You are here

PSAC 610 strike shows strong results of union solidarity at Western

Emmanuel Akanbi

May 16, 2024
On Friday, April 11, Western’s campus and the city of London saw the beginning of an 18-day strike by the teaching assistants of PSAC 610, and with it, some very strong demonstrations of union solidarity.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) local 610, the union representing the Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) at Western University, took to the picket lines for the first time in the union’s history — marking the first major strike ever to take place at the university. The strike concluded on May 2nd with the signing of a new collective agreement.
After their last collective agreement expired on August 31, 2023, PSAC 610 had four main bargaining demands: a real monetary wage increase, no clawbacks to non-GTA funding, housing support, and extended eligibility periods for graduate students to be teaching assistants.
The 18-day strike was preceded by months of tension and frustration between the union and Western’s administration. The new round of negotiations began on October 30 and saw seven lengthy collective bargaining meetings between the union and the university. The union noted negotiations broke down in January and requested a conciliator, according to their website. With that, Western had all of February to return to the table and get a deal.
The union alleged the university stalled and instead chose some of the latest dates possible to return to the table to purposefully push what was then a potential strike to as close to the end of the GTA contracts as possible. The union subsequently called for a strike vote among its members on March 4 which, according to the union, garnered a record high turnout with an overwhelming ‘yes’ strike votemandate.
An eighth bargaining meeting was held on March 20 lasting over 10 hours, but Western administration still failed to meet the mandates set by the union and its members. Following the meeting, the union requested a “no-board” report from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour on March 21, which was subsequently issued on March 25, putting the union in a legal strike position for April 11.
Leading up to the strike, Western publicly advertised its offer to the union on its website, highlighting its offers of an hourly wage rate of $48.16 effective as of January 1 of this year, and a track to increase to $51.10 by year four of the proposed collective agreement. In their statement, the university emphasized that Western’s GTAs are among the highest paid in the province and stressed their commitment to minimizing labour disruption impacts. However, the union has repeatedly argued that despite having some of the highest hourly wages in the province, their funding package is among the lowest in the province, which is further exacerbated given the fact that GTAs are limited to only working 10 hours a week, which still puts many GTAs under the poverty line. 
In addition, the union has explained that these monetary increases mean very little without significant language explicitly included in their agreement to prevent clawbacks — a practice Western has engaged in whereby increases in GTA funding are offset by cuts to the non-GTA funding package.
The union also emphasized that undergraduate students were the ones suffering as they were caught in the middle of the strike. With the strike starting on the first day of winter semester exams, undergraduate students were bearing the extra stress and uncertainty in marking delays, whilst not being able to be appropriately assisted by their GTAs — as proctors Western hired as scab labour were unable to answer questions during exams, according to the union.
During the 18-day strike, PSAC 610 saw strong acts of union solidarity from both within and outside the campus community. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 741 vowed not to cross the picket line, causing 11 London Transit Commission bus routes to detour off of Western’s campusas they did during the 4-day operating engineer strikeat Western in 2023. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario president Fred Hahn attended and spoke at the picket line on April 20, encouraging Western to “come back to the table and start to pay these people what they’re worth.” The Ontario Federation of Labor (OFL) also called on Western to get back to the table. OFL president Laura Walton and vice-president Jackie Taylor attended the picket line and also encouraged government officials to “step up and make sure that these people are paid properly.” London District Labour Councilpresident Patti Dalton took to the picket line as well, echoing concerning allegations that Western encouraged PSAC 610 members to cross picket lines and tried to fill GTA roles with non-members. 
“We call it what it is, which is an attempt to union bust,” said Dalton.
From within the campus community, the university’s faculty union (UWOFA), frequently joined the picket line. UWOFA put out a Strike FAQdocument for its members discouraging scab labour, condemning Western’s hiring of Professional and Managerial Association staff as replacement workers as a strikebreaking activity and encouraging members to join the picket line and email members of Western’s administration to call for a fair and timely settlement. Such solidarity was also shown by the faculty unions of Western’s affiliate colleges of Brescia, King’s, and Huron. The University of Western Ontario Staff Association (UWOSA) also showed strong support for PSAC 610, echoing the faculty union’s sentiments discouraging scabbing and encouraging members to walk the picket line.
“Unionized workers on campus are united," UWOSA affirmedin their call to action statement, "Their fight today for fair compensation may be our fight in this summer’s round of collective bargaining for equitable compensation and fair working conditions.”
PSAC Local 610 president Pardis Baha said she was incredibly grateful to see the support from unions both on and off campus. 
“Collectively we're stronger together than we are on our own,” said Baha. “Having the community and the unity from other unions and other workers really provides a supportive environment where it gives those who need the strength to strike and stand up for their rights. It's almost like a wind behind your back to keep you moving forward and to create that environment where you can proceed with confidence.”
The union and the university went back to the table for mediation talks on April 21, and had 13 hours of productive negotiations before breaking down according to the union. The union alleged that Western turned down the union’s offer to continue negotiations the next day, while the university alleged the union rejected their offer and walked away from the table. However, on April 25, Western and PSAC 610 reached a tentative agreement, which was subsequently ratified by PSAC 610 members on April 29 and Western’s Board of Governors on May 2, ending the 18-day strike. 
According to the union, the final deal firmly addressed the first two of its demands — a proper monetary increase and significant clawback language, but did not address the remaining demands of housing support, and extended eligibility periods for graduate teaching assistants. 
”It just wasn't something they were willing to talk about,” explained Baha, referring to the remaining demands.
Baha said she believes the support from other unions at Western and across Ontario was essential as the union negotiated their agreement.
“We wouldn't have gotten back to the table the way that we did had we not had support from other campus unions and other unions across London,” she said. “I think the unity of the groups on campus means that every union knows they've got the support of each other … it gives everyone more power in their negotiations and hopefully broadly supports improved working conditions at Western.”
photo: London District Labour Council - twitter
Geo Tags: 

Featured Event


Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel