The details of the deal reached between Western and its teaching assistants have been made public, which show a number of changes to the collective agreement.
The agreements were ratified by the Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 610 last month on Jan. 18 and by Western’s Board of Governors on Jan. 28.
The rights and responsibilities of teaching assistants are defined by the collective agreement. This agreement is periodically negotiated in order to make sure all working conditions, compensation and benefits are up to date in order to meet the needs of Western’s teaching assistants.
Cayley Bower, member of PSAC 610, said PSAC’s negotiating team was able to increase the per member allowance for health care from $130 to $150. The team also maintained control of the plan which, according to Bower, has positive consequences for Western’s teaching assistants.
“We get about $300,000 a year to support health care costs, and that is in addition to the plan that Western’s SOGS [Society of Graduate Students] provides, and the local has been able to maintain administration of that plan,” Bower said. “In a lot of other locals, the extended health care plan will actually be done through an insurance company or through a third party. So we still maintain control over that, which is really good because it’s a good way to have more face time with our members when they come in to submit their claims.”
The removal of the fifth-year bar was also a priority for the PSAC negotiation team. Once PhD students finish their fourth year, they are no longer considered teaching assistants, but fall under a new title as a graduate student assistant. The problem with this was that it put these mature PhD students outside of the protection of the union because they were no longer technically considered teaching assistants.
According to Bower, issues that arose from this separate designation made the University’s negotiating team very amicable to getting rid of the position.
The negotiations resulted in an agreement for the financial assistance fund to be increased from $100,000 to $125,000 in 2017. The fund is meant to be used for financial emergencies by members of PSAC.
“These increases can be used for medical emergencies and in times of financial burden,” Bower said. “There was also language written in that allows these funds to be contributed to child-care costs.”
Some other agreements that came out of these negotiations include: the addition of a new article on training that requires all training be paid; a one per cent annual increase to the graduate teaching assistant hourly pay rate; the addition of a letter of understanding regarding student evaluations of GTAs; a renewal of the "Lead GTA" program; and the doubling of the safety issue allowance.
Vice-provost of graduate and post-doctoral studies Linda Miller said the negotiations were "collegial and professional."
"The union was articulate in presenting their priorities and both parties actively engaged in discussions," she said. "The willingness to engage in open and respectful discussion was a critical factor in enabling both parties to understand the importance and potential impact of the priorities and to achieve an agreement that meets the needs of both parties.”
However, some of the issues that PSAC’s team pursued were met with some resistance. Child-care costs, limiting tutorial class sizes and teaching assistant evaluations are some examples of concerns that could not be adequately addressed, according to the union.
Indranil Chakraborty, PSAC 610 president, applauded the turnout and interest of PSAC members on issues being discussed. He noted there was a 400-person increase in the number of people who came to vote compared to 2012.
“We saw a tremendous increase in participation from the local in this ratification vote,” Chakraborty said. “Lively debate at the meetings shows that there are still many issues that need to be [addressed] by the University.”