By James Keller
Weeks after striking York University graduate students and teaching assistants returned to work, the University of Calgary Graduate Students’ Association is beginning contract negotiations of their own.
"There are two parts to the negotiations," explained GSA President Viola Cassis, referring to the Graduate Students’ Appointment Schedule which controls eligibility requirements. The negotiations are divided into eligibility criteria, which are handled through the faculty of Graduate Studies; and salary and benefits, the negotiations for which will not begin until later this month.
Criteria negotiations will take place between the GSA and Associate Dean Hal Weiser, with whom the GSA has a very cooperative relationship, according to Cassis. However, she doesn’t expect salary and benefit negotiations to be met with as much accommodation.
"We haven’t started negotiations on our salary yet [but] I imagine that those might meet with some roadblocks, especially considering the financial situation of the university," she said. Although she cannot discuss the specifics of what they are requesting, she stated the GSA has never received what they’ve asked for in the past.
Salary negotiations will be conducted with Barbara Daigle, a human resources administrator for the office of VP Finance and Services–a practice that Cassis disagrees with, but hopes will change this year.
"We’ve kind of had enough of that," she said. "We want to negotiate directly with the Vice president Finance and Services." Daigle stated that it was premature to comment on the proceedings at this time, but added, "whatever process is appropriate will be put into place."
According to Cassis, graduate students at the U of C are among the least-funded in the entire country. What increases they had don’t allow for the rise in the basic cost of living Calgary witnessed over the past 10 years.
"The perspective of the GSA is that graduate students simply need more funding," said Cassis. She points out that if this situation isn’t improved, the university will not be competitive in recruiting graduate students.
If negotiations fail, the next step is a binding arbitration process outlined in the Graduate Students’ Appointment Schedule. Unlike staff at York, however,
U of C’s Graduate Students cannot formally go on strike because they aren’t unionized.
"However, graduate students at other times in this province… simply decided not to work and did so as a symbolic gesture," explained Cassis, referring to action taken at the University of Alberta.
Most undergraduate students at the university have graduate students as teaching assistants and, according to Cassis, the quality of graduate students working with them should reflect their rising tuition costs.
"They deserve, considering their tuition fees, to have a quality undergraduate education and part of that involves graduate students."