To get the attention of students in their most recent campaign, Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 901 have handed out condoms throughout campus that read “Teaching Assistants and Fellows need union protection.”
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Local 901 represents approximately 2,000 teaching assistants (TA) and teaching fellows (TF) over the course of the year. The union advocates working rights of TAs, TFs, post-docs and research assistants.
The condom campaign looks to draw attention to the lack of consistency between how Queen’s treats its different part-time employee groups. As of right now, Queen’s doesn’t provide teaching assistants and teaching fellows with child care. On top of this, PSAC Local 901 President Craig Berggold said health and dental plans provided by the University are far worse than similar part-time employee groups on campus.
Berggold told The Journal in an interview that they chose to make condoms the focal point of their campaign because they see them as “a symbol of the lack of child-care benefits [they] have.” According to Berggold, nearly eight per cent of the union membership have children.
“You are looking at about 150 to 160 members. For those people, who have children, it’s a severe difficulty to do their work,” he said.
Compared to other groups, Berggold said teaching assistants and fellows are treated as “second-class employees,” by Queen’s.
Since PSAC Local 901’s contract expired in April, union representatives have been at the bargaining table with Queen’s. Currently, however, Berggold told The Journal that face-to-face negotiations “were going nowhere.”
“If we accepted what was on the table right now, their last offer, we would be going backwards — our contract would look worse than it does right now,” Berggold said. “We don’t have child care. Our wages, there is nothing significant being offered. So literally they are offering us the status-quo at this point, so we feel like they’re not taking us seriously.”
As a result, the Ontario Ministry of Labour appointed a mediator and talks are set to resume in late December.
For its 2,000 members, Queen’s contributes $120,000 per year for TA and TF health and dental plans. According to Berggold, “this works out to less than one per cent. Almost $60 per-member is contributed to our health and dental plan.” He added, “we are just asking for equity with the other part-time workers on campus.”
“Every bargaining process is difficult, you are talking about rights, you are talking about money, we think that Queen’s’ brand would be better served if they treated us as equal to other employee groups,” Berggold remarked. “I don’t think it is good for international students to see headlines that there are strike votes at Queen’s university, like there was for the post-docs last year, who overwhelmingly voted to go on strike.”
When asked what action Local 901 would pursue if negotiations collapsed in December, Berggold said he doesn’t think calling a strike would be “helpful” to the Queen’s brand.
“Nobody wants to do that, I put that at their feet. It is nothing that we want to do, we take it very seriously, but they are pushing us and pushing us,” Berggold said.
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