2500 Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs) who do the bulk of the frontline instruction, grading, student consultation and research support at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, are working to avoid a strike by negotiating with the university administration to address poverty wages, precarious work and outsourcing on campus.

The members of CUPE 3906 have been without a contract since August 31. They are returning to the bargaining table on December 1 and 2 with the assistance of a provincially appointed conciliator in the hopes of reaching a deal.

“We are striving to reach a deal that addresses the financial hardships experienced by our members,” said President of CUPE 3906, Sarah Wahab. “Our members are precarious workers and many of them live under conditions of poverty. The goal for this round of bargaining is to not only address these issues, but to begin the long process of remedying them.”

A recent strike vote taken by the membership has given the local the approval to take strike action if the two sides cannot reach an agreement on these core issues.

“We are looking forward to getting back to the table with a focused package built around the most important remaining issues as identified by our members,” Wahab said, “These are job security, working conditions, wages and outsourcing.” Students currently face unpredictable hiring practices that leave them unsure of their jobs every semester, workload issues based on the number of classes taught during a semester, reductions in the number of guaranteed hours and wage increases that get eaten away by inflation and the rising cost of tuition.

McMaster University was recently named a top employer in the Hamilton-Niagara Region, but academic workers fail to see things that way. “What we are fighting for – job security, working conditions, living wages – these should not be issues at a top employer,” Wahab added. “Our hope is that, through negotiations, we can get the university to earn this reputation.”