Dear CUPE 2278

This is an open letter to TAs and the UBC community about the looming strike by CUPE2278, UBC’s TA union. It was written by David Klonsky, a professor in the psychology department. This letter was posted on the CUPE2278 facebook group, then promptly deleted by the group admin.

I am a young faculty member here at UBC and this letter represents my personal opinion and my opinion alone. I write as a strong supporter of TAs and the TA union membership, but as a strong critic of the TA union leadership.

While I believe in unions and the right of unions to strike, I also believe a strike vote is a serious matter – it must be based on open, objective, and rational discussion among union members. I believe the TA union leadership has failed badly in this regard.

Inadequate Information

Union leadership provided members with a detailed comparison of TA compensation at UBC and the University of Toronto. It is indeed sensible to compare UBC to other top Canadian institutions. Why did union leadership not provide similar information about McGill University? Why did union leadership opt to keep this information from membership?

UBC operates in the province of British Columbia, which places UBC under very different governmental and financial restrictions compared to Ontario or Quebec. Why did union leadership not provide its membership with information on other British Columbian universities such as UVic and Simon Fraser?


Strikes happen rarely, perhaps once every 10 years. Timing is everything. Timing should be selected to yield maximum improvements in salaries and benefits. At present UBC is hindered by stringent, unusual, and temporary BC governmental restrictions (e.g., “net-zero”). This is precisely the time when UBC has the least they are permitted to offer TAs. A strike next academic year after the “net-zero” restriction is lifted could yield far more benefits for TAs. Why was this issue of timing never introduced to membership for formal discussion? Why was there no discussion of pros and cons for striking now vs. after “net-zero” is lifted?

Faculty Relations

Union leadership has made no effort to reach out to faculty. Graduate students and faculty are partners. We work together on almost everything. You help our labs run and our scholarly work happen; we help you grow and learn and produce, we write you letters of recommendation and support, we help make sure your theses and job applications are successful. We are allies and friends. Why has TA union leadership made no effort to reach out to us? Obviously a strike affects us tremendously. It would be common courtesy for union leadership to reach out to faculty, perhaps through an open letter or through our union leadership, to explain that a strike might be coming, that you understand the effect this has on us, that you sincerely prefer to avoid a strike, and that you will do your best to keep us posted because you value our relationship.

A Rush to Strike

Many TAs felt the information provided by union leadership was misleading, that union leaders were more interested in achieving a strike than facilitating an open and thoughtful dialogue among TAs about whether and when to strike. For example, TAs expressed to me personally that they felt the pre-strike-vote meetings were more like “cheerleading sessions” based on limited information rather than open, honest discussions. Other TAs told me that in an effort to ensure a positive strike vote union leadership repeatedly emphasized that a positive strike vote did not mean there would be a strike. This sentiment was also apparent in posts by TAs on the TA union Facebook page, for example: “it was heavily implied before the vote (though in a conveniently non-binding way) that there would not necessarily be a strike.”

Other TAs expressed to me that union leadership went out of its way to emphasize the pay available during a strike but never explicitly mentioned that receiving strike pay requires working for the union and picketing. If you don’t picket, you don’t get strike pay. You have a doctor’s appointment and can’t make it? Too bad. You don’t come to campus on Wednesdays? Too bad. In short, it seems union leadership was selective and biased in the information they provided to TAs in an effort to achieve what they wanted: a positive strike vote. This is not how union leadership should serve its members. TA union members deserved an open and honest conversation based on comprehensive information.

A Mandate?

In a March 22 post on the CUPE2278 blog, union leadership noted that a different UBC union, CUPE 116, received a mandate to strike. Specifically, 75% of CUPE 116 members voted, and 89% were in favor. This means that 67% of CUPE 116 members voted to strike – a true mandate. The corresponding numbers for the TA Union strike vote are quite different: only 35% of TA union members voted, and 81% were in favor. In short, 67% of CUPE 116 voted to strike compared to only 28% of TA union members.

Based on results from their respective votes, CUPE 116 leadership can be certain that an overwhelming majority of its membership support a strike, but TA union leadership cannot. It is quite possible that the majority of UBC TAs do not want to strike. Instead of acknowledging this very real possibility, and instead of acknowledging the disparities between the two votes, TA union leadership claimed a “positive strike mandate” within minutes of the vote closing. If union leadership first and foremost cared about ascertaining the consensus among its membership, the result would have given them pause. I might suggest that union leadership cared more about claiming a positive strike mandate.

In closing, I reiterate my strong support for UBC TAs. I was moved to write this letter precisely because I feel TA union leadership prioritized their own opinions and aims over the opinions and best interests of UBC TAs. UBC TAs deserved comprehensive information and a balanced, open forum for discussion. In this respect union leadership failed its members and failed UBC. UBC TAs deserve better.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Thank you so much for re-posting this, Dr. Klonsky eloquently and politely expressed a lot of the concerns I, as a UBC TA, have myself. I’m glad it is now available for the union exec and others to respond to. I look forward to hear what others have to say, in a civilized, non-ad hominem way.

    Posted by Jonathan | April 2, 2012, 2:01 pm
  2. I agree wholeheartedly with everything written in this article. I feel that we were pigeonholed into voting for a stike, by calling the strike vote and then spending the ‘discussions’ expressing how terrible a negative vote would be.

    The discussion meeting before the vote did not produce any useful information on the strike plan. For that matter, the union responded to the majority of questions with something along the lines of “we will figure that out once we have a postitive mandate”.

    Communication from the union has been terrible. Just look at the recent posts on their website as an example. Many of the TAs I know never even heard about the vote.

    By far, the most upsetting thing is the comparisons to U of T. I personally know several TAs there, conditions suck. They recieve far fewer hours and have much larger class sizes. How can the union not expect our class sizes to balloon if we get a raise (more money per TA = less TAs to maintain net zero).

    Finally, the union consistently claims that this is not JUST about money, and the extended preference is one of the biggest issues (UBC refuses to extend preference to 5 years for a phd, as it would be bad for their image). Why is this a sticking point? Why not just reword it to ‘remains a graduate student in good standing’, or something like that? If our union reps are picking fights over small issues like this, it really gives me the impression that they are more interested in being the ones who get to organize the strike and claim the “victory” of settling the contract, before CUPE elections roll around next year.

    Posted by Eric | April 2, 2012, 4:00 pm
  3. With all due respect to Dr. Klonsky: how much of the “inadequate information” he alludes to derives from the fact that he is a faculty member, and hasn’t been privy to the information distributed at union meetings? I’m a TA and a department union rep, and CUPE 2278 has made it clear that the U of T comparisons arise from UBC’s own “branding” of the institutions as comparable.

    As for strike pay, I don’t think the union is inflexible on schedules. Again, an active and inquisitive union member who attended the information sessions would be aware of this.

    Posted by Weldon | April 2, 2012, 4:16 pm
  4. Dear UBC Insiders — Thank you for posting this letter in a more appropriate space. We will have a response to you within 24 hours.

    -CUPE 2278 Exec

    Posted by CUPE 2278 Exec | April 2, 2012, 4:39 pm
  5. As a TA, I appreciate the reasonable issues raised by this letter. The “information distributed at union meetings” hasn’t been very detailed, to be honest. I would like a cost of living increase, and I would like the hiring preferences to be extended. But reallu, I come away from union meetings feeling like all I’ve heard are vague platitudes about fairness, murmurs about how some people at UBC make a lot of money, and that somehow UBC thinks it is “the same” as U of T. (Does UBC say that? Do we think that?) We can do better!

    Posted by Another TA | April 2, 2012, 5:04 pm
  6. What an astonishing, backhanded and disrespectful letter from a junior faculty member claiming to be an ally and friend of the TA Union. If Dr. Klonsky was truly a friend of the TA Union, he would have respected the decision reached by the membership and attempted to work in concert and in solidarity with their ongoing negotiations–not attempt to abuse his authority and position as faculty to undermine it.

    It’s difficult to know how to respond to such presumptuous and judgemental rhetoric, but perhaps we should start with the mandate that Dr. Klonsky questions. I wonder if he wrote as angry a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he won a parliamentary majority with 38 % of the vote, or roughly 25% of the electorate. I wonder, concerned as he is with student electoral accountability, if he wrote such a letter to protest the AMS elections. I wonder, too, if Dr. Klonsky knows that the Union Exec have been denied the email addresses of its membership by the administration, making the distribution of information extremely difficult.

    Why didn’t the Union compare UBC to McGill? Why not Berkeley? Oxford? Ljubljana? In fact, the CUPE 2278 Exec (not “leadership” as the junior faculty member says so cynically above), made it quite clear why Toronto was used as a benchmark, and other universities were brought up frequently at the information meetings I attended. Did Dr. Klonsky attend any of these meetings? I’m sure as a “friend and ally” of the union, CUPE 2278 would have been happy to have his input and expertise. Was such a request turned down?

    I would also like to know where Dr. Klonsky discovered that unions should strike “perhaps once every 10 years.” Is this in a CUPE handbook somewhere? What does Dr. Klonsky say to the 300 000 students striking in Quebec against rising tuition fees? Seems they were just on strike in 2006. I, like Dr. Klonsky, am a friend of unions–but I thought the time to strike was when its membership decided its requests were not being taken seriously in bad faith or one-sided negotiations. Not some arbitrary “ten year” rule.

    The junior faculty member is, I’m sure, welcome to tender any information he has to the exec for distribution. That strikes me as a much better way to show respect and solidarity for his students and his future colleagues. Thankfully, from the discussions I’ve had with my supervisors and mentors, Dr. Klonsky’s divisive, contemptuous and bullying bluster is solely his own.

    Posted by Michael | April 2, 2012, 5:35 pm
  7. Hi Michael,
    Couple brief responses.

    - You question if I really support TAs having elite benefits and compensation. I do for many reasons. In no particular order … First, TAs deserve it. Second, I care very much for the students in my lab and want them to have as high a quality of life as possible. Third, my wife is a TA. Fourth, the better the TA compensation, the easier it is for me to continue to recruit high quality graduate students. My support for TAs is genuine, for both selfless and selfish reasons.

    - I wrote my letter in part because numerous TAs told me they were unhappy with union leadership but did not feel comfortable raising concerns themselves — they didn’t want to seem “anti-union” or become the target of anger. I also don’t like being the target of anger, but better me than your fellow TAs.

    - Of course there isn’t a rule that unions should strike every 10 years; the point is that strikes don’t occur very often and timing is important to consider and discuss. I think if you were less angry at me my point would have been clear to you.

    - Your Harper analogy does not include a vote with a 35% participation rate or less. Basic inferential statistics makes clear this is not sufficient to be representative of the larger population.

    In sum, I talked with many TAs before writing my letter. The take-home message I got was that a) the concerns in my letter were shared by many TAs, and b) TAs did not feel they had a viable avenue for sharing these concerns. So I wrote the letter.


    Posted by David | April 2, 2012, 6:31 pm
  8. Thanks for your response, Dr. Klonsky. If you are, as you claim, in support of increased TA compensation, can I ask why you thought the best way to act on this support was to leverage your position as faculty to undermine publicly TAs’ collective position and sow dissent? Rather, for example, than advise your department’s union representative or communicate your concerns with the executive? You are, after all, a non-member. Membership should decide when to strike without interference from our academic superiors.

    Of course my analogy of Harper’s election is not a perfect fit. Such is the nature of analogies. The point is that your distinction of what constitutes a “true mandate” is flawed and subjective (not to mention ignoring the systemic barriers the executive suffer in accessing its membership).

    It seems you have issues not with the substance of our contract dispute, but with tactics. “Not the right time” is a familiar refrain–one that didn’t protect the PhD tuition waiver being revoked in times of economic largesse. At any rate, with respect, it’s not for you to say how the TA Union chooses to defend its gains or earn an equitable contract. It’s unfortunate that the students who spoke to you felt unsafe in the Union meetings. Many of my colleagues who did not agree with the job action did not feel the same way and spoke up on many occasions.

    Even so, I would never think it was my place to address the faculty association on when or how they should proceed to negotiate with the university for their livelihoods. I would have nothing but support for and solidarity with their decisions. Indeed, to presume otherwise seems absurd. It’s unfortunate you don’t see how it’s equally absurd for you to do so with us.

