Members of Nova Scotia’s largest university union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3912 (CUPE 3912), will strike on Oct. 19 after negotiations fell through between Dalhousie University’s negotiators and the union. But some teaching assistants and part-time academics, mostly at the University of King’s College, will remain on the job.
Emma Oliver, a TA at King’s, was surprised to learn she won’t be among those striking.
“It was purely coincidental,” Oliver said. She recently graduated from King’s and is now a TA for the history of science and technology, a first-year course. She discovered King’s wasn’t involved with CUPE 3912 suddenly and unexpectedly.
In fact, no teaching assistants, markers or demonstrators at King’s are in any union.
King’s TA caught off-guard learning TAs not represented
“I got in contact with my boss because I just kind of assumed that I was part of that union. I was like, ‘Hey, so I’m assuming if they go on strike, I go on strike too. I’m assuming I’m going to have students asking questions. Like, what happens?’” Oliver recalled.
Her manager, the professor for the class, had to check with his superior to find out about union representation. He later informed Oliver she is not represented by CUPE 3912 or any other union.
King’s has 10 classes with teaching assistants, totalling 15 TAs. Sarah Clift, the vice-president of King’s, confirmed there is no standard body representing the school’s TAs, markers or demonstrators.
King’s is affiliated with Dal, but not all of its resources are shared. Many students even take classes at both institutions. One thing they don’t share is a union for their teaching assistants, markers and demonstrators.
Dal teaching assistants, markers and demonstrators are represented by CUPE 3912. The union also represents Mount Saint Vincent University and Saint Mary’s University. In total, they represent more than 3,000 employees, 1,200 of them being at Dal.
Should King’s TAs unionize?
University of King’s College Teaching Association (UKCTA) represents nine Foundation Year Program tutors, who are full-time instructors at King’s. UKCTA President Hilary Ilkay sympathizes with King’s teaching assistants. She was a TA for both King’s and Dal courses previously.
UKCTA has just begun the process of bargaining with King’s. Ilkay encouraged King’s TAs, markers and demonstrators to join a union. She said UKCTA members have benefitted “1000 per cent” from having representation.
“The union has totally changed the conditions for contract faculty workers. It’s dictated the terms of our contract,” said Ilkay. “It’s given us some stability. Obviously, we’re contract workers, so we only have fixed-term contracts, but it gives us the leverage and the power to call out when things are not being adhered to in our [collective agreement].”
Oliver said the reaction she got to the idea of unionizing was mixed.
“Some of my friends were very supportive of the idea and some were like ‘I thought you liked having a job,’” she said. “I feel quite disconnected from some of the other departments and I think perhaps having kind of a unionized body of the TAs might help make the different departments feel less like remote islands from one another.”
Gabor Lukacs, CUPE 3912’s communications officer, said the union would consider accepting King’s faculty into their union.
“Our goal is to improve wages, working conditions, job security and other conditions of all workers. We will always help other workers where possible,” Lukacs said.
Clift stated that King’s would follow suit if CUPE 3912 wins their bargain for better conditions, but it would not go into effect immediately. King’s does not pay retroactively, so any wage changes wouldn’t come until next September.
Oliver emailed CUPE 3912 to inquire about King’s joining the union. As of print time, Oliver has yet to receive a response.