Queen’s & PSAC 901 enter arbitration for research assistant job classifications

‘Queen’s continues to use one of their favourite tactics: stalling the process,’ PSAC 901 President says

PSAC 901 says students are being subjected to lack of union support due to job classifications.
Journal File Photo

In a social media post, PSAC 901—the union representing graduate workers on Queen’s campus—announced they are currently undergoing an arbitration process with the University about job classification.

PSAC 901 believes compensation, classification, and treatment of Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) and Graduate Research Assistant Fellowships (GRAF) have become issues after Research Assistants (RAs) voted to become unionized in 2018.

READ MORE: Research assistants gain equal pay with teaching assistants

In a statement to The Journal, PSAC 901 President Astrid Hobill said the union is trying to resolve the grievance. She explained that, after the 2018 vote, the University re-classified many RA jobs as GRFs or GRAFs, which are not unionized. 

“RAs are meant for research that will not be directly contributing to a student’s thesis or dissertation, while the GRFs and GRAFs are intended to support students conducting their own graduate research,” Hobill said. 

With the “misclassif[ication]” of these jobs, Hobill said GRFs and GRAFs can’t access union support for bursaries, disputes, or the already outlined grievance system.  

“Most importantly, the University is not required to pay GRFs the bargained for RA hourly wage rate, which means many GRFs are being exploited with significantly lower rates,” Hobill said.

“We know some GRFs are making just over minimum wage, which for positions which often require years of built-up knowledge in a field, is frankly insulting.”

PSAC 901 has also heard stories about GRFs being paid a flat rate to complete projects for professors that are unrelated to their thesis and not attached to any hours. Hobill asserts that students in these cases can end up making less than minimum wage. 

“Especially at a time where the cost of living is making it more and more difficult for graduate and professional students, the misclassification of RAs as GRFs is creating more precarity for members of our community,” Hobill said. 

Hobill explains PSAC 901 holds the view that graduate and professional students need to be paid fairly for their labour—classifying jobs as RAships is essential in accomplishing this.

“Queen’s appears to be banking on the fact that students are unaware of the distinction between RAs and GRFs and that the distinction is not often clarified, resulting in many graduate and professional students not having the protections they deserve,” Hobill said. 

“With the current arbitration, Queen’s continues to use one of their favourite tactics, stalling the process, in order to delay the resolution of this matter.” 

In a statement to The Journal, the University said they are committed to the collective bargaining process and value the contributions of its employees. The University said they do not comment publicly on matters that are subject of ongoing grievance arbitration. 

Hobill said PSAC 901 encourages current and former GRFs and GRAFs to reach out to Gabriela Raga, vice-president (research assistants), to discuss the job classifications.

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