CUPE3908: Should Unit 1 stop excluding post-funding Trent graduate students from membership in our bargaining unit?

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Backgrounder: Post-Funding Grad Students

Contract Faculty originally organized in 1985 under the banner of the Canadian Union of Education Workers (CUEW--we were Local 8. CUEW later merged into CUPE). That initial organizing drive didn't include TAs or other student workers--they organized later. Because of this, our Union certification (the document that defines our membership) contains a clause that says "save and except...persons who are registered students of the University". (See here for the actual clauses, and for the practice at other Universities)

This exclusion has a number of implications, creating both positive and negative consequences for members of both units and for Trent. Because of some of the negative impacts of the clause on Unit 2 members (it mostly prevents them from working as Course Instructors once their funded period has ended), members of both units voted at our last AGM to ask Unit 1 to reconsider the exclusion. This is a complex issue, and in the following section we try to briefly lay out the arguments in favour and against amending the "scope clause" to allow post-funding graduate students to become members of Unit 1.

Arguments in favour of change:

  • It would provide access to experience and income for Trent grad students--completion times for Master's and PhD degrees can often be substantially longer than the funded period during which Graduate Students hold TAships as Unit 2 members. Unit 1 positions provide some of the only income-earning opportunities at Trent. Further, these positions allow them to gain the teaching experience that is vital to their career development.
  • It puts Trent students on a level playing field with students from other Universities--the exclusion applies only to Trent students, and meanwhile many graduate students from York, U of T, Queens, McMaster and others are employed as Course Instructors at Trent.
  • It's better to allow post-funding grad students into our bargaining unit than to force them to create "Course Instructor" positions in their own--there is nothing that technically prevents Unit 2 from adding a parallel position to Unit 1 Course Instructor. If this happens, it will be up to the employer to decide whether they want to hire a Unit 1 or Unit 2 member. This gets messy, and contributes to conflict within the Local.
  • It means that current Unit 1 Course Instructors can take courses at Trent without losing their positions--yes, this happens. Even taking a single half-credit course makes you a student of Trent, and therefore not a Unit 1 member.

Arguments against change:

  • It could allow Trent to gradually shift part-time teaching to a student workforce--because grad students pay fees, the University might view them as an even better bargain than Unit 1 members already are.
  • It could erode job security for current Unit 1 members--while this wouldn't displace anyone with an RFR, and while most instructors with previous experience would still be preferred candidates, it does potentially introduce a new pool of competitors.
  • It could lower completion rates and increase times--teaching a course, especially for the first time, consumes a lot of time and energy. Grad students could become stuck in a cycle where they need to work to pay their fees, but can't find the time to finish their research and writing. However, the status quo doesn't prevent this--it just means they have to go further away to do it.
  • It could provide the University with an excuse to reduce the amount of TA funding--speculative, but all universities are under relentless pressure to reduce costs, and governments are currently doing a major overhaul of the funding structure


On Friday, September 13th, we'll be conducting a poll to gauge Unit 1 members' sentiments on this issue. If you don't receive an invitation to participate by 9am on that day, please let us know ( Your bargaining team will also be taking direction from members on this issue at our bargaining meetings in Oshawa (Sept. 19th) and Peterborough (Sept. 17th).

Last modified: 13-Sep-13

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