By Rachel Emmanuel
Carleton’s union for contract instructors and teaching assistants, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 4600, has called an official strike committee after months of unsuccessful negotiations with the university.
CUPE 4600 organized their first strike committee meeting on Nov. 29, though the meeting was closed to anyone outside of the union.
Union member Steve Tasson has been a contract professor at Carleton for over a decade and is the vice-president of the union for contract instructors. Tasson said the strike committee is a sign the university hasn’t been willing to take things seriously.
“We’re being backed into a corner,” Tasson said.
He said that even though the union began negotiating as early as August, they’ve hardly seen any changes.
Currently, the union is negotiating for higher pay and better classroom environments, according to Tasson. He said contract instructors at Carleton are the second lowest paid in all of Ontario.
He also said that on average, Carleton contract instructors are paid 18 per cent less than contract instructors at the University of Ottawa for the same courses.
Despite this, he said that the union’s negotiations have a focus beyond their payroll.
“We’re not really talking money,” he said. He added job security and a guarantee of class sizes and support are some of the main issues being bargained.
But not all members of the union are on the same page.
Marina Wang, a second-year master’s student, is a TA for an undergraduate biology class.
Wang said she isn’t sure why the union wants to strike.
“I’m not familiar at all, I get annoying emails once in a while. I don’t really know what they’re striking about,” she said.
Wang added she doesn’t discuss the issues the strike committee has raised with her colleagues, and she said she doesn’t believe they feel the need to strike either.
“I wouldn’t mind getting paid more, but I don’t feel like I’ve been treated inappropriately,” Wang said. “I’m pretty content with my TA position.”
Tasson said the union has been pushing for a clearer sexual violence and harassment policy as well.
Chris Cline, a Carleton media relations officer said via email that bargaining is still continuing between the union and the university.
“Negotiations have been thoughtful and productive. No impasse has been reached. The employer is committed to bargaining in good faith and to renewing the collective agreements with Teaching Assistants and Contract Instructors,” Cline said.
A CUPE 4600 strike could mean all teaching assistants and contract instructors stop working, and according to Tasson, contract instructors alone teach 35 per cent of undergraduate classes.
Tasson said a strike would disrupt all kinds of operations at Carleton, ranging from cancelled classes, to a lack of OC Transpo access on campus.
“There’s a perception that students get caught in the middle,” he said.
Tory McGillvary, a second-year English student, said she thinks a strike isn’t the right idea.
“I don’t really think it’s fair for the students, because it’s going to hurt them, more than help them in the end,” McGillvary said.
The union has never gone on strike before, but have called a strike date in the past, at which time the bargaining process continued until 2 A.M. the morning of the strike before being resolved.
Tasson said the union hasn’t determined if they will go forward with a strike, and it wouldn’t be until 2017.