Over the last two years Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at Simon Fraser University have fought a long tough battle to improve their working conditions and defend the quality of post-secondary education.
TSSU describes itself as an “independent, non-hierarchical feminist labour union “ and consists of TAs, TMs, Sessional Instructors, and instructors in the English Language & Culture / Interpretation & Translation Program. They have been without a contract since May 2014. Last May, after more than a year of fruitless attempts to bargain with SFU, the TSSU organized a poll resulting in a successful strike vote of 86%. Since then various job actions have been taken, including an over time ban, picketing, and withholding marks.
In September, SFU threatened to cut off medical benefits for TSSU members starting on November 1st and to use further “economic weapons” against them. TSSU didn’t back down and have now won the opportunity to enter binding arbitration following three weeks of bargaining. This is seen as an important victory because concessions have been pulled off the table and SFU was forced to back off it’s threats to cut medical benefits. The pressure will now be on SFU to stop stonewalling or face the likelihood of an arbitrator including new language on job security and compensation for work load/growing classes in any final offer.
The administration has tried to blame TAs and Sessionals for inconveniences arising from the strike, particularly withholding of marks, but undergrad students have begun to respond with solidarity this fall signing pledges to respect TSSU job actions and wearing pins showing support for their instructors. TSSU has also set up the TSSU Solidarity Network to build on this kind of support and will hold a zombie walk this Friday to the main administration building "where the real zombies are".
Below is the text of a leaflet prepared by undergrads for undergrads with support from TSSU organizers:
Who are the TSSU (Teaching Support Staff Union)?
TSSU consists of TAs, TMs, Sessional Instructors, and instructors in the English Language & Culture / Interpretation & Translation Program.
Why should we support TSSU?
Students need to support the TSSU in their fight for better working conditions, not just for their sake, but to also improve our overall quality of education. TSSU working conditions are our learning conditions.
Lack of seniority rights for Sessional Instructors increases stress, reduces prep time, and forces sessional professors to split their time between multiple institutions. 25% of SFU courses are now taught by instructors who are hired term-to-term and the number continues to grow every year, while tenured positions are shrinking. This directly impacts the quality of teaching and support that professors and TAs can provide to us as students.
Class Size and Workload
In the past five years, average class size at SFU has grown 25%. The addition of online platforms to in-person courses has increased the workload for teachers even more. This directly reduces the time teachers have to mark assignments and give individual and constructive feedback to students.
Safe and Healthy Classrooms
SFU’s Burnaby campus has a major black mold problem. TSSU has been at the front of this fight for student and worker rights to a safe learning and working environment. Supporting TSSU is the best way to ensure our classrooms and campuses are healthy and safe.
TSSU provides 50% of the face-time instruction at SFU and the vast majority of distance education courses yet TSSU members’ compensation is less than 5% of SFU’s budget. Graduate students at SFU still earn below the living wage in Vancouver, averaging $20,000 a year (the same as it’s been for ten years), often while also struggling to pay off student loans. We all deserve pay that compensates us for the rising cost of our education, and allows us to live and work with dignity.
The Big Picture
Federal and Provincial cuts to funding for post-secondary institutions have created a crisis for universities and colleges. In the 1970’s, government funding covered 90% of institutional costs; today it covers 60%. To make up the shortfall, institutions are raising tuition fees (especially on international students), increasing class sizes, and attacking the pay of our teachers. At the same time, Administrator salaries have increased dramatically.
We are paying more for less every year. While our education suffers and many of us are driven into debt, the benefits are passed on to the wealthiest 1% in the form of cuts to personal income and corporate taxes. Banks profit from student loan interest for years, often more than a decade after we graduate. This growing inequality forces many of us to carry a double burden of study and low wage work (including most graduate students) just to gain the basic qualifications required for more than 70% of the jobs in the market. Students and TSSU members share a common struggle.
The more support the TSSU has the shorter the job action will be. Let’s show them that we, as STUDENTS, stand in solidarity!
To join the zombie walk meet at SFU Convocation Hall this Friday, October 30th, at Noon. Makeup provided or bring your own.
For further updates please see TSSU's website and Facebook page: http://support.tssu.ca/