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'Unproductive day at the table': Negotiations between Western graduate TAs and university stall

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Flanked by major union players from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Federation of Labour, graduate-level teaching assistants (GTAs) at Western University remain on the picket line.

According to members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 610, negotiations with Western University stalled Friday over housing subsidy and increased wages.

“It was a very unproductive day at the table,” said PSAC Local 610 president Pardis Baha.

“Unfortunately, the employer (Western University) demonstrated once again that they're not here to make a deal and they're not here to hear our concerns. We've made our message clear. We are ready to return back to the bargaining table when they are ready to take our concern seriously and do something meaningful about them."

This weekend, The London District Labour Council brought in some heavy hitters to join in a “solidarity rally."

The picket lines included provincial representatives from the PSAC, the Ontario Federation of Labour, CUPE and a London NDP MPP.

“Everyone who is here today is saying to Western, ‘For the love of God, come back to the table and start to pay these people what they're worth,’” said CUPE president Fred Hahn. “We're talking here about people that do a big chunk of the instruction are forced to live in poverty. I don't think anyone thinks that's right."

CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn speaks to the crowd on the picket line at Western University in London, Ont. on Apr. 20, 2024. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)In a statement to CTV News, Western said "PSAC has rejeted Western's latest offer and walked away from the table for a third time."

proposed bargaining update has been posted to the Western website.

The school said it had offered an hourly wage rate of $48.16, retroactive to Jan. 1, and an hourly wage rate of $51.10 by year four of the collective agreement.

As previously reported, the hourly wage for GTA’s is $47.22 per hour.

PSAC said while that may seem like a great hourly wage, they are capped at a maximum of 10 hours per week.

According to the university, being a GTA is a part-time job as they are full-time students.

“What is difficult to appreciate about academic work is that they are paid seemingly a high amount of hours but they are only paid for the time they're standing in front of students in a classroom,” said Hahn. “There is no prep time. There is no marking time. That’s why, when you calculate their wage based on the hours they work, they're below the poverty line.”

In response, Western told CTV News, "This is not correct. GTA work can be many things beyond in-class support for students. GTAs prepare materials for class, do grading and hold office hours and they are compensated for this work.The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is also calling for Western University to get back to the table and give PSAC “what they want and deserve.”

Jackie Taylor, vice-president of the OFL, called this a common thread, referring to a recent seven-week strike by GTAs at York University.

“There's a huge problem here,” said Taylor. “The government officials need to step up and make sure that these people are paid properly. You can't go anywhere in this province and get affordable housing anywhere and they're doing very, very important work."

London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan was also there and referred to Western University as “a top research University." He wants them to resume talks fairly but added the government may need to make future changes.

“In Ontario, we spend the least amount. We're bottom of the barrel when it comes to university funding,” said Kernaghan. “We'd have to raise that about 43-and-a-half per cent just to be second last. So this is a problem across the board”.

Western University previously told CTV News it respects the GTAs' right to labour action.

"At the same time, we are committed to ensuring undergraduate students finish the term with no disruption to their academic activities and scheduled exams," said Western's provost and vice-president Florentine Strzelczyk.

Pardis Baha, president of PSAC Local 610, speaks on the picket line at Western University in London, Ont. on Apr. 20, 2024 (Brent Lale/CTV News London)Meanwhile, PSAC claims undergraduate students are the ones who are suffering as they are caught in the middle.

“They're suffering extra stress and our members are passionate about what we do,” said Baha.

“We would rather be at our exams, proctoring our exams, marking the exams and providing undergraduate students with feedback supporting the end of their semester rather than be on the picket lines. It’s a shame that the university has decided to put their energy towards hiring contract workers towards encouraging our members to strike break rather than coming to the table with a fair deal to get us back to work”.

The strike is now into its eleventh day, beginning on Apr. 11, 2024 at 12:01 a.m.

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