TSSU Wins at RA Arbitration!

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Sending out congratulations and admiration to TSSU on their victory for SFU RAs! See the communique from the TSSU contract committee for details on this powerful blow for worker justice.


Dear TSSU members,

You may have heard that SFU has refused to include approximately 800 research assistants (RAs) in our Union, violating its voluntary recognition agreement with TSSU. We took them to arbitration, and WON! Thanks to the collective efforts of all of you and the efforts of the TSSU advocacy branch and legal team, RAs at SFU are now one step closer to having their first collective agreement with SFU. None of this would have been possible without the collective power of the TSSU membership. RESEARCH IS WORK! ✊

Yesterday afternoon, over 1000 days after SFU agreed to voluntarily recognize TSSU as the union for Research Assistants and Grant Employees (RAs), the arbitrator issued a decision. This binding ruling resolves the ongoing dispute about whether this recognition includes 800 RAs primarily in the Sciences and Applied Sciences who are paid as scholarship/stipend from a grant. The entire ruling is attached; the analysis and decision starts on page 112. The arbitrator has decided that:

  • most RAs paid compensation from grants as scholarship/stipend are included in the agreement, with the narrow exception of “true scholarship” individuals who do not perform duties towards their Principal Investigators’ (PIs) research;
  • SFU breached all consequential clauses of the agreement including clauses 1, 2, 4, 8 and the Appendix; and
  • SFU owes TSSU damages.

In the words of the arbitrator:
“[SFU’s] approach was not in the spirit, intention or words of the agreement.” [paragraph 439];
“Often [TSSU] was treated as an interloper rather than a collaborator.” [paragraph 440];
“The behaviour is not a credit to SFU as an institution or its organizational capability to act in a manner on which contracting parties can rely with confidence.” [paragraph 441]; and
“[…]  it is common sense that in July 2022 the SFU research enterprise did not pay almost 800 graduate students over $250,000 a week for over 17,000 hours commitment with no responsibilities and no performance of assigned duties.” [paragraph 445].

This is a monumental victory for research assistants not just at SFU, but across the country. We have long known that research is work, but for decades we have been told by those with power that graduate student RAs merely “think or meander” and thus produce nothing of value to PIs or the institution. The collective power of RAs through the 2019 organizing drive won a “sea change” in SFU’s treatment through the voluntary recognition agreement, and now the arbitrator has confirmed this change must occur.

The ruling takes away SFU’s last defense for their refusal to bargain about RAs, and the next step is for an immediate return to the bargaining table as soon as next week. Our goal remains as always, a fair deal for all RAs that respects their critical contributions to research at SFU. Subsequently, the determination of the “true scholarship” situations and the determination of the quantity of damages will need to occur. The arbitrator has ordered those determinations to be completed by the end of 2022.

In the final hours of the arbitration hearing during closing oral argument SFU chose to defame our staff person. Contrary to their witnesses’ own testimony, they alleged there was no agreement made regarding these RAs and instead alleged that TSSU Member Representative Dr. Derek Sahota undertook a years-long effort to manipulate both RAs and SFU because “his prestige is at stake.” While the ruling is itself a repudiation of SFU’s allegations, there must be accountability for all those involved in making such baseless allegations. The Contract Committee stands in solidarity with Dr. Sahota and in demanding redress and accountability from SFU.

This decision is still very fresh and more information will follow at our General Membership Meeting on September 22, 4:30pm-6:30pm (location TBD on Burnaby campus) and through future email communications. Stewards please watch your email for more information to come tomorrow.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions, we will aim to respond as soon as possible.

In Solidarity,
Your TSSU Contract Committee