SFU teaching assistants, instructors and support staff commence strike

Click to play video: 'SFU teaching support staff vote in favour of job action'
SFU teaching support staff vote in favour of job action
Classes at SFU could soon be on hold after the university's largest union voted to take job action. Members of the teaching support staff union voted 94 per cent in favour of job action – Mar 29, 2023

Simon Fraser University teaching assistants, sessional instructors and other teaching support workers are walking off the job on Thursday.

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) is on strike and will be picketing around the school.

The union said 900 members will be partaking in the job action.

The union said its decision to walk off the job comes one day after the school administration said it was cancelling health-care benefits for union members.

“It’s alarming, I am enraged and appalled. This threat of removing our member’s health benefits disproportionally affects our members who are disabled, who have chronic illnesses,” said DW Kamish, a TSSU trustee.

“It also disproportionally affects international students.”

Click to play video: 'Is there a future for the SFU football program?'
Is there a future for the SFU football program?

The process began on June 9, when a TSSU member handed SFU president Joy Johnson a strike notice on stage during a convocation ceremony. Three days later, the union began its job action by staging teach-ins and refusing to work overtime.

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On Wednesday, the union said Johnson and her administration retaliated to the overtime ban, threatening to cancel extended health and dental coverage unless the union pays more than $40,000 per month.

The school’s threat also includes axing the International Student Health Fee coverage, which international students depend on for basic and emergency health care.

“This is extortion,” said Kayla Hilstob, a PhD researcher at the Digital Democracies Institute.

“SFU is treating our health and basic welfare as bargaining chips when it should be negotiating with TSSU in good faith.”

Click to play video: 'Injunction denied to have SFU football program reinstated'
Injunction denied to have SFU football program reinstated

The union claimed SFU’s refusal to sign a fair contract has forced TSSU to strike, putting its members at even greater risk during an affordability crisis.

“It’s a sad irony that Joy Johnson, who holds a Ph.D. in nursing, would be at the helm of an administration that chooses to deny its staff healthcare. It seems her academic understanding of health and wellbeing hasn’t translated into her role as a university executive,” said Alicia Massie, a sessional instructor.

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“Just three days after we began job action to demand a fair contract, SFU president Joy Johnson and her administration have demonstrated a reckless disregard for the welfare of staff and students.”

TSSU has been without a contract for more than a year, since its collective agreement expired in April 2022.

Simon Fraser University gave a statement regarding the latest job action on its campus.

“To be clear, at this time, the university has not removed or suspended benefits from any TSSU members. All eligible TSSU members are still covered under their regular benefit plan,” SFU staff wrote in a release.

“In a strike situation, wages and benefits are typically suspended during periods when employees are on strike and not reporting to work. This practice is outlined in SFU’s strike policy and is in alignment with the BC Labour Code.”

The release continued, “During strike action, the obligation to pay for benefits shifts from the employer to the union. The university has provided TSSU leadership with the costs to continue benefits for its members. To date, the university has not received a response from TSSU leadership.

“SFU is committed to working with TSSU leadership to ensure that TSSU members will have the coverage they need.”

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