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Support Research assistants unionizing at SFU

Quentin Rowe-Codner

November 12, 2019

Research assistants at Simon Fraser University are unionizing!

A research assistant at SFU is someone who works under a professor on research projects related to their field of study, oftentimes in labs with other RAs. While the money that they receive is derived from the university, and the university profits off of them, SFU does not consider them formal employees, but rather as employees of their supervisor. As such, RAships are a particularly precarious position, as all responsibilities for ensuring pay and proper conditions are off loaded onto supervisors.

Many RAs don’t get paid on-time, or sometimes at all, some are told that their work is “volunteering,” and safety standards can be all but ignored. There is no practical method for RAs to report any wrongdoings, and so enforcing basic minimum labour standards can be exceedingly difficult. 

RAs are now in a union drive to become a part of the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at SFU. To unionize, 45% of all RAs need to sign a union card within a span of 90 days. After that, the cards are taken to the BC Labour Board, they’re counted, and then the Labour Board conducts a vote on campus for RAs to partake in. If the vote is a yes majority, then RAs become a part of the union.

By the university’s estimate is that there are around 1500 RAs currently employed. Though I do not have the liberty of stating how many cards the union has currently signed, I can say that the drive is going well and that we are receiving a tonne of support, from faculty, students, other unions, and so on.

The last day for card signing is on the 21st of November, and the TSSU will have a rally on campus to celebrate the occasion.

If you would like to learn more about the union drive or the TSSU, go to, or follow the TSSU on Facebook.


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