TRAC Mobilizes Outside of President’s Office

Concordia TAs Demand Livable Wages

TRAC gathered outside President Alan Shepard’s office on Feb. 24, 2016. Courtesy M. R.

The union that represents teaching assistants at Concordia hasn’t sat down at the bargaining table with the administration since the fall semester, yet some members have tried to garner “support” from senior school officials.

About a dozen Teaching and Research Assistants of Concordia union members, including union executives, visited the Concordia president’s offices last Wednesday wearing red t-shirts that read “TRAC Union Concordia TA/RA Mobilization.” They were blocked from seeing the president, according to Nader Jafar Nodoushan, TRAC’s president.

The group wanted president Alan Shepard or management to “support TAs and RAs by signing” the petition. They waited outside glass doors leading into the Shepard’s office on the eighth floor of the GM building, before at least three security guards appeared.

“To us it looks like they don’t want to support us,” Nodoushan said. “Sometimes the employer wants to show that they are supportive, but their hands are tied, but we didn’t see any support.”

TRAC circulated a petition that gathered 701 signatures online and in person. The petition reiterates TRAC’s negotiation demands for the “same pay-rate for the same job” across faculties, and no cuts to current hourly wages.

In the end, Nodoushan left the petition with Roger Côté, VP Services, who refused to sign the petition. The online version had 236 signatures by the end of February.

“We’re waiting for a proposal,” Nodoushan said. “We believe Concordia can handle that, but they don’t want to.”

He pointed to the $235,000 severance recently given to the university’s former CFO, who was only employed for three months. TRAC is asking for an increase of $360,000 in total for salary increases for all TAs.

Nodoushan says Concordia’s proposals so far have been unsatisfactory, and even slightly below the 2014-2015 TA salary budget. Nodoushan would not specify the details of the current pay-rate demands and Concordia’s standing offer.

“I don’t think our members are satisfied and I don’t think they will tolerate it,” Nodoushan said. In an interview earlier this month, Shepard declined to comment on the status of negotiations but said TAs are “valued members of the team.”

The average salary for a teaching assistant is $1,000 per semester. Most undergraduates, in arts and science, fine arts and JMSB, earn $14 an hour and work several hours a week. Graduate students in these faculties and the School of Graduate Studies can earn between $18 and $25 an hour. In Engineering and Computer Science the lowest pay-rate is $17 and the highest is $25 an hour.

“We have TAs at Concordia that are making $300 a semester,” he added. “I don’t even know if I can comment on that. I don’t think anyone can live with such an amount of money as a student with no other job.”

“We have TAs at Concordia that are making $300 a semester.” _—Nader Jafar Nodoushan, TRAC’s president.

Nodoushan also encourages undergraduate TAs in arts and science, fine arts and JMSB to contact the union if they are performing tasks outlined as “Grade 1” teaching assistant-ships, which are only available to master’s and PhD students.

“Because they’re undergrad students, their salary is $10 less than what they deserve,” he said.

TRAC was supposed to negotiate 2015-2016 pay-rates by May 2015. When the union and university agree on a new pay-rate, any increases will likely be retroactively paid to current TAs.

But TRAC has two months before its collective agreement expires, and the union has to negotiate new pay-rates, hours of work, and other working conditions.

Invigilators—the individuals responsible for distributing and overseeing final exams—are also in the process of negotiating a collective agreement, after voting to unionize and join TRAC last year. Invigilators earn minimum wage salaries for their work.