CUPE 3906 Postdoctoral Fellows Bargaining Blog

CUPE 3906 Letter to MSU Re: Bargaining

The Word From CUPE

April 2, 2009 by Mary Ellen Campbell
Filed under Opinions

As the president of CUPE 3906, I would like to thank the student body for taking an interest in the upcoming rounds of bargaining at McMaster University.  CUPE 3906 shares the already expressed desires for respectful and constructive dialogue. We promote an open and transparent process, and warmly encourage everyone in our community, especially undergraduate students, to become informed, participate and share with us their experiences and concerns, as contract issues like class sizes, T.A. and sessional overwork and job security directly affect the quality of education here at McMaster.

In the past few weeks, Azim Kazmani and Peter George have each written letters to the Sil that make reference to the Collective agreement. We share President Kasmani’s concern over lost classroom time. No one wants to go on strike, but it is important for everyone to understand that classroom experience can deteriorate even without job action. Sessional faculty members, fully qualified professionals who teach over a third of undergraduate courses each year, are facing job loss at an unheard of scale at this institution.

As tenured faculty members are expected to make up the teaching shortfall, course offerings diminish, and programs face closure or restructuring even as undergraduate enrolment goes up. TA’s are also increasingly expected to make up the shortfall by performing, within the same number of hours, the marking, preparation and student consultation work for more and more students.  Both job security and workload are contract issues that affect classroom experience: if they are not resolved in bargaining, they will only be left to fester, and conditions for working and learning will continue to deteriorate. Concessions are not sustainable solutions: they are a refusal to address the root causes of underfunding and top-heavy administration at the cost of both workers and students.

While President George mentioned the expiration of our Unit One (T.A. and R.A.) Collective Agreement, he did not mention that we are currently in bargaining with the Administration for McMaster’s Postdoctoral Fellows.  The parties have had some success reaching agreement on standard contract language, but the employer is still seeking concessions on wages, denying academic freedom to Postdocs, and freezing benefits at levels lower than those afforded to other full-time workers. We feel that Postdoctoral Fellows are worth more and that they deserve better.

Negotiations continue through April and the Union has set a goal to finish negotiations by May 15.

The issues at stake in our negotiations are broad reaching, and speak to the crisis of public education on a provincial scale. Ontario ranks in the bottom ten jurisdictions in North America in terms of student funding, and Premier McGuinty has not undone the damage that the Mike Harris regime instigated in 1995. Funding has not been restored to 1995 levels. While the Administration adds to its cohort of administrators and deans, it seemingly has little intention or will to resolve this crisis outside of restructuring programs and seeking concessions from the University’s most precarious workers. As students and workers, this is our struggle in part because it is thrust upon us, and in part because we have a responsibility to future students and workers as well as a stake in pedagogical integrity and public education itself.

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