Over 400 teaching assistants (TAs) at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario, have won union representation following an organizing drive by PSAC this fall.
TAs at WLU are graduate students who play an integral part in the university’s undergraduate programs, assisting professors with grading, leading tutorials, and providing students with one-to-one support. However, they are often expected to work overtime without compensation, have little to no access to mental health support, and enjoy few protections when conflicts arise with the professors they work for.
“I never thought of myself as a worker or considered the type of labour I perform as being anything other than a necessary requirement,” said Carolyn Whipp, a recent WLU graduate who supported the union drive while serving as a TA. “I am now starting to see how campaigns to unionize can bring people together around shared concerns or a common cause to assert their rights and take back collective power.”
PSAC membership in post-secondary sector keeps growing
This victory at WLU is the latest in a series of organizing victories by PSAC on university campuses over the last decade. The union currently represents workers in 25 post-secondary institutions across Canada. Most recently, in June, over 200 invigilators at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario, voted overwhelmingly to join PSAC. Furthermore, PSAC is awaiting additional union certifications to represent workers at McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan.
“Over 30,000 workers in the university sector have chosen to join PSAC over the years, making our union one of the strongest in the academic sector,” said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC Ontario Regional Executive Vice-President. “Together, our members have fought for better working conditions, including childcare and retirement benefits, better pay, stronger protections around academic freedom and much more.”
For at least two decades, Canadian universities have increasingly relied on teaching assistants, research assistants and other short-term contract workers. This has led to chronically low wages and few, if any, benefits for many workers in the sector.
At the May 2018 PSAC Triennial National Convention, members voted overwhelmingly to campaign against the rise in precarious work and reaffirmed the union’s commitment to organizing the unorganized.