam is scheduled at the time of the scheduled class or examination, or if there are picket lines set up at all entrances to the University.
  • How long will this last?
    • This is impossible to predict. The strike will end when the union and employer agree on a new contract or when bargaining resumes and is deemed productive by both sides.
  • Why should I support the TAs?
    • Nobody wants to strike and nobody likes the disruption job action has on a campus, but the TAs are asking for reasonable improvements to their job contract with UBC and the university and the province are not respecting the needs of this large group of highly trained workers. TAs are a large group on campus, about 3000 or so, and not respecting their right to demand a fair contract perpetuates an unequal and unjust community on campus.
    • A TA who is economically secure and who feels respected and valued by their employer can focus more of their energies on giving YOU, the undergraduate students, the best educational experience possible, the best guidance, feedback and advice on labs, papers, projects, and future endeavours. We care about our students and look forward to getting back to work under respectful working conditions so we can continue to be a valuable and committed part of your UBC education.
  • Where can I find out more information about this?