It’s time for UW grads to unionize

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Courtesy Organize uWaterloo

It’s time for graduate student workers at UW to finally unionize. That’s why we are actively engaged in a union drive

UW is the last university in Ontario without representation for TAs, RAs, or sessional instructors. 

Graduate student TAs at UW get paid almost $10 less an hour for TA work than workers just down the street at Laurier, or at comparable schools like McMaster and the University of Toronto. 

We are facing challenges such as Bill-124, which caps wage increases for workers in the public sector, as well as uncertainty around COVID – including the fact that many graduate students cannot qualify for many government aid programs. 

The situation is dire. 

It is even more dire when you take into account that the funding we receive has kept us under the poverty line in Waterloo for years as housing and living costs have exploded

Graduate workers at UW have never been in a more precarious position. 

But let’s be honest, this is about more than money. 

The university would not run without graduate student labour. 

Exploitative graduate student labour practices are integral to the running of universities in this age of austerity, and this is true at all universities, not just UW. 

However, at UW workers have no recourse. 

If our jobs require more hours than are in our contract, we do not have any way to keep our department from overworking us, or to keep them from penalizing us if we decline to work unpaid after we hit those hours. 

If we are harassed by our supervisor, or if our pay is docked or late, the only recourse we have is to ask very nicely for pity from our department, supervisor, chair, or associate dean – all figures who have an outsized impact on our future academic careers and our prospects to graduate.

Graduate students lack basic protections that are commonplace in other workplaces. 

For example, we are not being kept in the loop on important safety related protocols related to COVID-19, such as training for a safe return to campus, as safety materials have not been distributed adequately to all graduate student workers. 

This is something the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has alerted the Ministry of Labor about. 

Even prior to COVID-19, health and safety training has long been poorly regulated and largely unpaid. Other types of job training are similarly neglected.

UW has emphasized time and time again that graduate students should be at the mercy of our supervisors

The administration places supervisors in charge of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on graduate students’ finances, as well as ensuring our safety by passing along missives about the re-opening of campus. 

This creates a patchwork system, and assumes all supervisors are equal. 

It turns labour issues into academic issues and places students in a more vulnerable position, and frankly we are tired of it.

Graduate student workers need labour protections. 

We need a way to ensure that UW listens to our needs and concerns and takes our safety and well-being seriously, especially in the age of COVID-19. 

Unionization is the best and only legally protected way to make this happen. 

It is literally our last resort in the face of a system that has taken us for granted, exploited us, and now threatens to risk our very safety and lives. 

By unionizing, we can not only protect vulnerable graduate workers, but also improve the situation for everyone on campus by fighting for workers’ rights. 

Everyone benefits when workers are well-paid, respected, and safe.

We as an organizing team have decided to unionize under CUPE. We’re uniting under CUPE because they’re the most experienced union when it comes to academic sector workers, and because CUPE local 793 is already on campus and fighting for the health and safety interests of food service and plant operations workers. We chose CUPE because they respect the sovereignty of all their locals. 

This is our chance to build a relationship with UW that requires them to take our concerns to heart, and demands we are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity.

To that end, we have created accessible and exhaustive resources on our website, organizeuw.org, including a comprehensive FAQ page

It is our goal to reach out to as many student workers as possible so that we can then fight together. 

We are stronger together, and while worker issues may be different across different departments, the fact remains that there are issues everywhere: 

  • Sessional pay being clawed back in the Arts
  • Docked pay over proctoring in the Sciences
  • Severe overwork in Math
  • Late payments in Engineering

Everyone knows someone who has been exploited or victimized by the current system. 

And even if you haven’t been victimized or exploited yet, there’s nothing preventing it from happening in the future – because there is no one standing up between you and UW.

That protection, that solidarity, that commitment to the well-being of our fellow workers is what unionization offers us. It’s time.

For more information, check out our website: organizeuw.org

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