CUPE 2278 TAs at UBC Appeal for Faculty Solidarity

by Stephen Petrina on October 29, 2012

A Message from CUPE 2278:

Like our sister locals—and no doubt the Faculty Association—we are frustrated and disappointed that the university claims that it is unable to afford a reasonable wage increase for its employees.  Despite Vancouver’s ever-increasing cost of living and yearly tuition rises, we had accepted no increase in wages or benefits over the past two years because of the provincial ‘net zero’ mandate.  So it was especially galling for us to discover that senior administrators had substantial increases in remuneration during the same period of time.  We understand that this remuneration came in the form of bonuses and merit clauses (including an increase in excess of 9% for our university president), but why has Human Resources flatly denied us even the possibility of seeking similar forms of protection against future government mandates?

Contrary to what you might have heard, our expectations regarding wage increases are quite realistic. In January of this year, we asked for the equivalent wages and job protection as the TAs at the University of Toronto.  UBC administrators are in the habit of comparing UBC to UofT, and we agree that the comparison is apt.  Although we do take as much pride in our work as UofT TAs (and believe we perform comparably), we also saw this as an opening gambit in a process of negotiation and bargaining.  To be frank, there has been little bargaining.  Despite forcing us into Labour Board mediation in April, UBC HR refused to even table an offer to the mediator until August 24. And the offer was 0%-0%-1%-1% (2010-14) and ‘no’ to all other costed items including greater job security for our members.  After we made significant concessions in our package – concessions the employer acknowledged – they upped their offer to 0%-0%-1.5%-1.5% and the possibility of 5th year preference for PhDs (but they would not discuss the language on this until we had agreed on wages).  That was when we realized mediation was going nowhere.  We do not have the option of going into arbitration, so we are left with the only tool we really have that might make Human Resources treat us with a modicum of respect – job action.  We do not take this step lightly.

The other CUPE locals settled for 0-0-2-2% raises, but we cannot accept 0-0-1.5-1.5 and nothing more.  Because paying tuition is a condition of employment for teaching assistants, any wage increase is immediately clawed back, given the university’s habit of raising tuition by 2% each year (and 3% for international students this year).  A 2% increase for other collective agreements effectively amounts to a zero for many of your TAs, and in fact, becomes a net loss in disposable income because we live in a city with skyrocketing housing costs, high child care fees, and high inflation in general. Our membership has decided that if the employer expects us to accept any wage increase on par with other bargaining units, it will need to guarantee it with some measure of tuition protection. Nothing less will be acceptable. We hope you support us in this, as we support your struggle to get a fair agreement too.