This article was written before CUPE 3912 and Dalhousie University reached an agreement on Nov. 8.
I know Dalhousie University’s administration is the target of the recent teaching assistant (TA) and part-time academic (PTA) strike. I support them. But it left me wondering, “What about the students?”
Now, I realize, it’s for the students.
The TAs of Dal are striking because of low wages offered by the university. According to a September report from the Dalhousie Gazette, Dal TAs are currently paid $24.41 an hour, while PTAs make an estimated stipend of $5,232. CUPE 3912 is looking for TA and PTA wages to increase by at least 17.5 per cent.
The Dal administration and TAs didn’t reach an agreement during last-minute negotiations in October, as Dal’s negotiators walked from the bargaining table. The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3912 (CUPE 3912), which represents Dal’s TAs, began its strike outside the Marion McCain Arts and Social Sciences building on Oct. 19.
The initial picket was chaotic, barring student access to the building. It didn’t make life easier for students and I don’t know if it shook up the Dal administration. What it did was leave me wondering whether there’s a better way for TAs to get what’s fair, without disrupting those supporting them.
Student struggles with the strike
Throughout the day on Oct. 19, I saw students struggling to enter the McCain building, myself included. I attempted to skip past them as they circled around the entrance, but one of the striking TAs told me to wait off to the side for three minutes until they were done.
As the strike went on, some students appeared aggravated. After being denied entry, I saw one try to sneak past strikers. A TA yelled in the student’s face with a megaphone, telling them to wait.
Alyssa Barrett, a second-year medical science student, had a different experience with the demonstrations.
“At first, it was very frustrating because I was running from my first class to my second and I didn’t have much time. I was trying to get in and they were like, ‘Oh, just wait for five minutes in solidarity for our demonstrations,’” Barrett said.
Barrett’s sympathy grew after speaking with strikers.
“They informed me of their wages and how they want the strike to be finished as soon as possible,” she said.
Getting Dal’s attention
Vincent Mousseau, a TA and PhD student in health sciences, is a picket captain for CUPE 3912. Mousseau picketed with a group outside the Kenneth C. Rowe Building on Oct. 19. His approach to informing students and faculty of the cause behind the picketing coincided with Barrett’s experience.
“Our goal is to disrupt to get the university’s attention,” Mousseau said. “We’re not targeting our students. We love our students. We are their TAs after all, that’s why we let students in every five minutes.”
Different student and prof experiences
Not everyone experienced disruptions by the strike.
Michael Halpin, an assistant professor in the department of sociology and social anthropology was surprised to hear about students experiencing disruptions.
“I didn’t see any picketing. My classes are doing exams this week and next and I haven’t heard any student complaints either,” Halpin said.
Iqbal Chowdhury, a part-time instructor with the department of sociology and social anthropology is aware of what’s going on. As his class is currently suspended due to the strike, he supports the TAs.
“The strike is needed for our survival. Unfortunately, the Dal authority didn’t look at it this way,” Chowdhury said. “It’s disgraceful for us, the members of CUPE 3912, that we had no other [choice] but to strike.”
Chowdhury empathizes with students but believes in the cause of the strike.
“It’s putting students in a stressful situation. The disruption of education might have a negative effect on their learning. [Dal] should respect us and our work,” Chowdhury said.
The strike is affecting us students and our learning. And after two weeks of strike activity, Dal authorities aren’t listening to strike demands or the needs of its students.
Putting things into perspective
During the first few days of the picketing, I was angry. I was frustrated with the yelling outside as the CUPE 3912 picketed. I was annoyed waiting five minutes at each door I tried to enter until the demonstrations were complete.
Now, I understand the TAs and PTAs don’t want to be out there. This is their only option to get the pay they deserve from Dal.
It’s aggravating, struggling to get to class on time. Rather than blame the strike for disregarding student schedules, I blame Dal for disregarding TAs and, in turn, students.
While the protests may occasionally cause stress for students trying to get to classes, it’s not right for Dal to stress out our TAs over affording basic needs.
The Dal administration needs to wake up and make things right.