Union Finally Certified

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By: Suzanne Ma

After forming a union this summer Ryerson’s teaching assistants are looking for a big pay increase as they return to classes.

The union was finally certified after an eight-month delay in counting the ballots, which were orginally cast on November 25, 2002.

The sealed ballot box was opened in front of a labour board at the end of June. More than 50 per cent of the votes said yes to a union.

“People want this,” said Angela Ross, staff respresentative for CUPE Local 3904. “At least with a union, the TAs have somewhere to turn if they need help.”

The delay was caused by a number of procedural challenges posed by Ryerson. There were disagreements about the number of TAs who actually signed union cards, and over whether TAs had sufficient notice of the vote.

TAs are a relatively recent addition to the staff at Ryerson. As the school evolved from a polytechnic to a university the need for academic assistants grew. Their jobs can vary from monitoring labs, to marking essays or leading tutorials.

“It was only a matter of time before the TAs at Ryerson compared their terms and conditions with the TAs at other universities,” said CUPE national representative Derek Blackadder.

Ryerson’s teaching assistants make $10 to $25 an hour, while assistants at the University of Toronto and York University can earn as much as $35. Wages, job security, a complete lack of benefits will be the union’s major concerns when negotiating a collective agreement.

Blackadder said CUPE local 3904 would help its members hold the administration accountable for its lack of attention to workers’ concerns.

“The better the working conditions, the more stable the work force. The more stable the work force, the better education Ryerson students will get.”

CUPE is Canada’s largest union with over 500,000 members. The union represents 50,000 teaching assistants at 16 universities. With Ryerson now unionized, Laurentian, Waterloo and Queen?s are the only Ontario universities that have non-union teaching assistants.

Blackadder said he believes that all universities across the country will unionize teaching assistants within a few years. A campaign at Queen’s was launched just last week to establish a union for teaching assistants there, he said.

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