    Posted by Michael | April 2, 2012, 7:42 pm
  9. Thanks for the reply, Michael. My issue is indeed with the process — that union leadership knew what they wanted to achieve before scheduling the ‘information’ sessions with membership, and that leadership provided information and conducted sessions in a manner to achieve the pre-determined aim.

    If TAs felt they were provided with all relevant info — for example, details for several reasonable comparison schools even if union leadership included arguments why UT was most relevant — and if TAs felt the discussions were genuinely weighing pros and cons for when and whether to strike, I would have zero problem with the union voting to strike. And I would not have written a letter, even if I disagreed with the vote.

    However, my sense was that many TAs felt leadership was jamming the strike-vote down their throats. And this bothered me quite a bit, especially because many TAs felt they had no recourse.

    I’ll have to think about your point that it was inappropriate for me to weigh in. My sense was that writing an open letter would make it easier for some TAs to say what’s on their minds (and indeed that is reflected in some of the comments). If the process seemed truly fair and open to all perspectives, I agree it would have been inappropriate (or at least poor form) to write. But the pre-determined nature of the process seemed like it required a response.

    I really do care about the university and about TAs being happy here. If you accept that I’m an honest and reasonable person, and if you accept that it seemed to me and others that leadership was using its power to achieve a pre-determined outcome, you can understand why I wrote the letter … even if you disagree with its content.

    Posted by David | April 2, 2012, 8:23 pm
  10. Inappropriate all the way, Dr. Klonsky. Your thoughts may be appreciated by a handful of TAs here, but I’m definitely not one of them. Most faculty in my dept are behind us %100 and would never dream of undermining our efforts in the way you have. You suggest what amounts to reaching out to faculty and apologizing for a strike. Write a letter to make friends?! Most faculty that I know are already TA union allies, but clearly you are not one of them. Your suggestion would be most unwelcome in my dept, where most faculty know already that we don’t need anyone’s permission to stand up for a fair contract. You may know some TAs who disagree, but based on what I’ve seen, they’re anything but a representative sample. It’s an insult to TA intelligence to suggest we’ve all been duped by the sneaky exec master plan. And you decided to come to the rescue or something?! Thanks but no thanks. The university works because we do.

    Posted by Sarah | April 2, 2012, 9:07 pm
  11. Refreshing to see this discussion unfold without the heavy hand of censorship coming down on dissenting opinions. What is it that the Union Leadership is so afraid of that these comments were deemed inappropriate even for viewing on our own union page?
    Sarah above feels Klonsky’s letter is an insult to TA intelligence? What could be more insulting than our Union leadership deleting opinions it disagrees with on the grounds that it might ‘mislead’ the membership?
    The university works because taxpayers fund it…

    Posted by Jonathan | April 2, 2012, 9:45 pm
  12. Sarah,
    I don’t mind vehement disagreement, but please disagree with things I actually said.

    “You suggest what amounts to reaching out to faculty and apologizing for a strike.” I did not suggest that at all. If one ally is going to do something that will seriously affect the other ally, the least the former can do is have open lines of communication and recognition that the latter will be affected. This is very different than an apology.

    “We don’t need anyone’s permission to stand up for a fair contract.” I agree and never suggested otherwise. I criticized the process instituted by leadership, not the right for TAs to strike or to demand a fair contract.

    “It’s an insult to TA intelligence to suggest we’ve all been duped by the sneaky exec master plan.” UBC grad students are among the smartest in the world. It’s not a matter of anyone being ‘duped’. It’s a matter of a few people having lots of power, and having the ability to push something through without giving a full opportunity for due consideration. It’s the leadership that did not show proper respect for TAs — the leadership could have presented full info to the membership (not selections they deemed most relevant), and trusted the membership’s judgment. A rushed time-frame and selected release of information was an affront to members, not my desire for there to have been a more balanced and considered process.

    Less screaming, shouting, and slogans, more attention to information and collaboration.

    Posted by David | April 2, 2012, 10:00 pm
  13. Belittling much?
    Hey you have your slogans: “UBC TAs deserve better.” And we have ours: “The university works because we do”. I say we’re both allowed to use them when we see fit.
    And I said your suggestion for the exec to draft an open letter to faculty amounts to apologizing for a strike because of things you actually said. Things like this: “Obviously a strike affects us tremendously. It would be common courtesy for union leadership to reach out to faculty, perhaps through an open letter or through our union leadership, to explain that a strike might be coming, that you understand the effect this has on us, that you sincerely prefer to avoid a strike…”
    My point was that not all faculty would appreciate nor welcome such a letter and the submission it implies. Some of them agree with us that a strike is necessary and don’t want our leaders to tell them how much we prefer to avoid it, much less suggest that it’s “common courtesy” to do so.

    So I say “duped”, you say “push something through without giving a full opportunity for due consideration”. Potayto, Potahto.
    We weren’t duped. We duly considered. Hence the vote.

    Posted by Sarah | April 2, 2012, 10:39 pm
  14. Sarah, a strike is something that should be avoided if possible. Yes, it might be necessary. But that doesn’t mean it’s something you are happy to do. It should be a last resort, and acknowledging that is not a show of weakness. On the contrary, recognising that fact publicly reinforces the significance of the action and the seriousness of the situation.

    As for slogans: yes, the University works because we do. But it also works before faculty members do (as well as countless other people). So I’m not quite sure what you were trying to imply with that. Quite frankly, it seems to only serve the purpose of fostering an unproductive “us vs. them” atmosphere.

    Posted by Philippe | April 2, 2012, 11:27 pm
  15. If faculty were considering a strike I think we would go out of our way to let students know we are concerned with how potential action would affect them and to keep them posted. I think this would be an act of consideration, not “submission.” I beg you, please stop saying I think grad students should submit to faculty; the very idea offends *my* sensibilities, not just yours!

    As for the ‘vote’ indicating that TAs “duly considered,” only 35% voted. I realize that it’s hard to get high participation rates for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the result is genuinely difficult to interpret .. did only 35% duly consider? did 100% duly consider but 65% were apathetic? or could 65% not make it to campus that day? I mean this in the most straightforward way possible: we simply do not know the opinions of 65% of TAs. And because the 35% who voted were a self-selected sample, there is no sound way to generalize from those 35% to the larger 100%. This part isn’t my opinion; it’s what any statistician would say.

    As for your accusation of “belittling,” I am taking a very strong stance against a process enacted by union leadership that I felt was long on slogans and anger but short on data, deliberation, and thoughtfulness. I guess one could say I’m “belittling” the process, although that doesn’t quite strike me as the right term.

    But I’m not in the business of belittling people. I make many useful and important contributions to the UBC community and beyond and so do you. Despite this not-so-pleasant exchange of views we’re part of the same community and ultimately on the same team.


    Posted by David | April 2, 2012, 11:42 pm
  16. Hear, hear David Klonsky.

    Posted by UBC TA | April 2, 2012, 11:57 pm
  17. The admin of the CUPE 2278 facebook page did what any responsible purveyor of a website, blog, facebook page, etc… knows to do with a useless piece of mean-spirited spam.

    Ed. The rest of this comment was deleted because I also know what to do with useless pieces of mean-spirited spam.–Neal Yonson

    Posted by Sage | April 3, 2012, 12:17 am
  18. Sage,
    Several TAs (your fellow union members) have been appreciative of the letter and its arguments. I understand if you and other TAs disagree, but these are genuine disagreements between thoughtful people with different views.

    To use terms like “saboteurs” and “spam” (without actually addressing any single point in the letter) falls into the “ad-hominem” category.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 12:44 am
  19. Dear Dr Klonsky,

    Although I disagree with you regarding your perspective on the mandate, I’m glad you’re broadcasting your position. It’s absurd that you should be criticized for being forthright. I’m amazed at the vitriol you’re getting. If your views are incorrect and trivial, then there is no reason for anyone to be angry or threatened. The idea that you’re leveraging your position is laughable; no offense but I’d never heard of you before now and I’m in Kenny at least once a week. How could you leverage your position when it has no weight in itself?

    Personally, I’ve opposed the strike, and the majority of TAs I know in Neuroscience are at best indifferent. I attended one of the two widely-advertised meetings and agree with your conclusions. At one point I asked during the Q&A whether we could get more data to be informed before voting. I received no reply and no more data was released. I’ve never felt like the CUPE Executive has any interest in discussing the facts with dissenters – the meeting in Woodward felt like an echo chamber.

    Also, anyone know why the only polling was at the GSS building? There were enough people there to divide it into two and have one at the other corner of campus.

    Posted by RicardoB | April 3, 2012, 12:58 am
  20. R, Thanks for disagreeing with me on a point without calling me names :)

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 1:09 am
  21. I’d like to point out that, without having attended any Union meetings, nearly all of the claims in your letter fall into the category of ‘conjecture’. As an active TA, and one that has been considerate of the concerns feeding into a potential strike, I think that your letter is ill-informed and misguided. While I don’t relish the idea of a strike, I fully support the Union in any job action and would hope that other TAs, realizing the conjuncture we’re at will do the same.

    Posted by Harold | April 3, 2012, 1:16 am
  22. I wish to be up-front and say that I voted ‘no’ in the strike vote, since I disagreed with a couple of the arguments that were put forth, and also because I couldn’t find enough information to be fully convinced that a strike is the best choice at this point in time. I did attend one information meeting, but I did not get many of my questions answered, and frankly I was too afraid of the type of angry responses that are on this discussion board to speak up. (Please Note: I do realize that it was my choice to keep quiet, and I that I cannot fault anyone else for my own hesitation and/or lack of prior meeting attendance!)

    I accept that my opinions are in the minority, and possibly coming from a less-informed perspective than others, and so I will support what the majority of the union has decided, which is to have a strike mandate. I think that unions are incredibly valuable, and I will stand with mine.

    However, it would be helpful for me (and possibly other TAs in my position) to read a calm and factual response to this letter. I genuinely want to know how UBC TA wages compare to other TA wages within the province and across Canada, and how the net-zero mandate might be affecting bargaining. I have tried to find some of this information on my own, but unfortunately have not been very successful. Many TAs passionately support the strike mandate, and I honestly just want to read the information that led them to their position. It might also help to hear about the conditions in other departments, since I am beginning to think that TAs in other departments may be working under different financial constraints (for example, less access to external granting agencies), which would be important to know.

    I realize that this time of the year is hectic for everyone, and that the union executives undoubtedly have an over-abundance of things to take care of in addition to their own studies. Expecting an immediate response seems unreasonable and unnecessary, since the vote has already happened and it takes time to gather information. I also do not expect these types of questions to take priority, since I might have learned these things from attending union meetings more regularly. Nonetheless, a well-informed response (or links to information that is already out there) at some later date would be most useful and welcomed.

    Posted by Anita | April 3, 2012, 2:36 am
  23. The strike vote allowed those who chose to vote to vote yes or no. Those who did vote, voted 81% in favour of allowing our union executive to attend the next bargaining sessions with a mandate from its members that they are willing to strike if the employer (UBC) is unwilling to negotiate. This is why our union exec emphasized the importance of a positive strike vote at the information sessions. Without a strong mandate, our union would be in a substantially worse positioning for bargaining a more suitable and fair contract for all of our members. The positive mandate to engage in job action suggests to our employer not that we are going on strike, not that we don’t care about our students’ success, not that we don’t respect faculty, but that we understand that our contract does not pay us a living wage in Vancouver, that we have no cost of living security clause, that UBC compares itself to the University of Toronto in terms of its size, costs, and reputation (which has recently negotiated a new contract with its TA’s extending preference to 5th and 6th year phd students) yet will not negotiate a similar contract with its TAs, and that the employer has now been given a Cooperative Gains mandate (in 2012 – no longer a net zero mandate).

