25 years of successful union organizing on university campuses

For over two decades, PSAC has been the union of choice for university sector workers. 

Universities have relied heavily on the work of teaching assistants, research assistants, postdoctoral fellows and many other short-term contract workers to support academic programs for years. This led to chronically low wages and few, if any, benefits for many workers in the sector. But successful organizing drives in the sector has started to dramatically improve the working conditions of post-secondary workers.

“Over 30,000 workers in Canada’s university sector have chosen to join PSAC, making our union one of the strongest in the academic sector,” said Alex Silas, national executive vice-president for the National Capital Region.     

PSAC’s first successful organizing drive in the academic sector saw teaching assistants at Western University join the union in 1996. Since then, PSAC has organized workers from more than 25 universities across the country.

“I never thought of myself as a worker,” said Carolyn Whipp, a Wilfred Laurier University graduate who supported PSAC’s organizing drive while serving as a teaching assistant. “But I am now starting to see how campaigns to unionize can bring people together around shared concerns to assert their rights and take back collective power.”

PSAC’s academic sector members have shown their collective power through major gains at the bargaining table. In addition to negotiating better wages, benefits and job security, major victories have included:

  • Child care benefits of $2,000/child annually at Queen’s University. 
  • Salary top-ups to 100 per cent for 26 weeks of parental leave at Dalhousie University.
  • Commitments to advancing equity at Memorial University, UOIT, University of Saskatchewan, Carleton University, and Université Laval.

PSAC remains committed to organizing the university sector to improve working conditions for employees. At the 2018 Triennial National Convention, members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a campaign to fight the rise in precarious work and reaffirmed the union’s pledge to continue organizing in the academic sector.

“Stay tuned,” said Silas. “We look forward to welcoming many new academic sector workers into our union in the coming years.” 

Contributors: Loren Crawford and Adrian Dumitru


December 1, 2021