In a clear response to unionization efforts, the University of Waterloo (UW) has provided notice that it will raise wages for graduate student workers from $33.89 to $45 an hour. The move would bring wages for UW teaching assistants up to sector-wide norms, although they would still lag on total compensation relative to peers at other universities.
“UW has suddenly found money to give graduate students a massive pay raise after initially offering peanuts. Why did they do this? Clearly, organizing a union prompted the administration to prioritize graduate student labour,” said Craig Saunders, CUPE representative who has been involved in the union drive.
Graduate students have been organizing throughout the pandemic to establish a union for the few thousand graduate students employed on campus. UW is among the last major universities in Canada without a teaching assistant union - leaving them far behind their peers across the province.
The graduate student workers are mindful that having a union is essential to lock-in the compensation boost. Otherwise, the employer could simply increase tuition fees, claw back funding for graduate students or withhold wage increases in the future to balance out the pay raise.
Graduate student organizers are also seeking to gain contract language outlining better leave provision, benefits, supports, protection from tuition fee increases, anti-harassment language, redressal of issues identified by international students, and supports for Black and Indigenous students experiencing discrimination.
“Organizing works. We want to lock in this pay raise and continue our organizing efforts to address the other issues graduate students are experiencing, which can’t be solved through a simple wage increase. We won’t back down from seeking fair wages and decent working conditions,” Saunders said.