What if…

Grad students, including Abhi Nanjundappa, bring the idea of unionizing RAs up to TSSU. Many discussions follow.

How could we do this?

TSSU begins seriously discussing practical plans for what a RA union drive could look like.

Sept 2018

The beginning.

A first RA union drive is started by a small group of organizers and executives at the TSSU.

This is bigger than we thought.

The first union drive is able to secure ~200 cards in 2 months, but is quickly understood to be under-resourced.

Aug 2018
Oct 2018

Research is Work!

The first union drive is quietly shut down, with the expectation to begin again another time. At an organizer debrief the campaign slogan “Research is Work” is decided.


TSSU Executive brings a suggestion to the General Membership to hire a dedicated organizer to run a RA union drive.

Jan 2019
June 2019

Building the team.

Vince Tao & Yi Chien Jade Ho begin building a team of grassroots organizers, relying on the previous RA union drive.

Lets play “Softball”

The RA drive is begun in earnest, under the codename “Softball”, with a major focus on mapping departments.

July 2019
Sept 2019

We continue to grow.

Card signing begins, with the campaign still being kept “under wraps”. The organizing team grows to more than 75 people.

We’re public!

Softball goes public as the Research Is Work campaign, with now 150 organizers and over 500 cards.

Oct 2019
Nov 2019

900 Cards!

The campaign continues to grow, reaching over 900 signed cards.
SFU reaches out with the possibility of reaching a voluntary agreement.

Voluntary Agreement?

The Research is Work campaign team holds 3 emergency meetings with the organizing team to discuss the agreement.

We win our union!

TSSU signs an agreement with SFU to voluntarily recognize TSSU as the sole bargaining agent for RAs at SFU. We win!

RA Contract Group

An ad hoc committee is set up by the TSSU to survey and canvass RAs across the University to find out what we need to fight for

January – April 2020
May 2020


Bargaining for a new RA contract is scheduled to begin.

Bargaining starts

March 2021
November 2021

SFU’s [insulting] monetary offer

Froze wages from 2019 onwards, no health benefits for more than 90% of RAs, and sick leave that is notably less than required under the Employment Standards Act

Let’s play Hardball

It’s been 871 days of delay, RAs Rally to demand SFU bargain a fair contract

April 2022
July and August 2022

Arbitration Hearing

Over 9 days, TSSU and SFU put forward their respective legal cases using thousands of pages of documents, dozens of hours of witness testimony, and legal argument. Arbitrator Jim Dorsey hears all of this and goes to consider it and issue a decision.

Jim Dorsey rules — Research is Work!

In an blistering 137 ruling, Arbitrator Jim Dorsey finds that RAs can be both workers and students, and that SFU has violated every meaningful clause of the Voluntary Recognition Agreement. He orders SFU to get into immediate compliance and says SFU owes TSSU damages for its harmful actions.

September 13, 2022
October – December 2022

SFU digs in its heels

After initially saying that they would respect the ruling, SFU changes courses, and instead starts arguing that even more graduate student RAs are not workers. They go start going out to professors with surveys designed to support their view that research is NOT work.

SFU pulls its monetary offer

At RA bargaining SFU pulls its monetary offer for RAs, saying that they are getting flack from the community for offering such low wages. But rather than increase those wages, they make no wage offer at all!

January 2023
March 2023

TSSU Members Call Strike Vote

TSSU members decide that enough is enough and call a strike vote of the entire membership as both RAs and Teaching Support Staff can’t get a fair contract. Members vote 94% to strike

SFU claims TSSU Strike Vote is “impermissable”

Despite the overwhelming support, SFU complains to the BC Labour Relations Board that TSSU’s strike vote is impermissible. They say not enough bargaining has occurred, it’s not right that RAs could vote, and it’s impermissible for TSSU to take about RAs at all! Both sides make initial submissions and it’s clear another long and expensive legal dispute has been raised by SFU.

April 2023
April 2023

Parties bargain with LRB Oversight

Both SFU and TSSU agree to step back from the dispute and enter 3 weeks of expedited bargaining, with the Labour Relations Board then getting oversight to ensure SFU gave RAs a monetary offer. This offer turns out to be $0 / hr for graduate student RAs (by not including them), $17 / hour for other student RAs, and $22.22 hour for everyone else. RAs currently earn over $27 / hour on average. SFU says if TSSU wants better, then to bring in the Labour Relations Board

RA Card Signing Campaign begins again

RAs decide that the fastest route to be able to get a contract and to be able to force SFU’s hand, either by striking or through the Labour Relations Board, is to again sign Union Cards

May 2023
May 29, 2023

Over 500 RAs sign cards — organizing drive goes public

Through the hard work of a team of dozens of rank and file organizers, over 500 cards are signed covertly in just a matter of weeks. The campaign goes public with a goal of reaching 1000 cards this summer.