In 2019 SFU recognized TSSU as the Union for RAs, to represent them in bargaining and in disputes with the Employer. To ensure this was operational, TSSU then passed motions granting full membership rights.
There are two key parts to this recognition the first page of the agreement sets out that TSSU is the bargaining agent (i.e. the legal term for the union that will bargain for and represent these workers) for research assistants and grant employees at SFU:
The appendix then explicitly defines some included types of research assistants and grant employees and then says others may be added, but very importantly, does not give a way to take some away:
With the exception of post-docs and the very senior research associations, it is very clear that all other RAs and grant employees are included as members of TSSU.
At the time, the Director of Labour Relations Chris Hatty indicated that SFU’s purpose was to ensure RAs had someone to advocate for them, just as the recently certified Graduate Facilitators did, but without needing to show SFU’s “dirty data” to the Labour Relations Board. He testified to this during the 2022 arbitration hearing where SFU was found guilty of failing to live up to the agreement and ordered to pay damages.
Subsequent to the signing of the agreement the TSSU membership passed motions giving RAs and Grant Employees full membership rights including being able to vote, access the TSSU Member Childcare fund that is operated by SFU, and run for office. This is captured in the following motions from the November 20, 2019 General Membership Meeting (full minutes are available to all members at the TSSU office, excerpt below).
In dealing with TSSU, SFU has operated under the functioning that RAs are union members. As but one example in May 2021, Chris Hatty himself referred an RA to TSSU Member Advocate Derek Sahota in a discipline investigation case. This is a clear cut example of SFU agreeing that RAs are union members, otherwise it would be completely inappropriate to do such a referral.
Since the voluntary recognition agreement, research assistants and grant employees have:
- voted in every TSSU election and referendum, including on the dues increase;
- run for and held TSSU leadership (including right now);
- accessed over $200,000 of funding from the childcare fund, paid out by SFU;
- accessed to advocacy, with concrete examples of grievances and WCB claims advocated for by TSSU;
- been the subject of 20 bargaining sessions towards a first inclusion in the collective agreement, with the outstanding issues only being pay, benefits, and SFU’s attempt to exclude grad student RAs; and
- respected TSSU picket lines and will be paid picket pay.
At the moment, RAs do not pay union dues because they don’t have that first inclusion into the collective agreement. TSSU’s practise has been to only commence dues once that inclusion is complete.