Queen’s rallies for graduate students

PSAC 901 organizes rally for graduate workers

SGPS and AMS express support for bargaining demands of PSAC 901.

“We are unstoppable! A better Queen’s is possible!”

This was one of the slogans chanted by those attending the rally for Queen’s graduate student workers organized by PSAC 901 on Nov. 25.

The rally started in front of Stauffer Library, where a group of about 100 students walked through campus before speeches were delivered in front of Richardson Hall.

PSAC 901 works to represent graduate student workers on campus.

“PSAC 901 is the union who represents all teaching assistants, research assistants, and teaching fellows. We are the legal bodies[…] if they encounter any issues with their employer,” Astrid Hobill, president of PSAC 901, said in an interview with The Journal.

Hobill said one of the issues graduate student workers face is being overworked during peak seasons in the semester.

“We have been overworked. We are only supposed to work 10 hours a week. During midterms or exam season we’re working 50, 60, and sometimes I have heard 70 hours per week,” Hobill said.

Queen’s affirms graduate students only work a maximum of 10 hours per week.

“These graduate student employees work no more than an average of 10 hours per week,” said Michael Villeneuve, director (Faculty Relations), in an email sent to The Journal.

Along with working hours, Hobill says another key concern is mental health pressures —often compounded due to work-related stress.

“There’s a lot of concern around access to mental health support for the [graduate] students, because we only have one graduate counselor for all graduate students,” Hobill said.

“Other counselors don’t often understand the difference between being a graduate student and an undergrad student.”

Hobill says paid anti-racism and sexual violence prevention training is also a key demand from the graduate student workers. She said that graduate students of colour are often subject to abuse.

“Members of color are often the frontline for either, unfortunately, abuse or they’re the front line of support for undergrads who identify with their TAs,” Hobill said.

Hobill said Queen’s has argued adequate training already exists, a notion she disagrees with.

“They say that they have enough things in place already, which, given what we’ve seen in the community recently, I disagree with,” Hobill said.

Along with these concerns, Hobill says there’s the looming anxiety associated with graduate school funding packages and the impacts of COVID-19.

For Hobill this is something which hits close to home.

“I have four part time jobs because I’m out of my funding package. It’s one of those things that [sic] you have to find a way to make ends meet,” Hobill said. Fathima,* MA ’23, agreed with the sentiment.

“I have just started TAing and it’s very uncertain; I don’t know if I will be able to finance my next year. It’s confusing, but I do think this rally will create a speck of impact,” Fathima* said in an interview with The Journal.

Another student expressed they must do a greater amount of teaching due to the online nature of the school year.

“TAing has been interesting. I TA a first-year undergraduate class, and all lectures are online. Only the tutorial is in-person, and I am the only face they see in the course. I have to do a lot of actual teaching in the course,” Dylyn Reid, MS ’23, said in an interview with The Journal.

Some student organizations attended the rally in support of PSAC 901—including the SGPS and the AMS.

In an email sent to The Journal, the SGPS Executive said they wholly support the demands of PSAC 901.

“We believe that meeting every demand that the union has brought forward, including a revised accommodation process that is easier to access and paid, mandatory anti-racism and sexual violence prevention training are important steps in addressing the needs of all graduate and professional student workers,” Anthony Lomax, vice-president (Community) of SGPS said on behalf of the executive team.

Hobill said PSAC 901 and its members are optimistic change will come at the bargaining table.

“We are really hoping that the university will see that these issues are really important to both the graduate students community as well as to all other groups on campus,” Hobill said.

Villeneuve said Queen’s will adhere to the collective bargaining process.

“The university values the contributions of its many employees and remains committed to the collective bargaining process,” Villeneuve said.

Hobill hopes all students on campus will get involved and express solidarity with their TAs.

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