GSA Special Bulletin

Sent on behalf of Sarah Ficko, GSA President and Former VP Labour, and Sasha van der Klein, GSA VP Labour

This communication is to inform you of the completion of the current round of collective bargaining on behalf of University of Alberta graduate students, between the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) and the University’s Board of Governors (BoG). Both the GSA Council and the BoG have recently ratified the Graduate Student Assistantship Collective Agreement, as negotiated by the respective negotiating teams.

The Collective Agreement is a legally binding contract between GSA and the BoG, offering protection for academically employed graduate students and regulating the terms and conditions of their employment.

As a part of this agreement, the GSA negotiated a compensation package for a two-year period from September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2018. Effective September 1, 2016, the salary component of the stipend paid to Graduate Assistants will increase by 1.6%. (The award component is tied to increases in tuition which in 2016-17 was frozen). The overall   increase to the entire stipend (including a salary and an award component) effective September 1, 2017 will be an additional 2.0%. Additionally, the Memorandum of Settlement specifies, “the parties agree to renegotiate the 2017-2018 stipend rates if the 2% overall increase is insufficient to cover any increase to the Graduate Fee Index that would apply to the award portion of the stipend.”

In addition, the GSA successfully negotiated for continued support of the Graduate Student Assistance Program and an increase to the Graduate Student Support Fund (GSSF). The GSSF has been increased by $100,000 for 2016-2017 and a further $25,000 for 2017-2018 for a total of $789,000 in 2016-2017 and $814,000 in 2017-2018 to support GSA Academic Travel Awards, Child Care Grants, Emergency Bursaries, and Recognition Awards – all of which the GSA directly allocates to graduate students.

There have been several changes to the Collective Agreement. These will be effective September 1, 2016, and significant additions are highlighted below.

Graduate Teaching Assistants (Article 8)

Expanded/improved description of Graduate Teaching

Assistant duties and added that GTA/GRA appointments can be combined for a total of up to 12 hours per week, and students can work 12 hours as a GTA and/or GRA on top of a GRAF

8.01   The duties of a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) are primarily in support of teaching and teaching related duties. Such duties may include, but are not limited to: preparing and conducting seminars, discussion groups and laboratory sessions to supplement lectures; maintaining regular office hours to meet with students; assisting in the preparation and administration of examinations; and grading examinations, term papers and laboratory reports. The duties of a GTA are to help prepare the Graduate Assistant for further academic and professional opportunities. In view of this, GTA functions shall not include routine duties commonly associated with clerical, technical, or administrative work not directly related to instructional activities.

8.13   The total numbers of hours in combined appointments including a GRA and GTA shall normally not exceed 12 hours per week. Exceptions require agreement of the Graduate Assistant, the Graduate Supervisor, Appointing Officer, the GSA Vice-President Labour (when appropriate), and approval of the Provost (or designate).

Graduate Research Assistants (Article 9)

Expanded/improved description of Graduate Research Assistant duties and added that GTA/GRA appointments can be combined for a total of up to 12 hours per week, and students can work 12 hours as a GTA and/or GRA on top of a GRAF

9.01   The duties of a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) are primarily in support of a faculty member’s academic research. Such duties may include, but are not limited to: collecting/coding/analyzing data, literature reviews, library research, writing reports, designing conference presentations, and preparing materials for submission to funding agencies. The duties of a GRA are to help prepare the Graduate Assistant for further academic and professional opportunities. In view of this, GRA functions shall not include: personal services for the Assistantship Supervisor, administrative work (e.g. clerical or technical), cleaning up after a department function or research symposium, or maintaining the personal equipment (e.g. computer) of the Graduate Assistantship Supervisor.

9.11   The total numbers of hours in combined appointments including a GRA and GTA shall normally not exceed 12. Exceptions require agreement of the Graduate Assistant, the Graduate Supervisor, Appointing Officer, the GSA Vice-President Labour (when appropriate), and approval of the Provost (or designate).

Graduate Research Assistantship Fellowships (Article 10)

New category of graduate assistantship added, “Graduate Research Assistantship Fellowship (GRAF),” to address confusion of 2 types of graduate research assistantships. The GRAF refers to funding that is not considered employment but is funding to support the graduate student’s research. The stipend will no longer be split between a salary and an award component

Also changed language throughout the Agreement to more clearly refer to either Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs), or Graduate Research Assistantship Fellowships (GRAFs)

10.01    A Graduate Research Assistantship Fellowship (GRAF) is a form of financial assistance provided to graduate students to allow them to focus on their education and training, as it relates to their own thesis or directed research project.

