UQO refuses to conclude a new contract with salaried students; strike considered

11 October 2016, Gatineau — The Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) is refusing to return to the bargaining table and conclude a new contract with paid students working as research and teaching assistants (RAs and TAs) as well as exam supervisors at the school.

The UQO administration abandoned the bargaining table on August 8 and has refused to return since then, despite repeated requests to do so by the students, who are unionized with the Syndicat des étudiants et étudiantes salariées (SEES-UQO), a local of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). The students’ previous contract expired almost two years ago.

At 17 pages, the collective agreement is short, and should not be difficult to renew. But the UQO administration is refusing to address the students’ primary concerns around wage parity. RAs and TAs at UQO perform a range of work in support of various academic research and teaching projects, and yet are paid between $1 and $2 less per hour than students performing similar work at other Université du Québec campuses.

The SEES-UQO is asking for wage increases that will help RAs and TAs catch up with their higher paid counterparts and calculates that such increases will only raise the total wage bill by around $146,000 over four years. For context, UQO registered a surplus of $3.2 million in 2015-16.

“The university is treating us like second-class workers,” said Shawn Goodman, president of SEES-UQO. “We play an important role in cutting-edge research being done at the university, and we should be paid like other RAs and TAs within the Université du Québec network.”

“I find it deplorable that UQO’s administration has run away from the bargaining table,” added Larry Rousseau, Regional Executive Vice-President for the PSAC in the National Capital Region. “I had received a personal assurance from Rector Denis Harrisson just last week that the university would return to the table, but it looks like Mr. Harrisson was just playing games.”

Earlier this year, members of SEES-UQO voted to give the union a strike mandate if a collective agreement cannot be reached at the bargaining table.