RAs were “voluntarily recognized” as included in TSSU by SFU in 2019 and then granted full membership rights, yet SFU continues to breach the agreement and refuses to bargain a fair deal that includes all RAs. However, if at least 55% of all RAs sign a union card, then the BC Labour Relations Board can step in and have full oversight to force SFU to bargain with TSSU. You can now sign a card online.

Am I Eligible to Sign a Card?

Do you do research that benefits SFU? Then you might be a Research Assistant or Grant Employee (RA) and a member of the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU). It doesn’t matter if you receive your compensation as salary or scholarship, as long as you’re paid through SFU payroll then you’re one of us. Congrats!

You are eligible to sign a card if you answer YES to all three of the following questions:

  1. Do you do research affiliated with SFU?
  2. Are you being paid via SFU payroll for doing that research (this includes those paid scholarship, stipends, and top-ups)?
  3. Are you being paid during the summer semester (i.e., May 1st – August 31st 2023)?

If you are still unsure, please reach out to us at racontractnow@tssu.ca and we can look into it for you!

What Does Signing a Card Actually Mean?

When you sign a card, you are signifying your support for TSSU to be able to bargain collectively and represent the interest of RAs. As a whole, the cards serve as a “snapshot” of the workforce and signify the desires of RAs as a group of workers to unionize and be represented by TSSU.

The cards act as a tangible expression of our collective power. With signed cards representing at least 55% of RAs, TSSU can apply to the BC Labour Relations Board to serve as the “certified bargaining agent” for RAs.

Despite the existing Voluntary Recognition Agreement (VRA), SFU has deliberately delayed and created roadblocks in our fight for the first contract for RAs, a contract we have been fighting for for over 4 years. The current VRA is clearly not being respected by SFU. Despite already losing in the legal arena, SFU continues to tell us to take them to court to expend hundreds of thousands of more dollars.

Signing these cards will allow RAs to fight for our first contract with additional pressure and backing from a more powerful body, the Labour Relations Board, and let SFU know that we cannot be ignored. We need to demonstrate our collective power and show that we will never give up!

TSSU Fights for RAs’ Rights

  • The right to a collective agreement: RAs should have a right to negotiate for legally-binding contracts that clearly outline the duties and expectations of employees (RAs), managers (supervisors), and employers (SFU).
  • The right to advocacy: Without a first contract, RAs don’t have rights to point to to help address the problems that they would like solved. By unionizing, not only will there be a collective agreement that sets expectations of an RA’s work, but also a structure for RAs to request formal advocacy to address the overstepping of these expectations.
  • Automated pay accounting and clear, accurate paystubs: RAs deserve the basic right of being paid on time, and knowing exactly how much they’re being paid, and for what work.
  • Access to tuition deferment: The TSSU fought for and won tuition deferment, i.e., paying your tuition over the semester in parts instead of as a lump sum at the start of the semester, for all members except RAs. RAs deserve this too.
  • Access to employer-paid MSP premiums (ISHF), extended healthcare and dental: Many RAs work without access to a plan to help pay for medical expenses, while all other TSSU members have access to such plans, with SFU having to pay between 50-100% of the premium.
  • Intellectual property rights: RAs should be properly credited for the research work they do.

Unionizing is the only way we can protect what we already have from changing for the worse.

Why Now?

It’s been nearly 4 years since RAs came together to start the 2019 organizing drive. RAs are still suffering from low pay, no pay, no benefits, and limited rights. TSSU has tried everything else from legal fights, to rallies, to strike votes. It’s time now to call SFU’s bluff, force them to stop the delays and bring the ultimate authority, the Labour Relations Board, into the picture.

New to SFU and Unions?
Here’s some information to get you started:

What is TSSU?

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) is an independent, non-hierarchical, and feminist union founded at SFU in 1978.

TSSU is a direct democracy. All major decisions and actions taken by the Union are decided by vote at General Membership Meetings. Every member has a say.

TSSU is constantly changing as its membership grows and the Union represents new employee categories at SFU. As the newest members of TSSU, RAs will have a big part in determining how the Union will best serve all students and workers at the University.

Union 101

What is a union?

Unions are organizations of working people. Unions provide members the legal means to collectively improve their lives, primarily by protecting and advocating for fellow members in their workplaces.

Unions make workplaces democratic by giving members a fair say in how their work is carried out and administered. Without a union, workplaces would be completely dominated by the whims of the employer. Being a union member gives you a voice.

Unions protect members’ rights by negotiating and then holding the employer accountable to a Collective Agreement, which lays out responsibilities and duties, as well as pay and benefits. TSSU understands that its members’ lives and the struggles they face extend outside the workplace. That’s why TSSU is a social movement union, meaning its members advocate for the rights of all students and workers, on- and off-campus.