    It is important to have a forum for TA’s to express their opinions. However, I am extremely disappointed that this letter would be written by a faculty member and posted as an open letter claiming to stand in solidarity with our union. There is a lot of information available on our union’s blog http://cupe2278.ca/blog/. If you have questions, I encourage you to read the blog and to email the exec. I would also like to suggest that while information given at the information meetings may have seemed vague, I believe this may in part have been a cautionary measure to protect our union in their bargaining sessions and from public attacks by the employer (for example, if we were to have discussed job action in greater detail at the information session, and this information was ‘leaked’ to the employer and disseminated, it could have been used in misleading and subversive ways against our membership).

    It is extremely important to be informed about what you as an employee are granted in your contract and even more important to be informed about the insecurities, inadequate wages and/or conditions of work implied in your contract. Across campus, suitable conditions of work and employee protection are not being respected. Moreover, we are currently seeing a political climate in which unions are being undermined by governments at both the federal and provincial levels ordering members back to work. I stand in support of our union exec, and it is significant to me that our union exec stands in solidarity with its members, as well as with the members of cups 116, and other unions members seeking better contracts across the country.

    Posted by Lisa | April 3, 2012, 9:44 am
  24. my apologies, the above should read “as well as with members of cupe 116″ (automatic spell check!)

    Posted by Lisa | April 3, 2012, 9:45 am
  25. I ran across this open letter while looking for information on the strike, as I’d heard none. My first stop was the CUPE2278 blog. The last 3 entries are as follows:

    Report from Bargaining Session — March 27, 2012
    Posted on March 28, 2012 by Web Master
    Dear Members,
    We went to the table. It was acknowledged at the table that we have a positive strike vote… We hope to offer you more news on Thursday [March 29].

    Emergency Meeting of Strike Coordination Committee
    Posted on March 30, 2012 by Web Master
    Dear Members,
    There will be an emergency meeting of the Strike Coordination Committee on Monday, April 2nd… We will keep you posted.

    Picket Captain Workshops Announced
    Posted on April 3, 2012 by Web Master

    How did we end up forgetting about the bargaining session results and instead go to calling for emergency strike coordination? I voted yes based on strengthening my representatives’ position at the table. But I do not feel communication has been there with the TA membership, faculty and (I worry) with UBC itself. Especially in the 2278 blog! The mediocre vote turn-out may also be an indication of this. This has to improve, otherwise all tactics being employed – bargaining, striking, picketing – will surely fail.

    Please also stop the name-calling (which began around comment #6). Kudos to David for raising objective concerns in a less censored forum. I do not believe he seeks to undermine our position, but rather raise concerns about the current process, which I have as well. David, I do not agree with all your points, but censorship is not the answer. The fact that we cannot debate such questions in our own open forum speaks volumes to the current process.

    Posted by Andrew | April 3, 2012, 10:07 am
  26. I have found three links worth reading for those who want to try to dig up more information. The first two are the Union and the University’s perspective, respectively, and the third is the provincial mandate that the university must bargain within.

    (There is more info here than the blog)



    Posted by Yet Another TA | April 3, 2012, 10:52 am
  27. @Neal Yonson,

    Why not leave Sage’s comment intact? I think it is a great example of how things have operated within our Union when you have frothy-mouthed foaming about ‘small bands of saboteurs’, labour spies, and so on.
    This is the state of our debate–on the one side, people like David Klonsky, asking question and respectfully acknowledging our shared membership in a common community, even if some of his points are unpersuasive, and on the other, a Union executive that censors information it dislikes and is backed up by people like Sage (a dept union rep?) who confuse ad-hominem attacks with intellectual debate.

    Posted by Jonathan | April 3, 2012, 11:57 am
  28. I’d like people to stick to the issues. Keeping a disrespectful ad hominem comment intact for the purposes of discrediting that commenter on a personal level seems a tad silly. Happy to have a wide range of views but keep the nastiness out of it.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | April 3, 2012, 12:17 pm
  29. It seems to me that whatever Dr. Klonsky’s intentions in writing this letter may be, (and I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he intended to promote an even handed dialogue not Puckishly sew the seeds of discord), the end result has been division and the creation of binary thinking among those who have read it and who have a stake in the outcomes of the collective bargaining currently underway. As a member of the union, I recognize that profs, students, TAs, and UBC admin all have a stake in what the outcomes of this process may be and to that end, I encourage readers to develop a more nuanced look at this whole process. This is not a case of us and them, but a situation where the stakes are high for all of the major players either directly for UBC and TAs or more indirectly for our students and the faculty with whom we work.

    Bear in mind that the Exec are a group of people who have stepped forward, offered their time and emotional strength to try and secure the best possible deal for 3,000 of their colleagues, most of whom they have never (and will never) meet. It seems to me that service on the Executive Committee of CUPE 2278 takes a deal of selflessness in trying to improve the lives of TAs across campus. I voted in favour of striking to give our bargaining team some teeth in their sessions with the stubborn UBC negotiators and the BC Liberal Provincial juggernaut and I fully intend to back that vote up with action should it occur. I voted without reservation and with a fully informed opinion.

    Any TA who felt like they did not have enough information was free to attend meetings, speak with their dept. rep or contact the Exec directly. I did all of these things and was more than satisfied with the information they provided, along with the information I was able to dig up supporting UBC and the Province’s stance regarding the Net Zero mandate.

    I suspect like many TAs, I was surprised to find out I was a member of a union and this was only made clear to me when I received the annual health care expense related cheque last spring. It is easy to ignore or forget about being a part of the union when things are going well and you get a cheque once a year, but when they need our support of their efforts to fight on our behalf, I think it only right that we support them and stand in solidarity against what seems like pretty dire odds and a well oiled machine intent on giving us nothing.

    The university does indeed work because ALL OF US do…admin, TAs, student, and faculty (hopefully together)…

    Posted by Pat | April 3, 2012, 2:04 pm
  30. Here is the university’s latest update about what they’re doing vis-a-vis the job action:


    I’d love to hear from the exec more about how they interpret the net zero mandate and what they think about how the other unions have progressed in their collective bargaining. I support our union, and I support their right not to publicly broadcast information that would compromise our bargaining position, but the communication from them on a number of issues just hasn’t been very clear.

    Posted by JH | April 3, 2012, 2:42 pm
  31. I have a policy of not engaging in any subsequent, or follow-up remarks in online forums where the counter-commentators seem a bit “frothy-mouthed foaming” at the bit themselves; but, obviously, I am going to make an exception this time. As regards the heavy-handed editorializing of my previous comment, I simply point out the hypocrisy in doing so when “censure” is a primary accusation you hold against the admin of the CUPE 2278 facebook page. As regards accusations of my post being an instance of “ad hominem” commentary, I should like to explain that I thought describing the not-numerous group of posters whose comments regularly appear at short intervals and in varying degrees of aggressiveness with regard to their personal estimations of what the union exec should and shouldn’t be doing – both in this forum, as well as the CUPE2278 facebook page – as a “small un-merry band of saboteurs” was in fact, more polite than describing their actions as an instance of online trolling.
    Moreover, the timing and standpoint of Klonsky’s “open letter” post to the CUPE2278 facebook page is somewhat akin (not a perfect analogy, I know!) to someone walking into your team’s locker-room and accusing your goalie of corruption in the midst of a playoff game. As Pat rightly points out, regardless of the intent of the letter, its impact was not a helpful or productive one, and the sensitive timing of it all inevitably leads to a strong temptation of suspicion of ill-will. As such, I stand by my original claim that Klonsky’s post was most likely deleted because its effective function was a false de-legitimation of the democratic process of the strike-vote, as well as a character assassination of our union’s exec at an extremely crucial time in the bargaining process. With regard to Klonsky’s rebuttal that I did not address “any single point in the letter”, this is because two previous posters, Michael and Sarah, had already done an admirable job of doing so themselves. Further, the content of my post was not aimed at Klonsky or the specifics of his argument at all – I was addressing the readers of the this whole online debacle and providing an explanation of the deletion and subsequent reappearance of what I and others perceive as an extremely biased piece of mis-information. Lastly, thank you especially Pat but also JH for contributing posts that help to de-pressurize the tension in this forum.

    Posted by Sage | April 3, 2012, 4:00 pm
  32. I thought I smelled a bit of hypocrisy when Dr. Klonsky wrote:
    “If you accept that I’m an honest and reasonable person, and if you accept that it seemed to me and others that leadership was using its power to achieve a pre-determined outcome”.

    Is it that we must accept both or neither? Dr. Klonsky, do you purport to be writing from the vaunted position of reason and honesty?

    I wonder why Dr. Klonsky did not do the reasonable thing and write an email to the exec to have some of his concerns addressed. I did, and they were quite reasonable about it. What is more, they honestly felt that they have been working in the interests of (and with a mandate from) their fellow members.

    You might not have liked the process Dr. Klonsky, but then again, you don`t seem to be particularily well informed about the process (simply from consulting with a few unhappy TAs in your department). It makes me wonder if you are truly concerned with process, or in fact worried about a not-yet-determined outcome? For instance, the fear that you might end up with a whole lot more grading later this month.

    However, I will try to take you at your word, that you are in profound support of the TAs, and only critical of the process of getting a positive strike mandate. But speaking as a TA, I am not overly fond of your idea of an appropriate process either, Dr. Klonsky: to publicly attacking the exec at a critical moment. It certainly seems designed to achieve a result — to undermine our solidarity. But I will try to take it on faith that your only concern was an honest and reasonable process.

    You might have extended the same courtesy that you expect for yourself, in considering the possibility that others (who might disagree with you, like the exec) are also capable of honesty and reasonableness. Posting inflammatory, divisive (and inaccurate) remarks on the 2278 facebook page doesn’t seem like a very courteous or respectful thing to do, it seems like the rant of a person with an agenda. \
    (And as an aside: I imagine if I called for the head of Dr. Toope on a UBC facebook page, then it would also not remain posted for long).

    So then, you wanted a reasonable discussion. Do you think you are getting it?

    Posted by Alex | April 3, 2012, 5:57 pm
  33. Hi Alex,
    Just a couple responses.

    - You wrote: “simply from consulting with a few unhappy TAs in your department.” I have social and academic contacts with grad students well beyond my department, and I would not have written anything based solely on a few TAs in one dept.

    - You wrote: “You might have extended the same courtesy that you expect for yourself, in considering the possibility that others (who might disagree with you, like the exec) are also capable of honesty and reasonableness.” I extended exactly that courtesy in focusing my comments on specific aspects of the process and in choosing forums that specifically allow others to respond.

    You wondered if my letter was motivated by “the fear that you might end up with a whole lot more grading later this month.” My final exam for my one undergraduate class is multiple choice and machine-scored. I’m actually known for placing less burden on my TAs than almost any other class or instructor.

    - You wrote: “But I will try to take it on faith that your only concern was an honest and reasonable process.” Yes, it makes me quite upset when a high-stakes process seemed aimed at a pre-ordained outcome, and utilizes selective information and a rushed time frame to achieve that outcome. This is not one of my concerns regarding the strike-vote, it is my only concern.

    - You wrote that my remarks were “inaccurate.” No one has stated that, contrary to my letter, union leadership provided detailed information on a range of reasonable Canadian and BC comparison universities (even if leadership wanted to suggest that UT data were most relevant). No one has stated that there was actually an open discussion weighing pros and cons of a strike vote before or after expiration of “net-zero.” No one has stated that union leadership expressed a neutral open stance towards a strike-vote and wanted membership to discuss the information and come to a consensus. So I think the factual statements in my letter were correct — union leadership only provided detailed data for 1 comparison university, there was no open discussion about timing (just arguments why ‘now’ is the right time), union leadership made clear early on that they wanted membership to provide a positive strike vote.

    You wrote: “So then, you wanted a reasonable discussion. Do you think you are getting it?” That’s a great question. My answer is, “sort of.” A lot of posts have been anger and vitriol .. not so reasonable. But other posts by eric, anotherta, jonathan, phillippe, ricardob, lisa, andrew, pat, and jh have been reasonable and productive(and, yes, some of these have been critical of my letter).

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 6:39 pm
  34. oops, left out some authors of non-vitriolic productive posts .. anita, and prob others too.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 6:50 pm
  35. Contrary to your letter, union leadership did provide information on a range of reasonable Canadian and BC comparison universities (even though leadership wanted to suggest that UT data were most relevant). There was discussion of UVic and SFU at at least one meeting I attended, and there was space for questions and discussion about such comparisons at all meetings I attended.

