Volume 96, Issue 79
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

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TAs talkin' tough at UBC

By Samantha Wright
Gazette Staff

The teaching assistants at the University of British Columbia are ready to rumble.

The picket signs came out last Thursday at UBC, as approximately 200 to 300 members of the teaching assistant union – Canadian Union of Public Employees local 2278 – came out in organized strike action.

"There was a [picket] for about three hours at one of the 11 entrances at the university," confirmed Scott Macrae, director of UBC's public affairs.

Following the picketing, union leaders and the administration engaged in a mediation session addressing the union's demands for tuition waivers and wage increases.

"The university's answer is clear. Employment relations with the TAs and tuition agreements with students are very different agreements," Macrae said. "The best way to benefit all graduate students is to advance financial assistance. [This will] help everyone, not just 15 per cent of grad students."

UBC's administration has offered a seven per cent wage increase over the next three years, but does not consider tuition waivers a viable option, Macrae noted.

"The main issue is tuition," explained Alex Grant, CUPE 2278 president, noting tuition increases add up to a 16 per cent wage cut over three years. The wage increase offered is not in line with inflation and does not account for increasing tuition costs, he explained.

"Currently, we have bargaining table tuition waivers, but the administration completely refuses to discuss the issue of tuition," Grant said, adding he hopes that, if the group's demands are accepted, UBC can be used as a model in the future.

At this point in the negotiations, both the university and the union are refusing to budge, said Brian de Alwis, president of the UBC Graduate Student Society.

"The Consumer Price Index [a measurement of the rate of inflation] was approximately 3.9 per cent this year," de Alwis said, adding the university's offer does not cover inflation.

The Graduate Student Society recently passed a motion to close down all graduate operations while the TAs are on the picket lines, de Alwis confirmed.

Grant said picketing will continue during UBC's reading week.

–with files from Kelly Marcella

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