What is a collective agreement?

A Collective Agreement (CA) is a legally-binding contract between employers, a union, and its membership. It defines the terms and conditions of an employee’s work, detailing agreed-upon job duties, hours of work, and rates of pay, as well as procedures for hiring and discipline. CAs are reached through a process called collective bargaining, and are ratified (accepted via a vote) by union members. If the employer fails to live up to the terms of the CA, the union can represent, protect, and advocate for its workers through the grievance process.

For information about RA bargaining, or to get involved, visit https://bargaining.tssu.ca/

TSSU’s current CA can be found here.

What is bargaining?

Collective bargaining for a Collective Agreement (CA) harnesses the combined power of workers to improve their working conditions in ways that would be impossible if workers negotiated individually with their employer. 

Most of the time, this means the employer and the union meet to negotiate changes to an existing CA, which is then ratified (voted upon) by members of the union.

The TSSU-SFU CA does not yet contain any articles covering RA conditions of work. These must be drafted and negotiated by the new RA Contract Committee, in ongoing consultation with RA members. We will be posting updates here on researchiswork.tssu.ca.

Past experience at SFU has shown that the employer, SFU admin, does not negotiate until pressure from outside of the bargaining table forces them to.

RA Unionization at SFU

(Very) brief history of how RAs unionized

The news SFU administration was going to make unilateral changes to RA working conditions spurred a grassroots movement of RAs.

In the spring and summer of 2019, a movement was built within the union and among RAs to discover where and under what conditions RAs were working at SFU. In the fall of 2019 an organizing drive was launched and 928 RAs of an estimated 1500 working that semester signed union membership cards.

In November 2019, SFU administration and the TSSU signed a legally binding Memorandum of Agreement in which the TSSU was recognized as the union of all RAs. Since then, SFU has done everything possible to break that agreement and has even been ordered to pay damages to TSSU.

What counts as research work?

There is a staggering variety in the work research assistants perform at SFU. Here are some of the tasks which are part of research work.

In a Lab
Data collection
Equipment maintenance

On a Computer
Data collection, entry, and analysis
Literature review
Conference planning
Report and paper writing

In the Field
Data collection
Archival research

The road to the first-ever RA collective agreement

In 2020 we talked to over 1000 RAs who gave their input into the proposals for the first RA Collective Agreement. That agreement is now mostly negotiated with SFU, with three main sticking points: wages, benefits, and whether all RAs should be included. SFU would like to pay RAs $17/hr only give benefits to about 10% of RAs, and exclude almost all graduate student RAs. TSSU wants to include all RAs and ensure they have a living wage and access to benefits equivalent to what RAs at SFU yet.

What do RAs have access to as TSSU members?

RAs are voting members of TSSU! This means RAs can vote in TSSU elections, on tentative collective agreements, in any strike vote, and at all General Membership Meetings.

Just as important, RAs can join all TSSU committees including:

  • Executive 
  • Stewards
  • Contract
  • Finance
  • Grievance
  • Internal Relations
  • Member Mobilization
  • Joint Health and Safety (with SFU admin)

Advocacy, OH&S Rights

Workplace problems can be hard to navigate, be they health and safety concerns or trouble with a supervisor. As members of the TSSU, RAs can draw on the expertise of a team who knows the ins-and-outs of SFU and your rights as a worker.

From a sounding board, to sitting in on a meeting with you, to formal grievance proceedings, TSSU stewards, anti-harassment committee members, occupational health and safety experts are here to help you — on your terms.

You can contact our advocacy team at chief_steward@tssu.ca or dereks@tssu.ca.

Childcare Fund

At the 20 November 2019 General Membership Meeting, RAs were welcomed into the TSSU and granted equal access to the Childcare Fund.

All TSSU members who have children under the age of 13, or those with children up to the age of 18 requiring additional care due to a physical or developmental disability, are eligible to apply. No receipts are required, just children.

The application only takes a few minutes and does not involve a means test or disclosure of any financial information. Applications open at the start of each semester and close at the end of week three of the semester.

Please visit https://www.tssu.ca/childcare/ for more information.

The Childcare Fund has been underfunded by the SFU administration for years. We are fighting hard to increase it to a level that will help TSSU members in a tangible way.

Get in Touch

Who can I contact if I have a question or issue?

For any general questions feel free to reach out to tssu@tssu.ca.

For specific issues around your work or position, please contact our advocacy team at chief_steward@tssu.ca or dereks@tssu.ca.