    There was an open discussion weighing pros and cons of a strike vote before or after expiration of “net-zero.” Discussions about the timing of the strike vote, though, took a number of other temporal factors into consideration, including the fact that most TA-ships expire in April, leaving months of negotiation over the summer with significantly less bargaining power behind them.

    I agree that union leadership generally seemed in favor of a positive strike-vote. But, then again, 81% of the TAs that bothered to vote were in favor, too. So union leadership is hardly alone.

    Posted by Harold | April 3, 2012, 7:39 pm
  36. Thanks, Harold. These points get directly at some of the central concerns.

    I would suggest that there’s an important distinction between mentioning schools to dismiss them versus providing complete data for different schools. Also, McGill seems like a glaring omission since UBC, McGill, and UT are the big 3 in Canada.

    Re. timing issues, I’ll let TAs weigh-in on whether these issues were truly discussed or glossed over. For example, do TAs feel they clearly understand what kinds of salary increases UBC can and cannot offer while under provincial net-zero restrictions? If the answer is “no” (big if), that’s one indication that membership was asked to vote with insufficient information about the role of net-zero.

    I do remain somewhat bothered by the “bothered to vote” issue, to use your terminology. A strike is a last-resort option, in part because there are many short-term negative consequences like loss of salary and disruption to the university community. If 28% are in favor, 7% are opposed, and 65% are ambivalent/undetermined/didn’t bother to vote, does that justify a last-resort option for all TAs?

    CUPE argued for a strike vote in part to convey how “disrespectful” UBC has been to TAs. First, this is a pretty aggressive message to tell UBC. Second, it’s not clear most TAs feel disrespected. When people truly feel disrespected, they feel moved to act. Yet only a small percentage “bothered” to vote.

    I would hate for a strike to occur because a passionate minority made decisions on behalf of a majority that did not feel the need for extreme action or aggressive messages.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 8:36 pm
  37. 1. I think that some things, like a Cost of Living Adjustment and protection against tuition raises should be written into our contract regardless of whether or not UT or McGill TAs have these benefits. Comparisons are useful in some instances, but for some items we hope to bargain for, it doesn’t matter what other Universities have. We know what we want.

    2. I think that UBC has considerable political sway (for example, they were able to get some absurd legislation passed in 2003 to break the last TA strike) and they could and should, if necessary, lobby the province to allow TA salaries to be adjusted to keep pace with the rising cost of life in BC. It seems rather short sighted to think that a net-zero mandate is a God given commandment — it’s not, it’s a political decision, and a strike is a political action that is occasionally used in political processes. TA action, while largely intended to speak to UBC, is also intended to make a broader point, and one that co-articulates with a broader political debate occurring across the nation about our education system and the values and uses of our universities.

    3. Finally, I think the peculiarity of grad student life — the rotating door, with students arriving and leaving in rather short cycles — creates unfortunate dynamics that contribute to TA ambivalence. While this likely doesn’t explain all of the indifference in the recent vote, I think it’s worth noting that some TAs will very likely have arrived at UBC after the last TA contract expired and will leave UBC before a new contract is ratified between CUPE and UBC. TAs are not normal employees, and there are a number of tensions and confusions (if I am a Professor’s student and his/her TA, for example) that can complicate and/or leave TAs feeling ambivalent.

    Posted by Harold | April 3, 2012, 9:32 pm
  38. As requested, here is the CUPE 2278 executive’s response to the letter.


    Posted by CUPE 2278 Exec | April 3, 2012, 9:46 pm
  39. I totally agree with Harold’s last post. TAs have a very small window for changing their labor situation. We come and go and contract can’t be changed when they are ratified by CUPE and UBC. I feel Dr Klonsky’s letter can also be read from a class perspective. The majority of the TAs at UBC in fact live under the poverty line and have a poor quality of life and a lot of stress which are hardly understood when you make 112K per year. If Dr Klonsky is an ally of UBC TAs I would rather prefer him advocating for a PhD tuition waiver after the Comps than accusing the TA Union Exec with misleading information. The union must be on a delicate situation because everything they say can be used against them when negotiating with this university. I would suggest Dr Klonsky and others to sign this petition (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/286/868/920/support-graduate-students-at-ubc/) that has been circulating lately to support grad students with more funds and ask the University for easy solutions to help grad students complete their degrees.

    Posted by Esteban | April 3, 2012, 9:53 pm
  40. Question: How can a dispassionate majority that doesn’t “bother” to speak out or vote expect to have its voice heard without speaking out or voting?

    Answer: It can’t.

    For better or for worse, that’s how democracy (and communication) works. If you don’t speak out, how can your voice be heard?

    The 65% “ambivalent/undetermined/didn’t bother to vote” did get to determine the actions of their union. Abstention from voting is a blind vote of confidence in the eventual majority.

    Posted by Jordan | April 3, 2012, 10:01 pm
  41. David says:

    “I would hate for a strike to occur because a passionate minority made decisions on behalf of a majority that did not feel the need for extreme action or aggressive messages.”

    Simple response to that: if they didn’t see the need for the strike, then they could have bothered to come out and vote no. You’re acting as if the only option was to vote yes. But it was a free, fair, and open strike vote. People opposed to taking such action could have voted no, and some of them did. But a large majority of those who voted ended up voting yes. That’s what the union has to go on. It is rather pointless to speculate on what the people who did not vote intended or desired. They had a chance to vote; if they didn’t take it, there’s really not much that can be done. The union publicized the vote, as did many, many union members in each of their respective departments. As the leadership point out in their response, linked in the comment above, the university had not previously been forthcoming with membership contact info for union leadership, so it was difficult for them to inform all TAs of the vote.

    I don’t understand this talking point that many TAs are “ambivalent” about the strike vote — again, if they don’t think it is the right time to strike, or if they are not sure, then they should have voted no. What else can the union do? This issue was discussed for many weeks. Hundreds of people attended the meetings. Fliers, emails, and plenty of person-to-person discussions advertised it. Could they have done better? Well, in hindsight, I’m sure we could find places that they could have done better.

    But let me be clear: UBC TAs cannot be held back by this bizarre idea that our action is somehow illegitimate because not enough TAs voted. As the execrable but nevertheless occasionally correct Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have,” and as UBC TAs, we have to hit the picket lines with the strike vote that we have. We don’t have a time machine; there are no do-overs in life.

    Posted by Clayton | April 3, 2012, 10:05 pm
  42. I thank the CUPE 2278 leadership for a very nice reply. I’ll try to be brief in response to each comment b/c CUPE does have more important things to do at this stage.

    “Inadequate information”
    I am aware why leadership judged that UT is the most relevant comparison, but they made this judgment on behalf of membership by only providing detailed info about UT. Comprehensive information about other potentially reasonable comparison universities would have empowered TAs to make up their own minds.

    I know the topic of timing was raised, but my understanding is that the ‘discussions’ felt more like talking points for action rather than clear, comprehensive information. In their response letter CUPE leadership provides a reasonable explanation re. timing. I’ve talked and written with soooooo many TAs over the past couple weeks, and especially the past few days, and not one gave me the explanation regarding timing that leadership just gave in their response letter. This disparity may be one sign that information/discussion sessions were a bit light on information and stronger on talking points and calls to action.

    “Faculty Relations”
    I appreciate CUPE leadership acknowledging the importance of this issue. Here’s an example of one such approach from UT: http://cupe390new.org/guardian/?p=293 The open letter provides good information to the broader UT community, and acknowledges that UT TAs care about the disruption that may occur and care about keeping lines of communication open with other constituencies on campus.

    “Requirements for Strike Pay”
    CUPE leadership says my claim is false that they were not fully forthcoming about requirements (i.e., picketing) for strike pay. I don’t fully agree. For example, just yesterday on the CUPE Facebook a TA wrote: “Is it true what Dr. Klonsky said about the strike pay being only for those who picket? This is not mentioned in the Job Action FAQ”. CUPE has since added this information to the FAQ. Hopefully better information flow is one positive outcome of this exchange.

    “A Mandate?”
    CUPE leadership argues accurately that the vote results give them a legal mandate to strike. My issue is not with legality, but with the vote’s meaning. 35% of members voted, 81% of these voted ‘yes’, so a total of 28% support the strike. Simply put, one cannot generalize from these numbers to estimate the opinions of all TAs. The U. Toronto strike vote results were much different: 60% of UT TAs voted and 91% supported a strike — meaning that 55% of UT TAs voted to support the strike. (For data see p. 3 http://www.gtaunion.com/Documents/December%202011%20Newsletters.pdf)

    I also take issue with the leadership’s statement that: “The turnout for CUPE 2278′s strike vote in 2012 is comparable to the turnout for our strike vote in 2003, which did lead to legal job action.” As leadership wrote on the CUPE Facebook page: “We are searching for the exact numbers from 2003, but we are confident they are similar to our turnout.” It’s not quite fair, honest, or transparent to say they are “confident” the turnout is similar without any data to support this.

    “Removing My Original Post”
    I checked the guidelines for posting on the CUPE Facebook page in the About section to make sure comments from the public were permitted. I would not have posted there otherwise. I think CUPE leadership arguably had the right to remove the post, but I think they could have been more honest about it. For example, their original explanation stated “As we have stated before, this page is here for members to share information,” implying that my post was unwelcome because I am not a member. But it’s not clear exactly when or where this was “stated before”, and this statement conflicts with the description in their About section. Also, when the post was removed, no one told me or posted publicly that the post was removed or why. Only when TA members asked questions did CUPE leadership provide an (inaccurate) explanation. I can appreciate the explanation they provide in their response letter.

    “Controlling Information, Concealing Dissenting Views”
    Finally, CUPE leadership posted their response to my letter on their blog. Notably, they do not post my original letter on their website, and their website does not permit comments. Thus, CUPE leadership is again tightly controlling the flow of information. They get to a) not post my letter for membership to see, b) post their response and the selections of my letter they want membership to see, c) prevent any comments or clarifications regarding their particular portrayal of my letter. In the spirit of transparency and full information, at the least they could include a link to this webpage containing the original letter and the subsequent comments.

    Moving forward, I hope that CUPE leadership continues to improve their efforts to ensure transparency and full information flow, that members of the TA and UBC community continue to have discussions that allow dissent without vitriol or personal attacks, that CUPE leadership works to forge a collaborative rather than aggressive relationship with UBC admin as much as possible, and that TAs achieve a fair and equitable deal that meets the bulk of their demands without having to strike.


    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 10:46 pm
  43. @ Esteban, i signed the petition,thanks.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 10:49 pm
  44. @ Clayton, Harold, Esteban, and Jordan — I am not questioning the legality of CUPE’s ability to strike based on the vote results. I am asking if we know what the majority of TAs want.

    CUPE 116′s vote allows us to know what the majority wants. Two-thirds of members actively voted ‘yes’.

    The U. Toronto TA vote (60% participation, 91% in favor) allows us to know what the majority wants. 55% of members actively voted yes.

    The CUPE 2278 vote simply does not allow us to know what the majority of TAs want. 28% of members actively voted yes.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 10:54 pm
  45. Exec: thanks a ton for posting that. As a union member I’m thrilled to see you guys more clearly explaining why you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing. I hope there will be more free flow of this kind of info! it cleared up a lot that I didn’t understand before.

    (Would love to see more concrete explanation of the decision to go with U of T as rallying point, as well, as it will only make our case stronger.)

    Posted by JH | April 3, 2012, 10:55 pm
  46. With regards to the legitimacy of the vote, I agree that a majority of those who voted is indeed a majority for the purposes of a democracy, but I would like to point out a few significant issues here:

    First: In our department, the notice about the vote was circulated on Friday, that is, a day after the vote. Many of the TA’s in our department did not get the opportunity to vote, simply because they did not learn about it on time.

    This is a clear failure on communication. While it has been clarified that the university does not provide 2278 with access to the email addresses, fundamentally it is their responsibiity to ensure the membership is well informed.

