Over 350 Teaching Assistants, Lab Assistants, Academic Assistants and Student Markers will potentially be walking off the job as early as February 27th. This isn't an action that anyone takes lightly. In this page, the CUPE negotiating team will explain why we can't afford to accept Trent's insistence on a wage freeze.
No prizes for guessing which is which. Over the past 6 years and spanning two Collective Agreements, tuition has risen over 30% faster than TA wages. Although our wages had a good headstart, tuition is closing the gap. We can hear its footsteps now. And unlike the hare in the fable, it never rests. Instead, the Employer is proposing that the tortoise take a break—two years without a raise. If we sit on that rock, we'll see the relentless hare race past us in a few short years.
As graduate students, we're dependent on Trent's decision-makers for many aspects of our funding. Given chronic budget shortfalls, it's no surprise that there has been some musing among administrators about moving away from the current model of guaranteed funding.
Fortunately, we do have control over one very important aspect of our funding: our TA wages and benefits. Making modest gains year over year is our best hedge against the uncertainties of other funding components. Settling for a wage freeze and hoping for the best in future funding is a risk we can't afford to take.
We're only at Trent for a few years. It's easy to see that we won't be the primary beneficiaries of a strike. Before we allow self-interest to convince us that our wages are decent and that it's not worth fighting over a few lousy percentage points, let's take a look at where we've come from.
Those competitive wages we earn today are a direct result of previous members being willing to strike to protect decent working conditions, in the face of demands from Trent to take less. The CUPE Professional Development fund and the UHIP reimbursement for international students were achieved in 2008 after a strike vote. The partial reimbursement of your GSA health plan fees was bargained for in 2011.
None of these things sprang from the generosity of our employer. We can't take them for granted, and we can't allow their value to be eroded for future members.
Everyone knows you can't get blood from a stone. Even though there is a good argument for trying to get back to the same relative levels of tuition and wages that existed six years ago, we know that this isn't a realistic goal right now. Our demands are very modest. A reasonable financial settlement can be reached for less than $100,000/year—less than one tenth of one percent of Trent's $100 million operating budget.
Further, unlike any other group on campus, student workers make a direct contribution to Trent's bottom line through both the tuition we pay and the government grants we attract. Our demands are not just affordable, but essentially self-financing.
CUPE3908 members make it possible for Trent to offer the personalized learning experience on which it prides itself. We make many contributions to student success, but we can't afford to subsidize Trent with a wage freeze, while the tuition squeeze gets tighter every year.
We want to be in the classroom, not on the picket line. When a fair agreement is affordable, it's irresponsible for Trent to risk a strike in the hope of saving a few tens of thousands of dollars—the amount a senior administrator earns in a few months. On February 25th and 26th, the CUPE3908 bargaining team will be calling on Trent to treat students workers fairly. We invite you to do the same.