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Strong Strike Mandate for Graduate Student-Workers (PSAC 901) at Queen’s University


Rohit Revi

February 15, 2022
Graduate student-workers at Queen’s University, unionized as PSAC DCL 901, have been in bargaining since Spring 2021. As negotiations came to a standstill at the end of the year, the union held a strike mandate vote on Feb 14th, which saw hundreds of members participate. The vote resulted in an overwhelmingly strong mandate for the union.
In an era of provincial austerity with Bill 124 and increased privatisation of the university sector, this is yet another signal that students and workers in the labour movement are resolved to fight back.

The union which represents Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants and Teaching Fellows at Queen’s University have been asking for mental health supports, assured work contracts in unfunded years of graduate education, paid anti-racist and sexual violence prevention training, and paid gender affirmation leave, among other things.
While the university administration has been releasing frequent statements of commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity (EDII) in the workplace, they have remained unwilling to even engage with labour demands that meaningfully advance social and racial justice on campus beyond the realm of empty statements. There is a palpable hypocrisy currently in the sector, very much evidenced by Queen’s University, where employers pretend to be flag-bearers of EDII initiatives while simultaneously remaining completely unwilling to even talk about the employment needs of racialized workers, genderqueer and trans workers, and workers with disabilities.
The university administration also likes to present themselves as mouth pieces for corporate mental health initiatives such as Bell ‘Let’s Talk’, while completely and utterly disregarding the increasingly urgent mental health needs of their own workers. The university mantra is ‘EDII but never at the expense of corporate profits’. These contradictions are laid bare at the site of bargaining negotiations, and what we have seen at Queen’s, with the strike mandate, is that student-workers are not willing to sit back while their working conditions deteriorate before them. They are asking the university to put money where their mouth is.
As the union continues to be in conciliation with the Employer, the conclusive strike mandate means that it is now up to the Employer to decide what they want the University to look like in the coming months. Over the last couple of years, numerous unions in the academic sector have either had to go on strike or have been on the verge of taking strike action before their employers returned with agreeable proposals. Currently, Faculty at Ontario Technical University (UOIT FA) as well as University of Lethbridge (ULFA) have had to take strike actions, while Concordia Faculty at Edmonton reached an agreement last month following a landmark strike. At Queen’s University, graduate student-workers have made it quite clear that we mean business and have confirmed through vote that they remain resolved to reach a fair agreement. It is now up to the university to respond.

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