Graduate teaching assistants on strike: Western University

Graduate teaching assistants picketing outside Western University to fight unfair wages. Ben Harrietha / Global News

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are on strike at Western University after rejecting the latest offer from their employer.

GTAs will step away from their duties on Thursday, which is also the first day of the undergraduate exam period.

Western University announced on its website that GTAs received an hourly wage of $48.41 as of January 1, which is increased to $51.10 in the fourth year of their collective agreement.

“Western GTAs are among the top paid GTAs in the province and the final offer continues to provide generous pay for this work,” says Florentine Strzekczyk on Western’s website, Provost and Academic Vice-President.

Pardis Baha, local union president, argues: “The maximum hours are 10 hours a week, and many of our workers are doing less than 10, so we’re limited in the income we can bring in as TAs.”

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Western’s website also notes that GTAs are only paid up to 10 hours a week to ensure they focus primarily on their academic work in pursuit of their degrees.

In a support letter through the University of Western Faculty Association (UWOFA), they state: “Western’s guaranteed funding package for Ph.D. students is an impractical $23,360, far below the minimum recommended by that study.”

The recommended stipend for a Ph.D. student at Western is $41,848.19, according to Western’s affordability calculator.

“There is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the glaring disparity between the cost of living in London and GTA earnings at Western,” says UWOFA’s website.

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The Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 610, the union representing GTAs, rejected Western’s offer.  And according to the union, there are more than 2,000 GTAs employed at Western that have duties as proctors and markers during exam periods. But the university has asked Professional and Managerial Association staff to take on proctoring shifts and is inviting GTAs to continue working if they choose.

Baha alleges the university has focused its efforts on contracting out members’ work to other staff on campus and encouraging members to cross picket lines.

“It’s a shame that Western has chosen to compromise the integrity of exams by putting us in a position to go on strike,” says Baha. “There’s no way that Western can contract out enough of our work to replace 2,000 members worth of work.”

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UWOFA says on its website that it strongly condemns faculty members taking on work normally done by GTAs. They say this takes advantage of the most vulnerable graduate students and undermines labour solidarity.

“The more work that the employer can cover with ‘scab’ labour, the less impactful the strike will be,” says the UWOFA website. “Faculty members may feel pressured to take on work normally done by TAs…You should strongly resist this pressure.”

Negotiations began on Oct. 30, 2023, and will continue with the goal of achieving a tentative agreement, according to Western’s website.

“The solidarity we’re seeing on campus is showing us that everyone is struggling with this employer, this employer is treating all of its workers poorly,” says Baha. “This is not just a TA fight. This is all employees on campus fight. Everyone is standing in solidarity, and we will stand in solidarity with them when it’s their turn to bargain as well.”

Graduate teaching assistants striking outside Western University. Ben Harrietha / Global News
Graduate teaching assistants striking outside Western University. Ben Harrietha / Global News
Graduate teaching assistants striking outside Western University. Ben Harrietha / Global News



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