Below the newsletter, you’ll find additional, more detailed information regarding TA overwork, harassment, discrimination, and grievances.
At the June 2022 Board of Governor’s meeting, myself and other board members raised questions about the increase of approximately 1000 additional first year students who have been accepted for Fall 2022. The administration explained that this increase in students was due to trying to bounce back from enrolments that dropped off during the pandemic. These measures (such as sending out offers earlier in the year to compete with other universities and sending out “alternative offers” to a related program if the students’ program of choice was full) were more effective than anticipated, which lead to a larger increase than was initially planned for. It should also be noted that two factors may lead this “bulge” of students to be somewhat less impactful in the fall than it might seem at first glance: first, there is typically some “melt” over the summer as students change their minds and choose not to attend after all, and this may be increased this year by the fact that the U of G can only provide residence spots for approximately 92% of the incoming students who requested it. Secondly, many students have been taking less than a full course load over the last two years, and this is expected to continue into at least the fall semester, so there will not be the same impact on class sizes as there would be if all of those new students were taking a full course load.
I asked about their plans for addressing the increased need for TA support, particularly in first year classes, and how they intend to prevent additional burnout of graduate students in the process. Their current plans are: To provide additional funding for needed TA positions (and additional sections where needed); each department has been asked to determine how many more positions will be needed to address the increased numbers in their individual programs. They also recognized that some departments are already “at capacity” (their graduate students are already taking on as many positions as they have time/energy for, so there may not be many grad students in those departments willing to take on new positions that are posted); in these cases they intend to reach out and offer these additional positions to graduate students in related departments who do not typically get the opportunity to take on TA positions (for example OAC students who could reasonably TA for first year courses in CBS); this may not be a perfect system, but it could result in additional employment opportunities for graduate students in these other units. They also indicated a wiliness to hire non-grad student staff to fill any roles that go unfilled by graduate students, such as to teach lab courses; so at least this burden will not fall completely on graduate students.
Personally, I was generally impressed by how much they had clearly already thought about these issues, and overall optimistic about the ways in which the administration intends to deal with this situation. I’m sure it will not be perfect and there will certainly be some issues that arise along the way, but it is clear that the administration is trying to lessen the negative impacts of this situation and is willing to think creatively to do so.
Discrimination and harassment are a major concern for our Union. Every year we seem to be helping another member through a situation of discrimination and/or harassment. If you ever feel like you are in a situation where you feel harassed or discriminated against, please feel free to reach out to your union. Your collective agreement affords you a lot of protections when it comes to discrimination and harassment.
Article 5 of your collective agreement states that the University shall maintain and promote a work environment in which employees remain free from harassment, intimidation and any threats. These can be explicit or implied. Personal conduct or behaviour also constitutes harassment, whether or not it is based on Code prohibited grounds, when it creates an intimidating, demeaning or hostile working environment.
Article 16 further states that the University will have a zero-tolerance policy toward violence in the workplace. Workplace violence is defined as any incident in which an employee is threatened, coerced, abused or sustains physical, emotional, or psychological harm or injury in, at, or related to the workplace. Discrimination and harassment can be seen as a form of workplace violence if it causes emotional or psychological harm.
All you need is a feeling that you have been discriminated against or harassed. Do not worry about legal definitions. Contact our Labour Relations Coordinator, Jeff Cornelissen (firstname.lastname@example.org) immediately if you believe that you have experienced discrimination or harassment. Your union can provide you with options around how to address the situation.
We know many of you may be scared of bringing issues forward due to many different reasons. If you have a question or issue, please contact our Labour Relations Coordinator, Jeff Cornelissen (email@example.com) for assistance. By contacting Jeff, you will simply explain what the issue is and have a conversation around the issue. Jeff will provide insight into different ways the issue can be resolved. This does not always mean a formal grievance.
There are many ways issues can be resolved. We may help guide you to the appropriate person to talk to in order to resolve the issue. The union may recommend that the issue be brought up with someone from Faculty and Staff Relations (FASR). The union can do that through requesting a meeting with FASR, or by bringing up the issue during a Labour-Management Committee meeting (LMC). A LMC is a meeting between union officers and University management representatives to discuss and try to settle any issues at the workplace. The LMC meets monthly.
If you agree to bring the issue up informally with FASR, whether that be at a LMC or a meeting just to discuss the issue, that essentially means we are bringing the issue to the University’s attention in the hopes that it will be addressed. Often bringing the issue up informally does require the specifics, sometimes we have brought the issue up without providing names at the request of the person. In your conversation with Jeff, we can discuss how the union will present the information so you are comfortable with it. The Union is able to settle the vast majority of issues at the informal stage. Every resolution will be specific to the situation.
Sometimes the informal process is not appropriate to the situation, or the informal process does not lead to an appropriate remedy. The next step would be to file a grievance. We will only file an individual or group grievance with the permission of the person or people involved. An individual grievance is when the issue is affecting one person, a group grievance is when it affects more than one person and more than one person is willing to file the grievance. The third type of grievance is a policy grievance. A policy grievance is filed when the issue may not directly affect a specific person, but the Union believes that there is a violation in interpretation of the collective agreement. This may include issues like the creation of teaching positions outside of our union which may impact the job security of our members.
When the union files a grievance, a meeting must be held between the union and management. The union will present the grievance and the grievor rarely talks during those meetings. The University may have questions for the grievor at which point the grievor can answer. The University will have to give a written response to the grievance following that meeting, either agreeing with the grievance or denying it. If the grievance is denied, the union will decide whether to send the grievance to arbitration or not.
Arbitration is a process where both the union and management present their cases to a neutral third party who is trained in the area of labour relations. That person then makes a written decision which is binding on both parties. From any point of filing the grievance to the start of arbitration the University and the Union may negotiate a settlement. Often, we are successful at negotiating good settlements with the University prior to arbitration. The majority of grievances are settled through negotiated settlements. Every settlement will be specific to the circumstance. Very few grievances make it to arbitration.
In conclusion, we encourage you to bring issues forward to us. We need to know what is happening in the workplace so that we may be able to do something about it. We will plan with you the best way to address the situation. We want to ensure we are representing you the best way possible, and that includes coming up with a plan you are comfortable with. Most issues can be resolved informally. If yours cannot, then we can discuss and agree upon the best way forward.