Lethbridge University graduate students join PSAC

In 2016, Alberta’s NDP government amended the Post-Secondary Learning Act to allow academic workers to unionize. It was an important year for union activists in the post-secondary education sector, and a moment that changed everything for the University of Lethbridge Graduate Students’ Association (ULGSA).

Following the change, teaching assistants and research assistants could officially be represented at the bargaining table by their students’ association. Jackson Ham, a PhD student in neuroscience and now chair of the ULGSA Labour Relations Committee remembers the organization’s first steps into the labour movement.

“It has been a big learning curve, but I am passionate about workers’ rights and glad I was involved early on,” said Ham.

Overcoming challenges

With so much turnover in their membership, little experience in bargaining, and workers trying to juggle union representation and studies at the same time, the new union executive quickly had their plates full.

While post-secondary workers are critical for the social and economic health of our country, they often cope with precarious job contracts, difficult conditions and low wages.

“The best way to overcome these challenges was to join a strong national union to support us and make our movement as strong as possible,” said Ham.

The search began for a service agreement with a national union. PSAC stood out because of the significant presence of the union in the post-secondary sector. With over 30,000 members working at 25 post-secondary institutions across Canada and strong stances on education issues, it was the perfect fit.

Finding their voice with PSAC

Joining PSAC quickly propelled their growth.

The ULGSA is now bargaining their first collective agreement. PSAC is fighting alongside them for better health and safety rights, fair wages, and stronger job security.

With his union working with them every step of the way, Ham is hopeful for the future.

Working with PSAC helps us do so much more. We feel supported. The infrastructure and support on important issues empowers our members, all while educating them on their rights. It changes everything,” said Ham.

“We’re not just improving the collective agreement for us, but also for our future members,” added Ham. “With PSAC, we’ll achieve this so much faster than on our own.”

Contributor: Rosane Doré Lefebvre

December 1, 2021