Information for UWOFA members regarding Graduate Teaching Assistants bargaining

Stephen Pitel

Members of UWOFA,

It is possible that Western's Graduate Teaching Assistants will be on strike or locked out on or shortly after April 13, 2018. In the meantime, UWOFA continues to encourage negotiations. UWOFA has publicly pledged its support for PSAC Local 610 which represents the GTAs. UWOFA has also called on Western's administration to reach a fair and equitable agreement with the GTAs, especially on the issue of compensation.

Our members have questions as to how a strike or lock-out would affect them. Some of these questions can only be answered by the administration. Much depends on the position it takes on several issues.

The UWOFA Faculty Collective Agreement contains, in clause 5 of the article called No Strike or Lock-out, a provision that states: "Members have the right to decline to perform the normal duties of striking or locked-out employees of the Employer during a legal Strike by another Bargaining Unit of employees of the Employer or during any Lock-out of another Bargaining Unit by the Employer". This clause gives each member the choice, as an individual, to choose whether or not to so decline to perform duties a GTA would normally have performed.

Clause 5 protects your individual right to make choices and to follow your personal values. However, decisions to decline to perform work made in concert or in combination with others could constitute an illegal strike. Therefore, you must make the decision as to whether or not to perform work that a GTA would normally perform on your own independently of what others are doing or might want you to do. UWOFA cannot and will not make that choice on behalf of its members. UWOFA will defend choices made by members under that clause.

Below are some specific questions we have received and some responses.

1. Can Western hire replacement workers for the GTAs if there is a strike or lock-out?

Yes, this is allowed under Ontario law. Western can also temporarily reassign its other employees, subject to the provisions of their collective agreement or employment contract, to do the work of the GTAs.

2. I have been asked to provide information about the number of proctors needed for the final exam. Should I respond?

Yes, in UWOFA's view the employer is entitled to request and receive this information in order to properly administer the exams. While this could facilitate the employer arranging non-GTA proctors, it has the right to do so.

3. Can Western ask me to change my final exam so that it is easier to mark?

In UWOFA's view, the most that Western can do is point out that in the event of a GTA strike or lock-out, some exam formats (such as multiple choice) are easier than others to mark. As a matter of academic freedom, it is your decision as to what form your exam will take. No pressure, including in the form of a suggestion, should be put on you to adopt a particular form.

4. Should I change my final exam so it is easier to mark?

You have to reach your own decision on this question. Doing so might make it easier for your students to receive their final grades at the end of the term, and that might be important to you. But doing so will also reduce the role, and thus the bargaining power, of the GTAs during a strike or lock-out. Changing the exam means more work for you now, at a time when we do not know whether there will be a GTA strike or lock-out.

5. If there is a GTA strike or lock-out, who will mark the exams that would have been marked by the GTAs?

This is not known yet. Several different things could happen. The administration might hire replacements for the GTAs and they will do the marking. It might request that you do the marking, hoping you do so but prepared to accept your individual decision to decline. It might insist that you do the marking. That could give rise to a subsequent grievance but in the meantime you would be required to comply. If you end up doing the marking, you should be mindful of the effect of this on your overall workload. Doing work which was to be done by the GTAs is likely to mean that other work cannot be completed on time or at all. It is also likely to mean that the marking will take longer than if done by the GTAs.

On all aspects of the possible GTA strike or lock-out, UWOFA encourages you to raise questions and to pass along information (such as messages from Deans and Associate Deans) as you receive it.

In solidarity,

Stephen Pitel
President, UWOFA