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Saskatoon: Graduate students at the University of Saskatchewan are not only working on their degrees this fall, theyre working on organizing a union for teaching assistants (TAs).

According to graduate student Kelly Bronson, co-chair of the union organizing committee, there are many reasons teaching assistants want to join CUPE the union that represents almost 20,000 TAs across the country.

Teaching assistants at the U of S make only half of the hourly wage of a unionized TA in Canada, she states, so wages are important. But its not the primary motivation for signing union cards, she says.

We are finding that the main reason TAs want to join CUPE is to have a voice that carries weight with the university administration.

Teaching assistants also want a collective agreement to ensure that everyone doing the same work receives equal treatment, she states, adding thats not what happens now.

Close to one-third of graduate students on campus are international students who are restricted from working off-campus, Bronson states. Often teaching assistantships are their only source of funding putting them in a vulnerable position.

Fears about losing their teaching jobs, combined with concerns about losing student visas make it difficult for these graduate students to assert their rights.

Bronson says joining CUPE will give both gradate and undergraduate students employed as TAs a stable work environment. It will give us the opportunity to raise common concerns with the employer, such as hours of work, tuition fees and wages.

Bronson says the collective agreements that CUPE teaching assistants have negotiated at York and the University of Victoria show what graduate students at the U of S could achieve by joining the union.

The Graduate Students Association, the Faculty Association and the Sessional Lecturers at the U of S endorse the CUPE organizing drive, which began in late August.

Teaching assistants at the U of S are the only major group of workers at the U of S without union representation.

CUPE already represents sessional lecturers and support staff at the University of Saskatchewan.

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For more information contact:
Kelly Bronson at ksb823@mail.usask.ca
or 221-5502.

Or, visit the website at http://www.uofsta.cupe.ca