Engineering TAs Raise Concerns Over Pay

Teaching Assistants Unhappy Over Reduction in Hours Despite Same Workload

  • Students work on projects at a lab in the engineering department. Photo Brandon Johnston

As Concordia tries to turn the page on last year’s tense labour climate, teaching assistants in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science are raising concerns about reductions in the number of hours they’re paid to work, even as their workloads allegedly remain the same.

Nishant Walia said he’s making roughly $400 less this semester than in the two previous semesters he worked as a teaching assistant as a result of reductions in his working hours. He says his workload hasn’t decreased, however.

“This semester, I have the same workload,” he said. “Every single thing is the same.”

Before the teaching assistants have to demonstrate a lab experiment to students, a supervisor first goes over how to conduct the experiment with them. The teaching assistants are paid for the hour or so spent in the lab with their supervisors, as well as the time spent instructing students in the lab.

However, Walia and other teaching assistants say they must spend additional time preparing for labs outside of the hour provided for in their contracts. Walia also said he marks assignments outside the time included in his contract.

“I have to prepare for the lab, I have to correct the lab reports […] and upload the results,” he said. “And for that, I’m spending a lot of time—maybe I’m spending three hours, sometimes two—[and] they’re not giving me that money.”

When asked if he approached the professor teaching the course, Walia said he did not but that he brought his concerns forward to Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association.

Adam Szymanski, president of the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia union, says he’s spoken to dozens of engineering students who are affected by similar reductions in work hours.

“At the beginning of the school year, TRAC was contacted by a number of engineering TAs who told us that their contracts had [fewer] hours than in years previous,” Szymanski wrote in an email to The Link.

“What that means is that a TA teaching the same tutorial as before would now be doing the same job for less money.

“It appears that this is a concrete example of the budget shortfall being taken out on the backs of TAs,” he continued. “Even though we have small pay raises built into our hourly rate, those increases are annulled by [fewer] hours per contract, so the overall effect is one of a pay cut.”

Three other teaching assistants came forward to speak about their contracts, but requested they remain anonymous, worried that it might affect their chances of being hired by the university for the winter semester.

One of them said he has spent approximately nine more hours on grading and three more hours on lab preparation over the course of this semester than what is included in his contract.

“I got paid, last semester, around $1,700. For the same period, I’m getting paid $1,200 this semester [despite it being] the same amount of time, the same amount of students,” he said. “When I talked with the professor who called me [in] to sign the contract, he told me it’s because of the preparation hours.”

He said more preparation time is needed than what’s provided for in the contract for teaching assistants to be able to adequately respond to students’ questions in each section of the class they supervise.

Another teaching assistant said his pay has dropped from roughly $2,100 in the past three semesters to about $1,700 this semester.

“They didn’t reduce my workload,” he said.

The employees say they’re prepared to formally file a grievance with the university through TRAC—but will likely do so only after the university decides who they’ll hire for the winter semester.

The Link contacted the administration, but the university was unable to provide a response before press time.

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