    I will point out that the most likely people to vote yes would be execs, strike coordinators, and frequent volunteers, all of whom would be emailed directly about the strike vote. If it is the case in many departments that people simply did not hear about the strike, this could introduce significant bias into the votes.

    Second: The TA union spent much of the pre-vote meeting expressing how terrible it would be if we voted no. In truth, they were correct in doing this. A no vote would drain the power of the union, and cause significant bargaining disadvantages.

    Thus, many people who were opposed to the timing of the strike, or were unhappy with the level of organization of the executive, chose to vote yes anyways, simply to protect their own interests and the interests of their fellow TAs. That does not mean that 81% of those who voted support the union’s decision to call a strike vote in the first place, nor do they necessarily want to strike.

    Because the union called for a strike vote, the members were compelled to vote yes. This goes back to David’s original letter, which expresses the concerns of many TAs who were disappointed with the timing and rushed nature of the strike action.

    With the above two points considered, it becomes far more significant to wonder what the other 62% of 2278 members think, if they even know this discussion is taking place.

    Posted by Another TA | April 3, 2012, 11:02 pm
  47. Apologies, 72%. It is late and subtraction is difficult for graduate students.

    Posted by Another TA | April 3, 2012, 11:06 pm
  48. @ David: I realize you are not disputing the legality of the vote, but rather the legitimacy. I am pointing out the fact that those who don’t vote (or at least participate in the discussion) will not get their voices heard, nor should they ever expect to.

    The majority of my fellow TAs with whom I have spoken have been in favour of escalation of our negotiation position – up to and including a strike. Of course, it’s not unlikely that a selection bias is at play here; the TAs with whom you associate seem to have a different opinion. (I will point out that I’m in a science department that has been traditionally very apolitical. Not to be confused with apolitical science!)

    But certainly the majority of the viewpoints presented at all of the union meetings and information sessions have been in support of the union taking a strong position. Opposing points of view have been in the clear minority at every meeting. At the union meeting with the largest turnout yet, when a hand poll was taken on whether the union should take a more aggressive position, at least 80% voted yes (was perhaps closer to 90%, but it was hard to estimate by looking around).

    My outrageous claim: The union executive can only listen to the opinions (and act on the wishes) of those members who express them. And apparently they did.

    Posted by Jordan | April 3, 2012, 11:28 pm
  49. @ Jordan — Yeah, i hear you. Not so outrageous a claim.

    The worry is that if dissemination of information was poor (as some comments above indicate it was), and many TAs were only partially or not at all aware of what was happening, then the situation is ripe for a knowledgeable and passionate minority to determine the outcome for the majority — through no fault of those in the majority.

    If dissemination of information was thorough, and only 35% voted, that’s a different story.

    Posted by David | April 3, 2012, 11:46 pm
  50. @ Another TA: How does the union communicate with your department other than through your department’s union reps? This is honestly a big problem – in the next contract, UBC has agreed to provide the union with email lists and contact information, but in the meantime, it’s up to department union reps. And you should give ‘em hell, because they’re not doing their jobs.

    Otherwise, as for the union executive, I’m not sure what else they could have done. Taken out an ad in The Ubyssey? Canvassed every department office to post a notice on a department notices bulletin board that no-one has read since the ’90s? They probably could have tried emailing department grad and TA coordinators to get them to forward their messages – but the coordinators don’t necessarily do so. It’s your department union representative’s job to get that information to you – and it sounds like they screwed up royally.

    Posted by Jordan | April 3, 2012, 11:46 pm
  51. @ David: I would like to mention – since I haven’t seen it written elsewhere – that the union executive, from the very first emergency meeting, made a big deal of telling those in attendance to bring as many of our colleagues as we could along to future meetings (and any future strike vote) – *especially* those who are anti-union, anti-strike, or just apathetic about the issues. While they themselves clearly leaned towards a more aggressive bargaining stance, they encouraged dissenting opinion.

    They expressed the same concerns you had, that a small majority could determine the outcome, and that they wanted an accurate impression of the feelings of the membership, as well as the broadest possible mandate. We all understand the general truth that there is a correlation between attending union meetings and leaning just a wee bit to the left. But, for what it’s worth, they did acknowledge this and encourage us to change that.

    Posted by Jordan | April 4, 2012, 12:21 am
  52. Esteban,

    You mentionned a salary figure, which I can only assume you got from the document circulated by the union exec. I have an issue with the circulation of that document by the union, but they obviously did nothing wrong technically since it was publicly available information. However, I want to bring up two points that are related to this.

    First, the exec put some effort to put this in a nice excel document so we could all look up how much money our professors make. I wish they had made the same effort compiling more relevant information, such as the average TA appointment value in Canada or in BC. This goes to the issue of making an informed decision. In their response to Dr. Klonsky’s letter, the exec said that one of the reasons they picked UT as a point of comparison was that “the collective agreement for TAs at the University of Toronto is in many ways superior to ours”. Perhaps. But that’s hardly a piece of information useful to making an informed decision, just like we wouldn’t take the administration seriously if they used as an argument that McGill TAs are paid $25/hour and so our pays should be cut.

    Second, these financial release documents which precipitated the “dramatic change” in January are publicly available and are, if memory serves, at least a year old. Yet suddenly now timing is crucial. Similarly, the strike vote occured on March 23rd. The stated rationale for that vote was to strengthen the bargaining position of the exec. Yet 7 days later, an emergency meeting of the strike coordination committee was called. Again, what’s up with the timing? A week is an awfully short time to give up on negotiations, and if the meeting was just to prepare for any eventuality, why was it not called immediately following the vote, instead of as an emergency a week later? It seems to me that, at best, the exec has some serious timing problems.

    I’d like to also make it clear that while I disagree with the exec’s view of the situation, I have no doubt that they have our best interest at heart.

    Posted by Philippe | April 4, 2012, 12:21 am
  53. Our TAs are striking, in part, because their incomes have fallen way behind the rising cost of living in Vancouver and so they are struggling financially.

    A full TAship today is worth around 90% of its 1992 value, for example, when adjusted for basic inflation in Canada. That is, all of the pay increases for the past 20 years have left the TAs BEHIND where they were 20 years ago. Given that Vancouver rental inflation rates are higher than the Canadian base inflation rates for the past 20 years (at least judging by the number of my colleagues agitating for UBC to provide better housing support packages), you can see that this real cut has a significant effect. When you factor in the way other forms of support (RAs, fellowships) have fallen behind, you get graduate students who are starting to stress out because their basic living needs are growing more and more difficult to meet. Add on top of this the fact that tuition has risen at a much faster rate than financial support, and you can make sense of why we are facing a potential TA strike.

    Like the majority of our staff at UBC, I suspect our most of TAs would rather not strike. However, unlike other staff, and faculty especially, our TAs do not have access to natural “career progress” features in their collective agreement and so “net zero” really means 0. Most of my colleagues are too young to remember when the BC provincial government froze all “high” faculty salaries regardless of our collective agreement. I am left wondering how faculty would react if our Faculty Association leadership were to simply sit back and accept that sort of government “mandate” today without comment. And what would their reactions be if our government were to impose significant faculty salary cuts and mandated furloughs, as state governments have done in many US states?

    Posted by MTM | April 4, 2012, 12:48 am
  54. @Jordan: Completely fair points, and I agree that, for my department, the rep (whoever they are) is primarily at fault. I’m glad to hear this will be resolved in future.

    I do think however, that the short notice and timeline was a serious issue and prevented the message from propogating effectively. Only holding the vote on a single day, in a single location, and not permitting absentee ballots all compounded this problem (for example, the ‘I voted’ stickers would have been far more effective with another day of voting).

    Similarly for the meetings, if only a fraction of the TA’s are getting the information in a timely manner, then I am not surprised that the opinions at the meetings were similar to the voting outcome.

    I truly do support our union and believe the TA’s deserve a better shake, but I am an even stronger believer in a proper democratic process. In this regard, I think that the strike vote was poorly handled, and the low turnout cannot be faulted simply to TA apathy.

    As it stands now, I will of course support any strike action and picket with my fellow TA’s, but I fear those who remain uninformed are at risk of carrying on with their marking, not even knowing if we go on stike. This is why having these discussions are critical before we proceed any further with strike action.

    Finally, one last point on the communication issues. I didn’t know until this post came out that 2278 had a well-used facebook page, or that there was a bunch of stuff there that could not be found on their blog/website. I believe the website is a far more appropriate place to disseminate messages (or at the very least, copy them from the facebook page immediately), as it is the central location for CUPE 2278 members to get their information.

    Posted by Another TA | April 4, 2012, 12:52 am
  55. @MTM – just so there’s no misunderstanding, I never argued against the TA union’s right to strike or against TA union demands. I think most and possibly all the union requests are reasonable, although I wonder if UBC can meet them at this particular time given the provincial restrictions. I critiqued the process as being low on information and deliberation and high on talking points and anger — a process that left many union members feeling ill informed and on the outside looking in. A transparent, informative, deliberative process benefits everyone.

    Posted by David | April 4, 2012, 1:17 am
  56. @ Philippe – Of course, UBC TAs could be better or worse than other TAs. Some Universities don’t have TA Unions so your Prof for no reason can fire you. I think our TA Union compares to UofT because UBC always compares with UofT in general and because we don’t have something they do: UofT offers a guaranteed full funding package to all their grad students! Something we don’t have here at all. I would like to have a minimum of financial stability for every grad students that enter to this University. In fact, at UBC we have first class grad (citizens) that make a reasonably good wage and second and third class grad (citizens) that barely survive in one of the most expensive city in the world. If you google “UBC FOGs Self Study Report 2011” you will find that 18% of PhD and 48% of MA students live with $1250 or less per month (as total sources of income). That’s pretty much a roof above your head and some food in your fridge. We need a direction where to go and I think choosing UofT works. But, you don’t have to agree with me.

    Posted by Esteban | April 4, 2012, 8:21 am
  57. David, This is a sad, uninformed letter that borders on unethical in a power dynamic of a FT faculty member publicly trying to undermine confidence in graduate student leadership through a very desperate rhetoric on the eve of a strike. Good try, bad motive. The letter is seriously uninformed in stating that CUPE 2278 “Union leadership has made no effort to reach out to faculty.” That is just false, non-empirical reasoning. Please do the homework or lit review next time. Read our blog over at http://blogs.ubc.ca/workplace/ to get a sense of the history. Talk with our Faculty Association, who represents you, yet which you quite mistakenly refer to as “Faculty Relations.” Ouch! Talk with me about how well CUPE 2278 has reached out– the communication from the union leadership has been outstanding– a model of leadership and transparency. If no one knocked on your door to request an alliance, perhaps now we know why. The union posted the strike vote data for transparency and now we have faculty member crunching numbers with no contextual variables whatsoever. Sad. I’ll be on the picket line with faculty members in support of and sympathy with the students.

    Posted by Stephen Petrina | April 4, 2012, 8:53 am
  58. @ Another TA:

    “Only holding the vote on a single day, in a single location, and not permitting absentee ballots all compounded this problem”

    Agreed, but all of this was discussed in the meetings (and on the Facebook page) leading up to the vote. They wanted to have several locations (including one in the SUB), and they had the resources to do this. They learned that UBC was only going to provide them with one official list of active members they needed to keep at the polling station, so they couldn’t do this.

    They also couldn’t hold it in the SUB (which they badly wanted to do, to improve turnout) because at the time it looked like the union representing AMS Security workers might be picketing the SUB, and there would be no (legal?) way to move the polling location after announcing the vote. Apparently it’s in bad taste to cross a picket line for a strike vote…

    As for multiple days, they were talking about that too, but decided they couldn’t do this (I don’t know whether that was for legal or logistical reasons, however). You may have a fair point here though; for instance, the teachers’ union had their strike vote over two days. However, that may have been fundamentally different; they had already been on strike for almost a year, and that was a (possibly informal) vote to escalate to withdrawal of services, not to go on strike. That vote had passed previously.

    Finally, for absentee ballots, I believe their labour lawyer told them that this would be illegal; a strike vote ballot must apparently be cast in person, not by mail or by proxy in absentia. So I think their hands were tied.

    Though I have no doubt that all of these would have improved the situation, they apparently couldn’t do anything about them.

