CUPE 3906 Postdoctoral Fellows Bargaining Blog

April 5, 2009

CUPE 3906 Letter to CRA re: PDF Employment Status at McMaster

Filed under: CUPE 3906,Letters — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 11:16 am

06 February 2009

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of National Revenue
555 MacKenzie Avenue, 7th Floor
Ottawa ON  K1A 0L5

Mr. William V. Baker
Commissioner – Chief Executive Officer of the CRA
555 MacKenzie Avenue – 7th Floor
Ottawa ON  K1A 0L5

Re: Post-Doctoral Fellow Status

Dear Minister Blackburn and Commissioner Baker,

I understand that the CRA is presently undergoing a broad internal review of policies pertaining to the status of Post-Doctoral Fellows (PDFs), and specifically regarding their eligibility to be issued a T2202A and to have some or all of their income qualify for tax exemption status. As the certified bargaining agent for approximately 130 PDFs at McMaster University, CUPE Local 3906 has been attentive to the ongoing discussion concerning this issue amongst various associations of PDFs and across many universities. Having reviewed the recent University of Alberta (Bekhor) appeal on the subject, and aware of the implications of the upcoming decision on the matter, I appreciate that this is indeed a complex issue. I provide the information below in hopes of assisting the CRA in developing a policy for the determination of the status of PDFs which reflects the reality of their relations to their institutions, and accounts for the nature of their labour.

While cognizant that the nature of PDF employment is diverse across and even within universities across the country, this letter shall confirm that, in the case of McMaster, the relationship between the vast majority of PDFs and the university is foremost one of employment, as distinct from that between a student and their academic programme. As is mutually recognized by the union and the employer, which are presently bargaining the first PDF collective agreement at McMaster, these relations are governed at our university by contracts of employment in which each PDF sells their labour in exchange for wages, rather than by guarantees of financial assistance for PDFs in support of their continuing academic studies.

The relationship described above is articulated and reinforced in a variety of ways. The university formally recognizes and classifies the vast majority of PDFs as “employees,” rather than as students, trainees, apprentices, or independent contractors. Further, PDFs are subject to university policies which apply to staff, rather than to those which apply to students. Additionally, as employees, PDFs are entitled to the full-time employee benefits plan, rather than the graduate student plan, and the university withholds and remits all statutory employment deductions and benefits contributions from and for PDFs. Finally, even preceding a collective agreement between the parties, there exist elaborate procedures for hiring, directing and terminating PDFs in the university’s employ.

While I will reserve comment on debates regarding the possible benefits and dangers of assigning PDFs the status of students or apprentices, rather than workers, as a labour union representing both undergraduate and graduate student workers and non-student contingent and full-time workers at McMaster, CUPE 3906 believes that all workers have the fundamental right to have their labour recognized and valued, to be remunerated fairly for their labour, and to collectively assert their labour power in an effort to secure the protections of a binding collective agreement. However well intentioned, any move to alter or mystify the status of Post-Doctoral Fellows which seeks or effects a claw-back of these fundamental rights, for example through the introduction of tuition or ancillary fees, which some have suggested may be the eventual result of a reckless blanket classification of PDFs as any category of students, would surely be to the long-term detriment of these workers, their associations and their employing institutions.

Please contact me at should you require clarification or further discussion regarding the above.


Mary Ellen Campbell – President, CUPE 3906


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