FAQ: How will the loss of Graduate Assistantships affect YUFA members?

Dear YUFA members,

As many of you have recently learned, York is no longer funding Graduate Assistantships (GAs) as it previously did, which will result in the immediate elimination of approximately 700 graduate student jobs. Approximately 800 graduate students are currently employed as GAs in positions that provide these employees with valuable experience while contributing to the York community, to research projects, and to partnerships off-campus. As the union that represents these positions, CUPE 3903 is reaching out to YUFA members to raise awareness about this issue, and to ask that you respect GAs by not allowing a shift to non-unionized positions, either through internships, Research Assistantships (RAs) or volunteers.

What can YUFA do?

We are asking YUFA to support GAs by not taking on extra administrative work, by grieving any losses of research support, or by raising issues resulting from the loss of GA support for conferences, journals and other initiatives at the departmental level. Most importantly, we are asking all YUFA members to be aware of the differences between GA and RA positions and to categorize them appropriately.

The following explains why it is crucial, for your students and your departments, to stand against the elimination of GAs at York.

What do GAs do?

While York administrators are trying to say that GAs are simply "make work" projects, speaking to our members and seeing their work around campus, we know that GAs support research projects, assist with recruitment, organize conferences, publish journals, facilitate curriculum planning, respond to ministry guidelines, assist with processing admissions, support administrative staff, organize events, conduct outreach, support student services, and much more!

Where will the work go?

York administrators have said they will replace paid unionized labour with internships, work-study positions, student volunteers, credit-based work, or other unspecified positions. York cannot simply further exploit students by turning this into volunteer work or degrade students' education by awarding credits for administrative work.

We also expect that some of this work will be shifted into non-unionized Research Assistant (RA) positions. Although York has often blurred the lines between GA and RA positions, they are not the same thing. Only GAs can be assigned hours and duties, can do research for someone else, or can perform clerical or administrative roles. RAs are effectively a scholarship to support the student's own research. With an RA there can be no expectation of performing tasks, no hours or schedule, and the student must be conducting research that is primarily for the purpose of completing their degree requirements. If you have been led to believe that you can give your students RA positions in which they are expected to fulfill any tasks other than their own research, please contact CUPE 3903 to reclassify the positions so that you are not in violation of our Collective Agreement.

How will students be affected?

Although York says that it will provide some level of healthcare spending, they have been unable to give clear answers on what it will look like and what they have said is a fraction of what students currently have access to, and what they need. The healthcare promise by the university won't even cover the basic insurance premiums for international students or students with dependents. We have provided a table below to outline the difference in the current plan for our members compared to the plan that they will receive under York's new fellowship model. The gutting of healthcare provisions for students should not be treated lightly, particularly at a time when there is increased attention to the serious issues of mental health on university campuses.

Healthcare comparison

Students will not only lose their work and health benefits. GAs have access to professional development funding for conferences and for courses related to employment, and to research costs funding which will support them in their studies, all of which are increasingly crucial at a time when the university is reducing its own funding for these initiatives.

Through union membership students also have access to a number of funds to help with childcare, costs not covered by health insurance, costs associated with transitioning, and unexpected financial hardship. Our Collective Agreement also ensures access to necessary leaves for medical, parental or compassionate reasons. Students with disabilities are also guaranteed extra time to complete degree requirements. All these provisions help to promote equity at the university and doing away with them will limit who can attend York.

All these losses do not even touch on the importance of having an assured grievance procedure for workplace issues, protection from discrimination and harassment, and mechanisms to ensure people's health and safety on campus.

Do you have questions? Are you able to offer assistance? Please contact CUPE 3903!

If you have questions for CUPE 3903, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are working very hard to make sure that as many GA positions remain intact and that RA positions that are actually work are categorized correctly as GA positions. Your help is required!

Thank you for your support.

Jen Cypher

Chair, CUPE 3903

[email protected]