    Posted by Jordan | April 4, 2012, 9:11 am
  59. @ Stephen

    - you refer me to a blog that you run to show that CUPE leadership has reached out to faculty. are you suggesting that CUPE has used your blog to reach out?

    - in the first paragraph your blog calls a UBC committee “notorious” and claims UBC “intimidated” TAs 10 years without substantiating the claim — not my version of reaching out to campus constituencies

    - even if we take your blog for an official union outlet, there’s nothing in it akin to what i recommended or akin to what U. Toronto TAs released to their campus community following their strike vote; and CUPE leadership has since acknowledged not considering faculty relations as much as other issues

    - Your comment calls my letter “sad,” “uninformed,” and borderline “unethical,” but you don’t actually address the letters substance

    - In terms of me being unethical, before writing my original letter I checked with different students and faculty to see if anyone thought it would be inappropriate on principle to write such a letter, and no one suggested it would be unethical or recommended I not do it. I have since had many TAs express support, so I do feel comfortable about the ethics of the situation and having done due diligence on that issue.

    All this said, it’s fine for you or others to disagree and present evidence refuting statements made in the letter.


    Posted by David | April 4, 2012, 9:23 am
  60. @ David – Thanks for signing the petition. I will encourage you and as many profs as possible to advocate at the Faculty Association for a wage increase to Sessional Faculty (which, sadly, are part of the Faculty Association, I think they would be better if were part of the TA Union). Grad students when they do not have any more preference for TAships they rely on being a Sessional and we should be paid more for doing that work.

    Posted by Esteban | April 4, 2012, 9:26 am
  61. To people trying to attack David or other critics of the TA union instead of addressing the points they raise head-on: please stop. Just give up. You’re not helping the situation, only embarrassing yourselves and the TAs you are trying to speak for.

    I stand with my fellow TAs, but I do so respectfully, and will readily acknowledge that we’re not in an ideal situation, and not all of the union’s actions have been executed perfectly. If you can’t participate in meaningful discourse, and instead must resort to “attack-dogs-of-the-bourgeoisie”, Marxist class-warfare-themed invective, then go troll somewhere else (or better yet, not at all).

    Posted by Jordan | April 4, 2012, 9:31 am
  62. @Esteban – I’m on your side, but could you provide one or two actual examples of UBC comparing itself to U of T? Maybe links to UBC recruiting materials or press releases?

    Posted by JH | April 4, 2012, 10:35 am
  63. @JH – Good question. It is hard to find these examples. You have to dig yourself. As I said, I’ve found the “UBC FOGs Self Study Report 2011” in which they state some inconsistence info: on the one hand at the beginning in page 7 they say that now PhD students have an average of $25,000 per year from year 1 to 4:

    “We face challenges, as do all graduate schools. Despite a recent increase in central graduate student funding (largely from a provincial initiative to increase graduate student enrolment), inflation-adjusted graduate student support per capita has remained relatively constant since 2006. Although doctoral students (in their first four years) receive an average of $25,000 from all sources, there is insufficient funding to provide a guaranteed funding package to every doctoral student, and many graduate students are unfunded.”

    But then on page 97 they say that one of the challenges for FOGs is:

    “Insufficient funding to provide minimum funding packages for research programs, and little overall for course-based programs. Although funding levels have increased since the last review, 18% of PhD students, and 49% of research master’s students continue to receive less than $15,000 annually from all sources.

    Long completion times. As mentioned, graduate degree completion times at UBC are longer than the Canadian average, and are almost certainly exacerbated by the very high cost of living in Vancouver, necessitating outside work. Approaches to reducing these are integrated throughout the document, and focus on the student experience, supervisor and student development, student monitoring and follow-up, and enrolment management.”

    On the other hand, if we go to UofT School of Graduate Studies (http://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/informationfor/students/money/funding.htm) it says:

    “The University of Toronto is committed to the financial support of graduate students in doctoral stream programs. The duration of the commitment varies among the graduate units, and we recommend that students consult our Graduate Funding Structure document below. Funding packages are arranged by faculties/graduate units and consist of an amount equal to the cost of academic tuition fees plus $15,000. The funding package may consist of UofT Fellowships, faculty or departmental grants, scholarships or bursaries, teaching and research assistantships, external awards, or any combination of the above.”

    So what I can read here is that UofT offers a minimum financial base for all their grad students whereas at UBC 8 out of 10 PhDs and 1 out of 2 MAs make $1250 or less per month (you have to remember that after the 4th year the Tuition Waiver is gone and you have to start paying high tuitions fees –more so if you are an international student-). On top of this, in the new agreement ratified at UofT by January 2013 PhDs will have a 6th year of preference for TAships (what we have here: only 4 years) which can make a big difference just when you need it most because you are trying to finish your dissertation and you have to pay high tuitions fees.

    Hope this helps.

    Posted by Esteban | April 4, 2012, 11:08 am
  64. Thanks. I actually was referring to the idea that UBC frequently ”compares itself” to U of T, like in recruiting, promoting itself, etc. I’ve never quite understood this claim, because it isn’t something I’ve noticed in my 3 years at UBC.

    But the info you provided here is very helpful.

    Posted by JH | April 4, 2012, 11:15 am
  65. Dear David,

    I won’t go point by point in how your letter is very problematic. Yet I want to give you a response.

    1) Your letter falls into multiple uninformed points ie timing is related with the fact we been negotiating with ubc for almost for 2 years (in August), and this is a good timing for several of us who have been waiting this long to have an agreement (eg the extended preference is crucial to many of us now, and not next year). It is also a good time to start pushing to have a raise after the zero mandate is over (the next contract will probably cover the future as well as the past, and the future is not under zero mandate).

    2) I also consider, as others have pointed, that if you really support the TAs, the politics of posting this letter in the Ubc Insider is a very problematic action and contradicts your claim of support. You had several options to make a more productive and supportive disagreement without undermining the work of the union: ask to attend a meeting and raise your concerns in person, writing a letter to the union and meet to discuss, reach your Faculty Association and find out about actions of liaison with the union and get involved in them.

    3) Other option you had is to encourage your TAs to voice their disagreement, encourage participation, but do not patronize them by speaking for them.

    4) In this line I am surprised of the little credit you give to the grad students who are not part of the executive and still agree with it. Do you think all of us who went to meetings and voted are so little informed, lack of personal opinion, and that we are directed like robots to a decision by a small group of people? That we need you to make us discuss? There were lots of intelligent discussions and disagreements in the meetings and in each of the departments.

    Honestly it is a pity an intelligent person like you writes in such uninformed manner, with so little interest in real debate, with such little responsibility on the political effects of your action, and so little acknowledgement of the hard work the union as a body has done (and I am not the exec).

    I hope you can get involved from other places from now on. You still have the chance to make a difference, instead of speaking for others from the official newspaper. I would suggest you to start with your Association.


    Posted by Ana | April 4, 2012, 11:27 am
  66. @ Ana
    Thanks for the comment. To briefly respond..

    1 – i didn’t say the timing was inappropriate, but that the timing was dictated by leadership and then submitted for limited discussion; i prefer when ample discussion by membership comes first and then drives the actions of leadership

    2 – some have suggested like you that the very act of posting the letter was wrong, others have regarded it as useful and as having positive effects (e.g., increased information flow). i checked in with both students and faculty before posting the letter on the issue of ethics, so I did do my due diligence before deciding to post.

    3 – everything about how i have conducted my teaching and research lab over the past 7 years has been to provide the utmost support and respect for graduate students; it’s inaccurate and just plain mean to say i “patronize” graduate students

    4 – you say i have “so little interest in real debate.” i have chosen to post in public forums and actively engage in and encourage debate. my primary critique was that union leadership provided too little information or time for genuine debate. i encourage open debate in both word and action. i am encouraging debate through both my words and actions.

    I would like the university community to support TAs. I think transparency, honesty, and full information flow makes it easier both for union members and other UBC constituencies to provide such support. Beyond my letter, various posts by TAs on the Facebook page and in this comments section makes clear that transparency, honestly, and information flow can be improved. I can provide these different quotations if helpful.

    Posted by David | April 4, 2012, 12:33 pm
  67. The author of this open letter has clearly put his concerns out into the world. And has clarified them and responded to challenges multiple times. I think it may be time for him to consider that no matter how many times he chooses to re-post, re-cite, and re-clarify points he’s already made multiple times, some of us disagree.
    We disagree with the points in the letter, we disagree with the ethical implications of him writing the letter, and we disagree with his sense entitlement to speak on behalf of union members.

    I’m struck by something else that appears to be going on in this comments section, however, that I believe is fair game to comment on: a strongly defensive impulse to always get the last word.
    I think we now all understand his points, as they have now been re-worded and re-worked into over twenty posts. Something of an astonishing act, considering the busy time of year for everyone.
    I’m starting to wonder if and when he is willing to pass the torch onto the so-called “sooooooo many TAs that support him”, so that this conversation might, as others have pointed out, take place amongst those of us who have the most at stake. TAs who disagree with the union can speak for themselves, and continue to do so. The author was entitled to defend himself, and he has. A lot. He is free to continue to do so. But when to let go?
    Because I just plain disagree.
    He can post another twenty rebuttals if he wants. I just wanted to point out that to some, his posts may be starting to look a bit… obsessive.

    Posted by Janey | April 4, 2012, 12:59 pm
  68. To answer the question “why now and not before” that many people seem to be asking:

    The union has been in negotiation with the university since September 2010. They were in no rush to negotiate a new contract, since up until January, the “true net zero” policy was in place, and we were already getting net zero. Our real pay (relative to CPI) has been decreasing since September 2010, but the university told the union that they’d love to offer a raise, but were prohibited from doing so.

    In January, the government unveiled their new “cooperative gains net zero” policy, whereby an employer (UBC) can offer pay increases as long as they find the money elsewhere (the province won’t pay for it). The university told the union that they were now _allowed_ to give a raise, but there was just no cash elsewhere.

    Around that time, the union executive dug up publicly-available financial information (which, I’ll admit, it’s surprising they didn’t find much earlier) which showed that the university was actually in a rather healthy financial position. Furthermore, the performance-based and promotion-based pay increases written into administrative and faculty contracts, thus immune from net zero policies (such that their typical pay increases year-upon-year) were on average 2.9% for those making greater than $75,000. The university was able to comfortably afford these increases, and still put tens of millions of dollars back into the endowment, AND still be left with a $67.3M operating budget surplus for 2011. A cost-of-living wage increase for TAs would be a miniscule fraction of the cost of these other annual wage increases at UBC. (Even the union’s more aggressive and expensive proposals would be easily absorbed by the university.)

    The union was put off by the discovery that the money was apparently there, but the university just didn’t really want to (or was hoping they didn’t have to) offer it. After the union called some emergency TA meetings to put some pressure on the university, the university apparently changed its tune, saying they could probably offer something – but they wouldn’t make an offer until after the term was up, and the TAs had no bargaining power – how can we back up our position with the threat of labour withdrawal when there’s no labour to withdraw?

    If the union waited until May only to be offered nothing or something too small (~1%), then they wouldn’t be able to do anything until next September. They would have to have the same set of meetings and strike vote at that time. A strike vote has an expiration date of ~3 months, and only includes the current membership, which would expire during the summer as most TAs leave the bargaining unit during the summer and rejoin in the fall. Realistically, that would mean it would be at least October, possibly November, before any real pressure could be put on the university. Twenty-six months of effectively declining pay is not seen as acceptable by most of the TAs I have spoken to.

    The reason it’s moving quickly now is that the current contract is almost over; if an offer isn’t made soon, and assuming we’re unwilling to wait another seven months without pay adjustment, our only chance to act is now. That’s the reasoning from my perspective, at least.

    Posted by Jordan | April 4, 2012, 1:05 pm
  69. @ Janey – fair point about me leaving the discussion to others. a couple times i did plan to fade away. it’s the comments that make personal attacks or comments that attribute statements to me that I did not make that pull me back in, and have led me to want to clarify my position.

    but i think you are right. i will try to fade away.

