During the last round of bargaining, the TSSU fought for (and won!) some major improvements which have helped to enforce the priority system used to hire TAs and TMs. This has ultimately lead to an increase in the number of TA and TM postings being given to SFU graduate students, as well as a continued effort to make sure all departments are following the correct hiring protocol for TA and TM positions.
At SFU, there is a priority system in place to make sure graduate students have access to paid work through TA and TM positions. According to this system, qualified graduate students within the department have the highest priority, followed by graduate students from other departments, and then undergraduate students and external applicants. However, in 2001 the government began making cuts to education budgets, while ultimately affected graduate students as departments at SFU tried to find ways to reduce costs. Because graduate students hired as TAs or TMs receive a portion of their wages from scholarship support, departments across campus soon realized that they could reduce costs by 30% simply by hiring non-graduate students to fill these positions. This lead to less money and fewer jobs being given to graduate students on campus. Instead, graduate students were told to look elsewhere for jobs, while positions that they were very qualified for were given to non-graduate students.
Before the current contract was negotiated, the TSSU was aware that there were cases where the priority system was not being followed, but they were limited in their ability to follow up on these cases because the graduate students affected were required to come forward and have their name attached to the grievance. In the unique setting of academia, where graduate students are both students and employees, there were very few graduate students willing to come forward and formally file grievances out of fears that doing so would affect their student life.
With the new contract, the TSSU bargained for a way to file grievances without the individuals affected having to put their name on it, allowing many more grievances being filed. In addition, the TSSU has been able to identify departments which have been violating the priority system, and work towards making sure those issues are solved. This has lead to $12.2 million a year going towards graduate students in TA and TM positions since the new contract was put in place! This is an increase of $1.5 million a year (or 13%) compared to what graduate students were receiving prior to the current contract ($10.8 million a year). Overall, this is a huge win for the TSSU and we hope to see this trend continue, as the TSSU continues to work hard to make sure graduate students are given TA and TM jobs first.