Today, striking teaching and research assistants at McMaster University blocked the construction of a graduate residence owned by the university to shed light on wages failing to keep up with the cost of living.

“We’re on strike mainly because McMaster is still pushing little more than poverty wages on us,” said Chris Fairweather, President of CUPE 3906, representing about 2,800 teaching and research assistants at the university. “Meanwhile they think it makes sense to build a graduate residence none of us could afford on these incomes.”

The 10 Bay Graduate Residence in downtown Hamilton is scheduled to house more than 600 graduate students and their family members as early as the fall of 2023. The union, however, says that a survey sent to graduate students about it reveals that the rents will range between about $1,200/month and $1,800/month, out of reach for McMaster graduate students earning at most $11,687/year, or about $973/month.

“We need to keep calling attention to the university’s tactics of squeezing us between chronically low wages and astronomical rents,” said Shalen Prado, CUPE 3906 vice-president o. “And if we need to move one of our picket lines to this construction to do that, that’s what we’re willing to do. It’s time for the university to come back to the table with real improvements so we can do our work sustainably and without so much financial stress.”

The union representing the striking workers, CUPE 3906, proposal includes wage increases; extended funding and guaranteed work; protection against wages being lost to tuition increases in the form of reimbursements; and a closing of the pay gap between graduate and undergraduate assistants.