    Posted by David | April 4, 2012, 1:23 pm
  70. I think it would be useful for the union to post something like Jordan’s very thorough explanation on their website (and not in the form of a PDF newsletter buried amongst the documents). It certainly clarified some things for me as a UBC staff member (AAPS). I will not cross a picket line anyway, but it’s nice to be informed about the reason.

    Honestly, it looks to me as an outsider that 2278 could have done a better job communicating the issues and their hard work even given the systemic communications barriers the employer has forced them to face — but Dr. Klonsky’s letter is at best unhelpful, and at worst divisive. Thanks to all the folks in this thread and on Facebook who are providing information and informed discourse in response; at least it had that effect.

    Dr. Klonsky’s letter does raise a point (one I don’t think he really intended to make) re: informing faculty and partners, however. If we choose not to cross your picket lines, we will not get paid for the time we’re off. I think there’s an important public outreach and support function CUPE should be fulfilling right now, which is to get other allies at the University on-side — not for the reasons Dr. Klonsky intimates (“common courtesy” and workload planning, as if faculty can’t figure that out on their own) — but so we can make an informed choice when the time comes on how best to support you and give up our own pay to support both 2278 and 216′s goals of a fair an equitable workplace for us all.

    Posted by Zoe | April 4, 2012, 4:52 pm
  71. I fully support this letter, and thank the author for writing it.

    Something that I think further supports his point about union leadership following their own agenda is the fact that not all TAs were even given the opportunity to vote.

    I was a TA last semester, and I was supposed to TA during the spring semester (though that class is now in danger of being cancelled due to the possibility of a strike). I was not permitted to vote. Only TAs who are working in the current semester had their votes counted, which I think is another huge flaw in determining how union members really feel about striking, and frankly, feels unfair. How is it that someone directly affected by the results does not have a voice in this discussion?

    Posted by Briana | April 4, 2012, 5:03 pm
  72. I think who can vote is not determined by the union but by the BC Labor Board. A strike vote is a serious business and needs certain legal procedures to occur. The nature of our work as TAs may create confusions but as far as I know you have to be currently earning money from the employer in order to be able to vote.

    Posted by Esteban | April 4, 2012, 5:37 pm
  73. @ Zoe: I do agree that the executive should focus now on relations with the other stakeholders on campus (such as yourself), as their support is crucial, and we’re all working together here as members of the same university community.

    As for being more open: I think the union executive can’t post quite so candidly about their situation as the rest of us can – at least in an official context, such as on their webpage or Facebook wall – without opening themselves up to legal problems, especially regarding claims of the university “holding out” on them. Such a claim may be apparent when the facts are examined, but try proving that in court. It can also damage their position at the bargaining table, as the university can point to publicizing such claims (true or not) as “bargaining in bad faith.” This is a big reason why much of the information CUPE 2278 releases takes so long to get out, and seems so vacuous: most information of substance gets filtered through their lawyers, and all of the reasoning, thoughts, and explanations get stripped out, replaced with the bare minimum of information that is safe to reveal. Which isn’t much.

    There are also some surprising labour law restrictions that were pointed out in meetings on what they can and cannot say. For instance, they’re not allowed to tell their membership what kind of offers they will or will not accept (by that I mean pass along to the membership to ratify, by the way) at the bargaining table beforehand; they’re not allowed to make certain promises or release certain information regarding when or if they will call the strike; they’re basically not allowed to show their hand. If they do, the Labour Relations Board can declare a strike illegal on a technicality. I’m told this is actually what happened to CUPE 2278 leading up to the last contract, so they’re understandably (but perhaps frustratingly) very cautious about this. Even sometimes in union meetings, when one of the union executives makes a particular candid statement about what they likely will or will not do at the bargaining table (or any details about the bargaining progress), they’re reminded by the other executives that they’re not allowed to say this or that, and have to retract their statement.

    I can say all of this off the record, because I have nothing to do with the union (other than keeping informed and attending meetings). But they apparently can’t.

    Posted by Jordan | April 4, 2012, 5:40 pm
  74. One thing that has received no attention in this discussion is that for some (many?) TAs, our wages have no relationship to how much many we receive.

    For example, I (and almost all PhD students in my department) have a funding contract with the department that says that I will receive $x dollars per year in funding, made up of a mix of TAs, RAs and fellowships. Even if I get a pay rise as a TA it does not change the fact that I will still get $x dollars each year.

    For TAs like me, a strike is almost all downside and no upside.

    Posted by UBC TA | April 4, 2012, 8:09 pm
  75. If the dollar amount that you earn doesn’t change, but your salary goes up… you work less and get more time for research!

    Also, several TA-ships I know of are above and beyond the guaranteed funding package — icing on the cake!

    And, some demands, like extended hiring preference, would seem to matter for a fair number of people, even if not directly related to a pay raise.

    Posted by Harold | April 4, 2012, 9:15 pm
  76. Thank you for sharing our common concerns, Dr. Klonsky. I appreciate the desire to maintain or improve working conditions for all UBC employees but transparency needs to be improved for CUPE 2278 to better represent its members.

    Posted by UBC Faculty Member | April 4, 2012, 9:36 pm
  77. @Harold: my work hours would remain the same, but my fellowship would be reduced to offset the wage changes.

    Yes, some are above and beyond the guaranteed funding package, but I think it is worth pointing out that for those that aren’t wage gains are not worth anything.

    Yes, I agree that extended hiring preference would be useful for many TAs. But, I can’t help wondering if it would also hurt some TAs as well – if the supply of courses to TA for is fixed (I have no idea if this is true or not) then it would simply mean a redistribution of work from lower year to upper year students.

    Posted by UBC TA | April 4, 2012, 10:30 pm
  78. I would love to have this level of discussion and the request for transparency and better representation from UBC Faculty Members at their own Faculty Association. What would happen if a TA was to criticize the Faculty Association for its lack of transparency or bad communication with its members?

    Posted by Simon | April 4, 2012, 11:25 pm
  79. Posted by Stephen Petrina | April 5, 2012, 8:11 am
  80. @Simon – good question. Maybe the Faculty Association would have a chance to reflect on why their actions are being interpreted the way they are!

    Posted by SO | April 5, 2012, 10:11 am
  81. Dr Klonsky, from your letter I understand you think TA’s are stupid are were fooled.

    I agree with you that there is no need to compare ourselves with UT, it is enough to say we have a bad deal. It is ridiculous that the university doesnt raise the salary according to inflation. You are in economic terms paying us less every year.

    Posted by Mario | April 5, 2012, 7:14 pm
  82. So, here’s a question: Why would it matter what TAs at McGill make, in the context of a strike vote? I can understand making comparisons between UBC and other universities when the union’s trying to convince the university that its demands are reasonable, or when the university’s trying to convince the union that its demands are unreasonable–but why would it make any difference to how you’d vote in a strike vote?

    If you told me that everyone else in Canada makes less than we do at UBC, I’d still vote yes. I’d just think that TAs are screwed all over the country.

    Seriously, why would you think the union has some obligation to talk about lots of other universities than UofT? They talk about UofT, as I understand it, because that was part of their argument to UBC, not because UofT’s wages somehow gives a reason to vote yes in a strike vote. The letter’s first point is just a red herring.

    Posted by Yet another TA | April 5, 2012, 10:32 pm
  83. Many comments have been made by those who agree with Dr. Klonsky and those that clearly do not. Before going into my argument about the open letter in question I would like some of the persons who posted comments in what seems to be blatant anger to read their responses and evaluate if this is how a discussion among various members of the university community should be? Insulting the writer’s intelligence, credibility, motivations and various other “personal” attacks that have been made truly attest to the fact that you have no respect for either an open forum of discussion (of varying views) or for the people who may not agree with you. Every single student, faculty member, administrator, TA and many more members of the UBC community are affected by the process and outcome of this job action. As a result, every single person has the right to voice their opinion in what hopefully turns into a discussion and in itself information dissemination. It is absolutely unprofessional, primitive (for University students and union representatives/members) to attempt to discredit another member of the community they are involved in for simply writing his opinion.

    This country is a democracy and all these processes that have been set in place in regards to labour relations and human resources management is a by-product of that democracy. One of the most important pillars of the democratic process is that every stakeholder should have the right to speak freely without fear or provocation from another. Many will disagree with you, but that gives you no right to be disrespectful instead of using your own arguments to respond no matter how passionately you believe in your side of the argument. As a Canadian and a graduate student at this University I hope Dr. Klonsky disregards some of these comments made and responds, repeats and reiterates his points as many times as he pleases. In reading his open letter, it is clear that while he does not agree with the process he does sincerely wish for the best interest of the TA’s and if he expresses that then he should not be scrutinized for it, as aggressive responses and actions by Unions and their members have historically worked against them in regards to the needed public opinion for which in this case is the entire UBC community.


    As for the issue at hand:

    While comparisons with other “similar” Canadian provinces is somewhat valid in terms of labour relations it shouldn’t be forgotten that labour negotiations fall under unique legislative requirements, unique to the type of the organization and of course at the provincial level. As stipulated by law both the employer (UBC) and the union are Required to bargain in good faith and can’t engage in a strike until a conciliation process has been undergone. The most important factor in collective agreement negotiations, however, is that you shouldn’t forget that the Union is not bargaining for itself but for its members (TA’s) and so the settlement must be approved by such constituents, therefore if the union is somehow not disseminating information to its members properly (if that is the case), then its members will lose confidence in the long run, and short run they may have the power to disapprove of the settlement reached.

    There are several different relationship types between employers and Unions. Namely conflict, aggressive, accommodative, cooperative and collusive. In the case of UBC, the relationship falls under that of accommodating as both the Union and the employer (UBC) agree on the legitimacy of the other party and have somewhat respect for one another which attests to the limited trust that is present. This allows the negotiation to move away from “adversarial” bargaining which often leads to a lose-lose situation. Threatening with a strike will destroy such a relationship and so future negotiations will be muddled by even more adversarial bargaining which will not be a good outcome for either party.

    Finally, it shouldn’t be forgotten that BOTH parties, as required by law, have to take reasonable efforts to reach an agreement. this is labour relations legislation in all jurisdictions. This ensures that UBC recognizes your Union and tries to settle an agreement without a strike or lockout. Threatening with a strike or lockout is going through motions of negotiation without any intent to reach an agreement.

    These are some simple parameters that have to be considered before entering any discussions about jobs and job actions. These are known by your Union reps. and the employer but it is your job as members to consider all of these factors when voting for a strike. If your union does not provide you with the information you need then you are not aware of the process of negotiation and what the bottom line results will mean for TA’s. You should ask for information as they represent you.

    Please consider some of these points (only a high level look at the negotiation process), ask information and when other community members express their opinions read them and open a discussion with respect using logic and understanding instead of being rude, impolite and aggressive as it does not help rally support from other community members that you gravely need to succeed.

    Posted by JHS | April 8, 2012, 1:52 am
  84. As a former graduate student who struggled to make ends meet, I sympathize with TAs wanting higher pay.

    Yet, reading comments here and elsewhere leads me to believe UBC TAs are misguided in a few facts.

    1) A TAship is an award, not a right. It helps offset the costs of your education, it does not intend to fully find it.

    2) Your main benefit and objective is getting a graduate degree. Taking time out to TA is a choice you make. You must balance the time to TA with the time to completion.

    3) Not all professors get paid the same rate; most of them have a market adjustment. So, engineering profs earn more than history profs. Yet, all TAs get paid the same rate. Engineering TAs sometimes do internships, which is an excellent source of money, but they still earn less $/hr on the job than their current TA pay. TAs should be thankful they are well paid; clearly some are being over-paid considering market adjustments. Can a history TA earn more money doing an internship somewhere? If so, I would encourage that! Do not hold the UBC hostage as you should have other choices of employers.

    4) consequently, the best way to get UBC to pay you more is to stop accepting TA positions. This is far more effective than a strike. The problem is the supply/demand matchup: you have to be sure there isn’t another person willing to work for less, or your efforts are undermined.

    5) A TAship (or being a graduate student) is not a career. All this talk about guaranteed appointments for 6 years is nonsense. A good TA will get good (repeated) job offers for as long as he/she remains a grad student and as long as he/she does a good job. Nepotism and cronyism are not rampant at UBC. I consider them to be a fair employer in that regard.