10.02    The relationship between the Assistantship Supervisor and GRAF is not an employment relationship.

10.03    The GRAF is normally funded through restricted funds and may form part of a funding package to support the graduate student in their graduate studies.

10.04    The value of the Fellowship may vary by discipline and by the requirements of the restricted funds supporting the GRAF.

10.05    There are no working hours attached to a GRAF. A graduate student can hold a GRAF and also be appointed as a GRA and/or GTA up to a maximum of 12 hours per week.

Remuneration (Article 11)

Description of remuneration has been separated between Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA)/Graduate Research Assistants (GRA) and the new category of GRAF (which is not taxable) and revised to clarify Principal Instructor stipend rate

 

 

 

11.01    For a GTA and GRA, the stipend consists of two components: 1) award; and 2) salary. The award component is not treated as employment income and is not subject to Income Tax, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance deductions. The salary component is treated as employment income and is subject to Income Tax, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance deductions.

11.02    The stipend rates are set out in Appendix B.

 

11.03    A GRAF consists of a fellowship stipend only. A GRAF is not considered employment income and is not subject to Income Tax, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance deductions.

11.04     The minimum rate of the stipend is negotiated as part of the collective bargaining process. For a GTA and GRA, the award component is a fixed rate based on any change in the graduate fee index. In determining a Graduate Assistant’s stipend, factors such as merit, seniority, experience, and market influence should be considered.

 

11.05    Graduate Supervisors supporting GRAs and GRAFs from restricted funds are encouraged to exceed the minimum rates and provide remuneration at the levels recommended by their department or by the funding agency.

11.06    If a GTA is appointed as a Principal Instructor, the salary will be increased to the PI rate to reflect the change in duties.

Vacation (Article 14)

Added to provide clearer information on vacation entitlement; in particular provisions related to vacation carry forward and how to request/receive it

14.03    Graduate Assistants may not carry forward unused vacation time from one four-month University term to another, without the advance written consent of the Appointing Officer, the Graduate Supervisor and all relevant Graduate Assistantship Supervisors. In some cases, vacation carry forward may not be allowed based on the funding source.

 

General Leave Provisions (Article 15)

Added to clarify that departments/assistantship supervisors cannot deny the offer of a graduate assistantship because of an impending or current leave (which a GA is entitled to)

15.05    An impending or current leave shall not be used as the basis for denying an offer of a Graduate Assistantship for a future Academic Term.

 

Compassionate and Bereavement Leave (Article 18)

Added benefit of paid bereavement leave; will still be up to a maximum of 3 weeks compassionate leave, but now 1 week of that can be for bereavement leave

18.02    The purpose of Bereavement Leave is to provide a Graduate Assistant with leave following the loss of a member of the Graduate Assistant’s immediate family (spouse or common law partner, sibling, child, parent).

18.03    A Graduate Assistant is entitled to up to three weeks of paid Compassionate Leave at 100% of stipend. A Graduate Assistant is entitled to up to a week of Bereavement Leave. A combination of Compassionate Leave and Bereavement Leave will not exceed a maximum of three weeks.

Appendix A – Letter of Appointment

Listed key information that must be included in a letter of appointment as well as the recommended sample letter and included a section with ‘if applicable’ items to add in, including information on the Graduate Teaching and Learning Program, 5% raise on salary for GRAs and GTAs, and the portion the assistantship covers of a given year’s funding package.

Appendix C - Time Use Guideline Form

Added in a line for training hours, a sentence that says it is recommended that GRAFs discuss their hours with their professor, and a section to discuss vacation dates.

Appendix E – Short Term Academically-Related Employment

Rewritten for clarity to ensure that it is not used instead of a graduate assistantship appointment.

 

The 2016-2018 Collective Agreement can be found in its totality through the GSA website. A Collective Agreement Information Sheet for graduate student is also available here.

We urge all graduate students to carefully read the new Agreement and educate themselves on their benefits and rights as academically employed graduate students.

We also remind graduate students that the Agreement is legally binding on both parties; therefore, any violation of the contractual obligations contained in the Agreement enable graduate students to seek remedy through GSA-led mediation. If you have concerns or questions related to your letter of employment or related issues, please contact the GSA immediately.