Six week­­s in, 241 TAs yet to be paid

TA union rep Robert Sonin says TA’s delayed paycheques are unacceptable. Photo Christopher Curtis

Paying February’s rent was tough for 241 of Concordia’s Teaching and Research Assistants as snarled paperwork has delayed their first paycheques. Despite more than a month on the job the money will only be mailed out later this week.

On Feb. 3, representatives from the union of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia sat down with the university to demand answers.

“They haven’t been paid in a month, so they will be six weeks into work before they first get paid,” said Robert Sonin, TRAC’s VP Bargaining. “The contracts had to go through the Dean of Arts and Science and someone at the Dean’s office who needed to sign off on the contracts didn’t sign them in time.

“Six weeks is a long time to go, especially when you need to pay rent.”

The first pay for these TAs and RAs will be Friday.

“This is the first semester that we are implementing the contract with TRAC, there were some growing pains,” said Chris Mota, the university’s spokesperson. “Having a student delayed with their pay is something we want to avoid in the best of times.”

The contract for employing a student assistant has to go through several bureaucratic levels at the university. Each TA and RA contract has to be signed by the teacher who hired them, the chair of the department and a faculty representative before it could be sent to the university’s payroll department.

“In some cases, there were delays. It didn’t move as quickly as everyone would have liked,” said Mota.
Under the terms of the collective agreement with TRAC, signed only last semester, every student hired as an assistant has to take out a union membership or they need to renew it.

“They are literally only members of TRAC when they are under contract here,” said Mota.

“In a number of cases, contracts were making it to the Dean’s office or as far as payroll without proof of TRAC membership.”

“All documentation required was not there.”

Despite the problem unraveling within Concordia’s administrative bureaucracy, the problem was not acknowledged until TRAC brought it to the university.

“When we met with people from HR and academic representatives, the HR representative was appalled that this could have happened and they said that they would tell the Dean’s office why it’­­­­s important to act in a timely matter,” said Sonin.

According to Mota, the representative from human resources did have an impact.

“As soon as the problem became evident, HR said ‘Just send the contracts, forget the supporting materials.’ They want to get the TAs paid as soon as possible. For those contracts that don’t have the supporting materials we will get them later,” Mota said.

The problem with payment is the first crisis to hit TRAC, as the union was only established last year. According to Sonin, TRAC has yet to receive its first dues from the university, leaving it with little money.
“TRAC is filing a grievance, this will be our first official grievance. We find it unacceptable, there is no good reason for the delay,” said Sonin.

Although the union is not sure what corrective action to seek, it will establish an employee fund to help with similar situations in the future.

“We thought of establishing a fund for urgent cases, but we don’t have the money to meet a payroll of 200 people,” said Sonin. “We will be setting aside a few thousand dollars for an emergency fund.”

—with files from Christopher Curtis

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.