by Leveller Staff
CUPE 4600 — the union representing teaching assistants (TAs) and contract instructors (CIs) at Carleton University — organized an information picket at Carleton’s 75th anniversary celebration launch on Jan. 18.
“I was out at the picket to help spread the word about the strike vote and to support our bargaining team who has been in negotiations with the university,” Jenna Amirault, CUPE 4600 member, told the Leveller via email.
CUPE 4600 has been negotiating new collective agreements with the university since July (Unit 1 – TAs) and August (Unit 2 – CIs). Carleton’s administration called for a conciliation process before the holiday break in December, prompting CUPE 4600 to seek a strike mandate from its members.
For Kevin Partridge, President of CUPE 4600, the picket was organized to counter the university administration’s spin that CIs have job security and TAs are well supported.
“Contract Instructors at Carleton are the second-lowest paid in Ontario…and are subject to arbitrary hiring and firing evaluations, including a student evaluation system that puts women, people of colour and people with accents at a clear disadvantage,” Partridge told the Leveller. “Graduate TAs have seen their income drop precipitously over the last ten years. They now have only about $1,500 left after paying tuition and various fees from their TA paycheques.”
TAs and CIs will vote whether or not to give the union a strike mandate on Jan. 24-26.
CUPE 4600 is encouraging its members to vote yes in order to give the union a strong mandate while bargaining efforts for new collective agreements with the university administration are ongoing.
“The strike vote is primarily a tool to gauge the support that our bargaining teams have,” said Partridge. “The employer has tabled a wage offer that is well under the current rate of inflation and is proposing to almost eliminate the protection that TAs have against tuition fee increases that are regularly several times the rate of inflation.”
“It’s important that CUPE 4600 mobilizes a strong strike vote so that the bargaining team has leverage going into negotiations,” said Amirault. “Carleton has a history of rolling back workers’ rights, take-home pay and working conditions in the event that a strong strike vote isn’t mobilized.”
Carleton’s administration took advantage of a failed strike vote in 2008 to clawback tuition indexation, demonstrating the importance of obtaining a strong strike mandate during the bargaining process.
At the picket, undergraduate students were supportive of their TAs and CIs, according to Amirault.
“Many were shocked to learn just how low the take-home pay is for TAs and CIs,” she said. “I think students understand that our working conditions are their learning conditions.”
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 4 (January/February 2017).