UBC TA Strike

Here’s a letter addressing some of the issues surrounding this strike:

Dear Faculty,

On the eve of what may become a difficult time in our department, I
am writing to solicite your help, to clarify the situation from the TA's
point of view, and hopefully to generate the kind of discussion that
behooves this institution in whose interest we all act.  It's clear to me
that this department values it's grad students and it's TA's, I think we
can agree that TA's deserve to be compensated fairly and treated with a
modicum of respect.  It is a lack in the latter category that involves me
in this whole process, and what I would like most to address in this
letter.

I think it's important that everyone be aware of the treatment the TA's
have received from the administration.  Since July the administration has
delayed negotiations for months at a time, canceled four meetings and
failed to show up once, and ignored requests to meet with a second
negotiator when their chief negotiator Kyle Cormier took December off for
holidays.  At their first meeting they offered nothing, revoking
everything from our previous contract, most significantly tuition
protection and even our very meager health benefits, while offering a
3 year wage freeze.  They have repeatedly refused to show any
documentation substantiating their claims about financial constraints, and
after the threat of job action suddenly untied their hands to an offer of
3-2-2, when asked why this wasn't offered in the first place their
response was that they wanted to lower our expectations.

Instead, the result has been to radicalize an essential group of educators
and future academics, and antagonize the teaching assistants whose
contributions to this university deserve considerably more respect than
their bargaining team have been shown; Kyle Cormier refers to our
team as 'kids', and has said in bargaining 'I wouldn't give you the change
in my pocket'.  Such behaviour is simply not acceptable by the standards
we value as an educational institution.  Does the administration need to
be reminded it runs a university, not a car factory?  Why has any of this
been necessary, and why have tensions been allowed to escalated as far as
they have?  One is tempted to think that the union has been consciously
forced into the extreme position in which we find ourselves, for reasons
nobody can seem to clarify, but following the dictum that incompetence is
always a more likely explanation than conspiracy, perhaps it's necessary
to question the competence with which the administration has handled this
affair.

At mediation Kyle Cormier stated that he wasn't aware that tuition was
such an important issue for the TA's.  The administration is not
listening.  The AMS, GSS and 21 departments have passed motions
specifically supporting tuition hike protection for TA's.  This is the
issue which resulted in the membership's 87% vote in favour of a strike.
It is the norm at most other research-based universities to index TA wages
against fee increases.  I think we all agree that protection against
tuition increases is not an unreasonable demand, and yet the
administration refuses to even meet with tuition as an issue on the
bargaining table.  A tuition waiver is a starting point for bargaining,
and it should be crystal clear to any competent bargaining team that all
we need for negotiations to resume is the opportunity to bargain for some
form of protection against tuition increases.

Yet the administration publishes bulletins that claim the breakdown in
negotiations is the union's fault, that UBC is negotiating in good faith,
paying it's workers competitively, and is not offering wage rollbacks.
They are 'interested in hearing our reaction' to the recent BoG proposal
to waive tuition for PhD students, and talk as though this were somehow
equivalent to an offer made in bargaining.  The proposal is not relevent
to the union's mandate in negotiations, is too vague and incomplete to
stake a contract on, and one which ignores 70% of the union's membership.
The administration has bought full page ads in the Vancouver Sun with
similar claims, and I am personally disgusted to watch my university
portraying itself like a spin doctor.  This is more than a show of
disregard for the intellectual integrity our institution is meant to
defend, it is a dangerous discredit to the reputability of the
administration, especially when they publish 'principles' which any
reasonable observer would agree have been flagrantly violated.
In light of the systemic problems intrinsic to fighting an administration
which acts with such beligerence, I ask for your help.  Frankly, we are
tired grad students mustering spare time to fight bureaucrats who are paid
to do this full time, and match our transience with years of experience.
However, I think we are obligated to fight a battle that reflects
on the kind of administration this university is willing to accept.  I ask
on behalf of the TA's in this department for the aid of our faculty's
political savvy and influence; please send letters encouraging the
administration to move on tuition, and the Faculty Association to take a
stronger stand in our favour.  There is no reason this strike can't
be avoided.

Very sincerely,

Marty Kurylowicz

If you’re a UBC student, support your TA’s. Don’t cross picket lines. If you’re afraid you’re going to miss a lab/test/class, what have you that might affect your GPA, talk to your professor, explain your concerns. And I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of your professors are willing to grant exemptions, extensions or other concessions for such extenuating circumstances. Much like nurses make hospitals bearable, TAs make the university run smoother. So show your support for them.