St-Pierre, Davidson and Chakraborty: Calling for a fair deal for TAs across campus

Graduate teaching assistants (TAs) are currently negotiating a new contract with the university. Life is extraordinarily precarious for many graduate students, making it difficult to be both an effective educator and a good student. We seek a fair deal in exchange for our many contributions to Western’s success.

Without us, who would run student labs and tutorials or grade essays and exams?

The student cost of living is approximately $14,000, but doctoral students are assured funding of only $12,000 plus tuition, and master’s degree students have no guaranteed minimum at all. Our previous contract included just a 1 per cent annual wage increase, which has not kept pace with inflation, and our net incomes are well below the poverty line.

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) 610, the TA union, maintains a food bank, an emergency financial assistance program and a supplementary health plan for its members. The use of these benefits has risen dramatically and unsustainably in recent years.

TAs are integral to the mission of the university and are the main point of contact for many undergraduate students. Surely we deserve a living wage.

International students pay double the tuition of domestic students, and if they go beyond their funding period, must pay upwards of $18,000 in fees out-of-pocket. With new immigration laws, they are unable to obtain permanent residency before completing their studies and are stuck in the difficult position of taking on extreme costs.

The university is increasing its efforts to recruit international students; is this in order to strengthen and diversify our community, or is it just a cynical cash grab?

A typical student takes five and a half years to complete a PhD in Canada. With only four years of funding, doctoral students must often work additional jobs, frequently as poorly paid adjunct instructors. Without fifth-year funding, many students are left in a state of uncertainty while finishing their degree, and are forced to take on significant debt, or drop out of their studies. Ultimately, food and shelter trump education.

TAs suffer from the same illnesses as everyone else. However, due to a lack of extended health-care funding, many cannot afford to take time off and are forced to delay or forego treatment altogether. Sickness affects the quality of our teaching and research. Why can’t the university offer adequate extended health benefits?

Some TAs have children, which is a full-time job in and of itself. As child-care costs escalate, it becomes increasingly difficult for these TAs to be effective while trying to raise a family with limited resources. We want the university to provide us with better parental benefits.

The university always claims to be in financial straits, yet according to the Sunshine List, it has 78 employees making more than $200,000 per year. We expect to see this type of inequality in the private sector, but not at publicly funded institutions ostensibly committed to education as a public good. Our senior administrators are extraordinarily well compensated in salary: Amit Chakma, President, $483,000; Janice Deakin, Provost, $343,000; Kelly Cole, VP (External), $303,000; Gitta Kulczycki, VP (Resources & Operations), $294,000; John Capone, VP (Research), $288,000; Ruban Chelladurai, AVP (Institutional Planning, Budgeting & IT), $272,000; Lynn Logan, AVP (Finance & Facilities), $242,000; and Jane O’Brien, AVP (Human Resources), $231,000.  Together these eight salaries are equivalent to those of more than 200 doctoral students combined.

It must be great not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from or how you will pay rent so that you can concentrate on your work.

Come on, Western, be an extraordinary employer.

Paul St-Pierre, PhD candidate in Library & Information Science, and Cliff Davidson, a PhD candidate in Sociology, are members of the PSAC 610 Mobilizing Committee. Indranil Chakraborty, a PhD candidate in Media Studies, is President of PSAC 610.