TAs sign new collective agreement

Unit 1 says the University denied their efforts to increase mental health training

The Green Folder is a resource for professors on how to deal with mental health issues in the classroom.
The Green Folder is a resource for professors on how to deal with mental health issues in the classroom.

Following eight months of negotiations, the University has ratified its agreement with PSAC Unit 1. Despite this, the bargaining group claims it isn’t good enough.

PSAC Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants (TA) and teaching fellows (TF) at the University, began negotiations on April 30, and ratified on Dec. 18. The previous agreement, which had expired, was signed in 2010.

The new agreement provides a one-time-only payment of $83 per member per year in 2014 and 2015, while increasing wages by 1.75 per cent in 2016 and 2 per cent in 2017. A 20 per cent increase was also allocated to health care benefits to total approximately $120,000 total for TAs and TFs.

According to Doulton Wiltshire, PSAC Unit 1 president, the increase only accounts for a fraction of the benefits allotted to full-time employees.

“Those who work as academic assistance, which are non-graduate student TAs in many cases, [received] a three per cent bonus on their salary in lieu of actual benefits which would have greatly exceeded their $120,000 contribution,” she said, “but we are happy there is some movement there.”

Despite this, she said the University dismissed their efforts to attain mental health training for TAs and TFs during the negotiation process. She added TAs and TFs often deal with mental health issues brought to them by students, as they are often more accessible than professors.

“I don’t think TAs and TFs are properly trained to deal with that and it puts the undergraduate community at risk,” she said.

According to Wiltshire, the University shot down their efforts during the negotiation process to attain more mental health training due to the high monetary cost.

“I would say that the training issue was the largest outstanding issue that would have had the greatest benefit, not to our members but to Queen’s as a whole,” Wiltshire added.

“Negotiations won’t happen again for another four years [but] we still feel that these issues are important and when we go back, these issues will be front and centre.”

The agreement also guarantees TAs and TFs a representative at Joint Health and Safety Committee meetings, which was typically restricted to a member from specific faculties.

With the new agreement, a representative from any faculty can stand in for the representative in the case one isn’t available from a designated faculty. The University prescribes representatives from specific faculties, according to Joint Health and Safety Committee regulations.

According to Dan Bradshaw, associate vice-principal (faculty relations), the University is happy with the outcome of the negotiating process.

“The parties laid down a good foundation with their first agreement and secondly, the parties came together to work and get an agreement accomplished,” he said.

“The first set of negotiations created that good foundation. We were able to do it efficiently.”

In response to Wiltshire’s concerns, Bradshaw said all TAs and TFs are instructed to make referrals for students with mental health issues, as stipulated in the Green Folder, which will be delivered to all TAs and TFs beginning this term.

The Green Folder, a resource for professors on how to deal with mental health issues in the classroom, is an outcome of the University’s Mental Health Working Group.

“We are redoubling our efforts to make sure those Green Folders get into the hands of TA and TFs,” Bradshaw said. “At the start of the winter term we [have] done that exact thing.”

This article has been changed to reflect the following clarifications: $120,000 in health and safety benefits will be allocated to all TAs and TFs as a result of the agreement. Before the agreement, representation for TAs and TFs had been restricted to specific faculties.

Incorrect information appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of the Journal. The Journal regrets the error.

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