SMU TA Update

Jonathan Mansvelt
CUPE 3912 Vice-President SMU TAs 

Happy March, everyone! I am honoured to have entered 2024 as the newly elected vice-president of the SMU Teaching Assistant (TA) Bargaining Unit. As an Honours Psychology student with eight TAships under my belt, I am excited to continue advocating for improved working conditions, especially given our crucial role in course delivery at SMU. It is hard to believe that less than a year ago, we were actively collecting membership cards to facilitate our unionization vote. In August, we received confirmation of our certification with a unanimous 100% of votes in favour of unionizing. As the academic year at SMU winds down, I am happy to report that the SMU TA Union continues to gain momentum. 

Since our official certification this past summer, CUPE 3912 has welcomed SMU TAs with open arms. Many TAs attended a celebratory BBQ dinner at the end of the fall term alongside CUPE 3912 executives, including President Cameron, VP SMU Part-Timers Erica, Communications Officer Tanya, and CUPE National Rep Mark. On December 15, a special membership meeting was held to elect interim executive members to represent our TA bargaining unit. Samantha Williams and I were elected into the steward and vice-president roles, respectively. Since then, Sam and I have been learning the ropes of union management from fellow CUPE 3912 executives as we continue working towards negotiating our first contract with SMU.

In January and Februrary, our priority was to collect information on what our members wanted to see in our first collective agreement. With support from our organizing committee, Sam and I created and circulated a comprehensive survey via email and social media. We also conducted a phone drive on January 21, reaching out to all members on our contact list. Many productive conversations were had, addressing topics such as union education, workplace issues faced by TAs, and suggestions for improvement. Given the tight-knit nature of SMU, we also engaged in several in-person conversations with TAs around campus. Early in February, we concluded data collection, and synthesized the anonymized results into a report, drawing from our surveying, phone drive conversations, and in-person discussions.

On February 26, we circulated an email with an infographic summarizing our report, outlining TAs’ principal demands. Key issues include increased wages and protection from exploitative working conditions. Throughout February and into March, our organizing committee will continue to draft our first collective agreement with help from President Cameron and CUPE National Rep Mark. We are incorporating language from the neighbouring Dalhousie TA contract and Canada-wide CUPE TA contracts. Our goal is to have a revised draft ready for bargaining by early April. Beyond bargaining, our first annual TA union meeting will be held mid-March. The agenda will include discussion of bargaining priorities, contract drafting updates, and executive election (vice-president, steward, and bargaining committee roles). We hope to see everyone there as we move forward to bargaining!

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