Teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants-in-lieu (RAs) at McMaster University delivered a historically high strike vote last week, demonstrating that they are united in their conviction that the best post-secondary education is one supported by good jobs for the 2500-plus student-academic workers on campus.

McMaster TAs and RAs, represented by Local 3906 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), voted 90% in favour of giving their negotiating team a strike mandate if a deal for a new collective agreement cannot be reached with the university. Bargaining began in August but there has been little measurable progress since then on issues of importance to the membership, says the union.

“Academic workers at McMaster are demanding better because they know that a high-quality university education depends on a stable, secure workforce to support students,” said Chris Fairweather, president of CUPE 3906. “The quality of students’ education and university experience is threatened when workers like TAs and RAs – nearly all of whom are students themselves and who pay tuition to McMaster – have limited job security and earn inadequate wages that are effectively cut when the university hikes tuition.”

Fairweather said that the resounding strike vote by McMaster TAs and RAs showed that “the status quo is no longer sustainable for our members, who are facing once-in-a-generation inflation and rising housing costs in Hamilton.”

TAs’ and RAs’ wages and funding packages have remained stagnant, leaving student workers struggling to support themselves for the duration of their studies.

Academic workers are demanding that McMaster table a fair and reasonable offer to protect students from tuition increases; address their concerns about the rising cost of living in Hamilton and lack of work opportunities for graduate students; and end the inequitable wages between undergraduate and graduate TAs.

“The union’s proposals are reasonable and well within McMaster’s means; they also exist at many other comparable universities in Ontario,” said Fairweather.

He added in conclusion: “With this strike vote, our members are overwhelmingly clear: we will not accept a contract that shortchanges both students and workers, that offers only more of the same, and that fails to recognize the growing challenges and realities we face in simply getting by. We demand better of McMaster.”