    6) TAs should be given cost-of-living adjusted to the local inflation rates. The UBC is being stubborn here. However, faculty do not even get cost of living increases automatically (let alone cost of housing, which makes it impossible to start a family), it has to be bargained.

    7) Tuition is an entirely separate issue from TA pay. Not all students are TAs; some students choose to not TA. The 4year PhD award that was recently withdrawn did not require students to perform any TA duties; TAships were added on top of the award. The award was a nice idea, but it was unsustainable from the start as it as introduced without a funds source to sustain it.

    8) When I left UofT, I was paying $6000/year in tuition fees, every year, no matter how far in to my Master’s or PhD, no matter whether I took any courses or not. How much do you pay at UBC after taking courses? I believe it is a reduced rate. Consider yourselves lucky.

    Posted by Former UofT TA | April 9, 2012, 10:27 am
  85. @ Former UofT TA | Let me disagree with many of your points.
    1) TAship are both an award AND a job. So it is guided by both academic and labor relationships. Some people only CAN RELY on TAship for making their living because UBC doesn’t give you guaranteed funding.
    2) Some people don’t have any other option than to work as TAs; it’s not only a matter of choice but of necessity too.
    3) “TAs should be thankful they are well paid” compared to what? To other TAs in BC, other people working under the minimum wage? I agree that TAs should “not hold the UBC hostage as you should have other choices of employers.” But what happen when TAships are your only source of income? Which other choices international students would have if they can ONLY work on campus?
    4) You want people that only rely on TAships to stop accepting their main source of income? Doesn’t sound reasonable to me.
    5) No one wants to make TAship as their career! People wants to finish their degrees as fast as possible and one of the best ways is to have some income after your 4th year, so when you need to seat and finish your dissertation you don’t have to work many jobs, be a sessional, etc. to pay your tuitions and the rest of your living expenses.
    6) Agreed. TAs should get a cost-of-living clause.
    7) Tuitions and TA paid are two separate things, agreed. But when your only source of income is a TAship and you also have to pay tuitions in fact you are being paid less. I guess what we need is to have some sort of “Dissertation low tuition rate” in which we will pay maybe one installment instead of three (something like $1400) per year.
    8) My tuition as an international PhD student is currently $7488. And you pay until your dissertation has been accepted at FOGs after your dissertation defense and the last corrections you were asked to make are done.

    Posted by Esteban | April 9, 2012, 2:10 pm
  86. Although I continue to advocate that tuition and TA fees are separate issues, it is likely the union will continue to argue about their linkage as the “overall cost of education”.

    Overall, after deducting TAships from tuition, UofT is still more expensive than UBC, which in turn is much more expensive than McGill. The fees in Quebec are poised to be raised sharply in the coming years.

    The only way UofT TAs come out ahead of UBC TAs financially is if they TA more than 200hrs/year (Master’s for 2 years) or 300hrs/year (PhD for 5 years).


    Some facts and details about tuition rates and TAships from UofT, UBC, and McGill.

    UofT Tuition: $6885/year.
    UBC Tution: $4264 for years 1,2 (or 3 for PhD), $1948 for years 3+ (4+ for Phd).
    McGill Tuition: $2,168/year (special case for out-of-province 1st year Master’s: $5858.10)

    UofT TAship: $41.23/hr (starting May 2012)
    UBC TAship: $29.39/hr (PhD), $28.42/hr (Masters)
    McGill TAship: $25.74/hr

    For a 2-year Masters:
    UofT tuition: $13,770
    UBC tuition: $8,528
    cost difference: $5,242
    result: UBC is cheaper if you want to TA less than 409hrs in total. After 409hrs of total TAship, UofT becomes cheaper than UBC. (based on a pay difference of $12.81/hr)

    For a 5-year PhD:
    UofT tuition: $34,425
    UBC tuition: $16,688
    cost difference: $17,737
    result: UBC is cheaper if you want to TA less than 1,498 hrs in total. After 1,498 hrs of total TAship, UofT becomes cheaper than UBC (based on a pay difference of $11.84/hr).
    McGill tuition: $10,838.50
    cost difference (from UBC): $5,849.50
    result: McGill is cheaper if you want to TA less than 1,602 hrs in total. After 1,602 hrs, UBC becomes cheaper (based on a pay difference of $3.65/hr).

    Note: Tuition increases have been kept out of these calculations. UofT tuition is allowed to rise either 4% or 5% per year, while BC is limited to 2% and Quebec is greatly increasing fees by over 10%:



    UBC TAships:

    UBC Tuition:

    UofT TAships:

    UofT Tuition:

    For someone who wants to do the math:

    McGill TAships:

    McGill Tuition:

    Posted by FORMER UofT TA | April 9, 2012, 3:08 pm
  87. My name is Matt and I’m a graduate student and TA @ UBC. After speaking with a number of TAs on campus, I’d like to present some considerations for all sides. I would also like to propose a modified course of action by the union.

    Payment demands from CUPE2278 are based on the collective agreement bargaining taking place for TAs at University of Toronto, on the basis that these are high-level academically comparable institutions, and therefore rates of pay should be comparable. Dr. Klonsky implies that CUPE2278 has misled TAs by not providing similar information about other universities, including BC institutions. First, I want to clarify that the 2278 locale is made up of volunteer teaching assistants who are elected by union members. His implication that union executives have acted in a way which intentionally misleads the TAs they represent is both offensive and ridiculous.

    That being said, I feel that the approach presented by both sides (comparison to University of Toronto vs. comparison to other institutions) yields incomplete information and obscures facts needed by members to make informed voting decisions. I assert this as both approaches fail to consider economic parameters (eg: cost of living and tuition fees) for students at the respective institutions.

    A true fair living wage assessment should be based on economic parameters which describe the cost of living for a graduate student TA at a given institution, specifically moderate standard of living (MSL) indices combined with tuition fees. The use of the MSL + tuition fees to determine cost of living has been validated by studies, and this formula is in use by provincial and federal student loan granting agencies and non-profit student aid relief programs.
    Taking University of Toronto as an example (as done by CUPE2278), we find that cost of living for TAs at UofT is actually higher than TAs at UBC. Using parameters such as Human Resources Development Canada’s Moderate Standard of Living Index (ON: $21,940 vs. BC: $21,029) and graduate student tuition fees (UofT: $8,041 vs UBC: $5,387; 2011-2012 data), we find that cost of living is $29,981 vs. $26,416 for TAs at UBC and UofT respectively, a difference in excess of $3,000.

    I disagree with Dr. Kolinsky’s questioning of the strength of strike mandate from CUPE2278 members. It is important to acknowledge the legal definition of a strike mandate as put forward by BC Labour Law is 50 + 1%. However, I believe that this vote is in fact hampered by low voter turnout arising not from the typical voter apathy, but rather, from the observation that CUPE2278 failed in its obligation to adequately inform its members that a strike vote was about to take place. On this basis, not only does CUPE2278 not have a clear mandate to strike, they are essentially participating in taxation without representation.

    I first heard about the strike when the course instructor I work for informed his undergraduate students that marking disruptions might occur as the strike vote had happened. Nearly every TA I’ve spoken with has relayed a similar story, stating that they did not receive e-mail communication from CUPE2278 about the strike vote. Some only voted because they happened to walk through the SUB on the day of the vote.

    Despite being fully aware of their inability to circulate strike vote information to TAs via e-mail (acknowledged on their blog, Mar 23, 2012), they made no effort to take additional steps to adequately inform TAs of the vote. For example, e-mail addresses for graduate departmental secretaries are publicly available, are routinely used for mass distribution of information to graduate students, and could have been utilized for this purpose – something that the union must have been aware of, given that they are graduate students themselves. Furthermore, although the union posted strike vote notices around campus, they were hard to see (small black text on white paper stabled to bulletin boards covered with other materials). In addition, there are hundreds of graduate students who are based off campus (myself included), especially in health sciences related programs, who had neither the opportunity to see the postings or to be on campus the day of the strike vote.

    Dr. Kolinsky has asserted that the union has little room for wage negation given the current Net-Zero mandate, while the union has stated that “Under a “Cooperative Gains” mandate, UBC can, in fact, offer financial improvements to our collective agreement”. Unfortunately, it appears as though CUPE 2278 misunderstands the nature of the Cooperative Gains Mandate.

    According to the BC Ministry of Finance, the definition of the Cooperative Gains Mandate is: “… provides public sector employers with the ability to negotiate modest wage increases through productivity gains or through savings within existing budgets, resulting in actual increases in compensation”. As an example from current events, on Mar 21 the BC Government Employee’s Union proposed that BC liquor stores be allowed to open on Sundays. This would increase projected liquor-sales revenue by $130-million, thereby allowing BCGEU to negotiate $130-million worth of wage increases.

    If CUPE2278 is demanding increased wages under this mandate, one of two things must occur: (i) UBC TA’s would need to increase profit generation by the university, or (ii) UBC would need to cut wages to another group of employees in order to raise wages for TAs, thereby maintaining their Net-Zero mandate. I can’t think of a way in which the first option could be realistically achieved, while the second option is undesirable as it unfairly undermine the wage equity of other employee groups on campus.


    I) In support of the principle of fair and equitable wages for union members, I propose that CUPE 2278 re-evaluate their wage demands using fair, transparent, and validated formulas with established precedent, perhaps by comparing TA salaries relative to TA cost of living across multiple institutions), and acknowledge that this may require them to adjust their wage demands upwards or downwards as necessary.

    II) In support of right to strike by organized labour, I propose that a NEW strike vote be called after the union takes an active role to ensure that union members are 1) informed of the vote, 2) informed about the realistic limitations to wage negotiations given the provisions discussed above, and 3) provided with an opportunity to participate in the vote off campus. UBC has an established online voting system that could be used for this purpose.

    III) In support of the principle of solidarity between union members, I ask that the union consider the right to a fair education by future graduate students (who will also be the TAs of the future). I propose that TAs working in 4th year university courses be excluded from any strike action. Timely release of final grades is essential for the ability of 4th year students to pursue graduate (or professional) program studies, as many of these programs have firm deadlines for submission of final grades. Any job action at this time of year (end of term) will likely translate into disruptions in final report marking and exam invigilation, delaying the release of marks for these students.

    I hope that all sides continue to participate in polite and open discourse worthy of an academic institution.

    Personal background and conflict of interest disclosure:

    Matt is a strong supporter of organized labour in Canada, has been actively involved with the NDP party at both provincial and federal events since 1999, was formerly a paid employee of the Manitoba NDP for 5 years, and holds memberships with the BC Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He has worked as a teaching assistant since 2009 and relies on this salary to pay his bills.



    http://www.fees.utoronto.ca/Assets/Student+Accounts+Digital+Assets/schedules/sgs+dom/11_12_sgs_domestic_fees_19.pdf – 2011-2012 Fee schedule for University of Toronto Graduate Students

    http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/learning/canada_student_loan/policies/nat/index.shtml – Human Resources Development Canada Moderate Standard of Living index.

    http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2009-2013/2012FIN0017-000351.htm – BC Ministry of Finance explanation of Cooperative Gains Mandate

    m.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/bcs-sunday-liquor-sales-proposal-shot-down/article2392563/?service=mobile – BCGEU use of Cooperative Gains in wage negotiation

    Posted by Matt | April 11, 2012, 9:23 am
  88. Has been a great discussion, but it looks like UBC has won this round:


    …Unless that is what the union has been planning all along? Mediation is non binding, so I would assume not. I think UBC took them by surprise with this one.

    Regardless, there will be no strikes till at least May. Since it makes very little sense to strike in May, that means September, which means another strike vote.

    As a side note on communication, this was decided yesterday, and updated on the UBC site today. 2278 has yet to inform their members, despite sending out an email today about healthcare cheques.

    Posted by Another TA | April 11, 2012, 10:44 pm
  89. Surely the union exec should have seen the request for mediation coming?

    Given all that has occurred over the last month or so, the only conclusion that I can draw is that the union exec are borderline incompetent.

    Posted by UBC TA | April 12, 2012, 1:48 pm
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