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Talks break down again, but Western TAs say a deal is within reach

The union representing about 2,000 striking graduate teaching assistants at Western University said the two sides aren't far apart on the major issues, despite talks breaking off on Sunday. 

Latest offer includes wage increases of 2.5% to 3% over 4-year deal

PSAC represents about 2,000 striking teaching assistants at Western University.
PSAC represents about 2,000 striking teaching assistants at Western University. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The union representing about 2,000 striking graduate teaching assistants at Western University said the two sides aren't far apart on the major issues, despite talks breaking off on Sunday. 

The teaching assistants have been on strike since April 11.  

On Sunday, the university and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Local 610 were at the table but talks broke down. 

Local 610 president Pardis Baha said the major outstanding sticking point is the so-called "clawback" language. 

She said clawbacks would allow the university to pay GTAs less for their hourly work if they earn money as part of their teaching assistant work from another source.

"It's so that our members don't see a reduction of hours or a reduction of funding as a result," said Baha. 

She said the two sides could easily close the gap between them if they return to the bargaining table. 

"We were very close to a deal last night and we invited Western to the table today and they declined our offer," she said. "We're available to come back to the table all week." 

In a statement by provost and vice-president (Academic) Florentine Strzelczyk, the university said PSAC rejected the university's latest offer and "walked away from the table for a third time."

The statement goes on to say the university is open to returning to the table "at any time."

PSAC president Pardis Baha said the university and the union aren’t far apart on thr major issues
PSAC Local 610 president Pardis Baha said the university and the union aren’t far apart on the major issues (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Teaching assistants help university professors with duties such as marking assignments, tutoring students and supervising exams. 

On their last contract, they were paid $47.22 an hour but with a weekly cap of 10 hours a week. 

Western's statement said their most recent offer included hourly wages of: 

  • January 1, 2024 - 3 per cent - $48.64 an hour.
  • September 2024 - 3 per cent  - $50.10 an hour.
  • September 2025 - 2.5 per cent - $51.35 an hour.
  • September 2026 - 2.0 per cent - $52.38 an hour.

The university also said its offer includes a lump sum payment of $800, plus a $400 ratification bonus payable in May 2024 to each TA employed in the 2023/2024 fall or winter terms.

"The university is doing all that it can to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable, and we remain committed to achieving a mutually agreeable contract," the statement said. 

The university said the "enhanced offer" they put forward would make Western teaching assistants "among the highest hourly-paid graduate teaching assistants in the province."

Baha said taken on its own, the proposed hourly wage increases make it look like teaching assistants are making more than they actually are at a time when rent and other costs are increasing. 

"When you look at the maximum number of hours any of our members can work in a year at 10 hours a week, the income is around $14,000 a year ... which puts them below the poverty line," she said.

Students face some disruptions

Western University student Sarah Tennant said the strike has caused some minor disruptions in getting grades and exam scheduling.
Western University student Sarah Tennant said the strike has caused some minor disruptions in getting grades and exam scheduling. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News )

Health science student Sarah Tennant said the strike has caused some minor disruptions for exams and grading.

"Our professors have been pretty open with the communication about what's going on and keeping everyone informed," she said. "There's definitely been delays in grading, a lot of us haven't got our grades back from when we were supposed to and now we're just awaiting final grades or big assignment grades." 

Tennant said in some cases, the start times of exams have been rescheduled. 

Other students who spoke to CBC News, including Alan Zhang said they've not noticed any issues related to the strike. 

"I support the TAs," he said. "The school should give them a living wage."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.