Specific groups, eligibility, and benefits

Who is eligible to be in this union?

You are eligible for membership if you are a Sessional Instructor, Graduate Teaching Assistant (TA), or Graduate Research Assistant (RA) enrolled as a full-time or part-time graduate student at the University of Waterloo.

You do not need to be located in Waterloo Region - if you are a student or sessional who works for uWaterloo (gets a paycheque), then you are eligible to be in the union even if you are currently on a co-op term, studying abroad, home for the summer, etc.

Non-student sessionals, post-doctoral fellows, undergraduate students who work in an academic position (e.g. as a TA, exam proctor, etc.), and other academic workers at UW may also sign a card if you wish to join the union.

By “sessional instructors” we mean various categories of academic workers who have contracts less than one year in duration, for which there are many terminologies in use–e.g. “adjunct professors,” “definite-term lecturers,” “research fellows”. Workers in this group are normally not represented by the UW Faculty Association (FAUW). Click these links for more on eligibility of workers at the UW federated colleges or on FAUW and sessional categorization as it relates to our drive.

If you are unsure about your eligibilty for this proposed union at UW, please feel free to contact us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

Can I still sign a card if I’m not working this term?

Yes! If you think you will be employed sometime in the next year, you can still sign a card. That includes employment as a TA (including Online Instructor), RA, (Graduate) Sessional, etc. To sign up, click here.

I'm an international graduate student: How can unionization benefit me?

Please see our new extended FAQ here specific to the needs and concerns of international students.

In addition, benefits of unionization outlined below for domestic students also would apply to you as well!

I'm a domestic graduate student (Canadian or Permanent Resident): How can unionization benefit me?

Currently, TA and RA contracts are assigned arbitrarily or in a non-transparent manner and are sometimes not guaranteed for any length of time over the duration of a course of study. As a grad student you may not know from one term to the next whether or not you'll have a TA or RAship, or many details of what your position will entail. You may find out only a week or two before the semester begins what class you’ll be teaching or TAing. Once certified, the union will be in a position to negotiate contract language for job security and protections, including increased transparency and fairness. This will give peace of mind once you’ve been assigned a TA or RAship that it is secure, and give you time to plan and prepare properly.

Like many students, you may feel unsure or powerless about how to address problems in your workplace. Academia is often hierarchical, norms may be long-standing, and because jobs are often scarce, this can lead to fierce competition for professional development opportunities. It can be very difficult to raise your voice and question how things are done in your department, or how you've been treated. Because many students are only enrolled for as little as 1-2 years, this doesn't give much time to respond to issues that arise; rather we are systemically encouraged to “tough it out” or drop out. Thus, you may (rightly) worry about putting your standing/reputation in your department – and therefore your chances for career development opportunities, reference letters, and ultimately future career prospects – in jeopardy by speaking up for yourself. This is very understandable, as the university and professors hold power over students’ lives and careers.

Complicating these issues are the fact that many students (including from Ontario and other provinces/territories) do not have a strong understanding of labour rules in Ontario and/or do not know if/how they apply to us. Because even if we know our rights in a non-university workplace, we are not often referred to as workers when in graduate school, and we often don't conceptualize ourselves as such. Graduate students are in somewhat of a unique situation, as both apprentice/trainee researchers still learning about our field from our professors, but also as workers essential to the functioning of the modern university. We teach classes, do research, and contibute in immeasurable ways to the campus community through our labour and presence. This in-between status can lead to uncertainty and ambiguity, and is easily exploited by university employers, for whom we are variously students or employees, depending on what works best for them in a particular context.

Forming a union will mean that as student workers we will be on a more equal footing with our employer, and will have enforceable, transparent, and fair protections in place. It will mean that we will have somewhere to turn for expert advice on workplace issues, no matter our prior level of understanding of labour law or time enrolled at UW so far. Having the assistance of CUPE and the training and services they provide to students in the local will ensure increased fairness and consistency in treatment, smoothing out the impacts of power imbalances and the short duration of many students’ programs.

While the final union structure is decided democratically by members of our local, it is typical to have student representatives (“shop stewards”) in each department/lab, a health and safety committees, an executive team, special committees dedicated to specific issues of our choice (e.g. international students, students in wetlabs, co-op students, etc.), and engaged members (aka “activists”) who together form the union local. All union representatives and activists will have access to training from CUPE in order to enforce the collective agreement and represent/support workers/members in any interactions with university administration, supervisors, and departments. You can run to be on a committee or provide feedback to members on issues you are facing.

Once enough cards are signed (at least 40% by law), an application for union certification will be made to the Labour Board. A week later, an online representation vote will be conducted at which all eligible workers can vote. For more detail on how this process works, check out our handy 2-minute guide and infographic!

I'm a research-based graduate student: How can unionization benefit me?

Unionization can provide benefits to all graduate students. Since unionization will mandate certain benefits, procedures, and a grievance process for students that are employees, universities often find it easier to standardize those processes for everyone.

In addition to the benefits mentioned in the FAQ above, students in research-based programs may have additional concerns, for example to do with your funding being tied to your professor/primary investigator, health and safety issues when working in a lab or collecting data in the field, time spent working as a TA or RA taking time from your classwork, and more.

While a union is primarily focused on your work as an employee (e.g. as a TA, RA, or GA), much of this work naturally overlaps with research activities that we as graduate students contribute to the university. The union can negotiate about anything related to students’ work, which means there is a lot of leeway to advocate for issues effecting graduate students in research-based programs.

I'm in a professional/course-based program: How can unionization benefit me?

Unionization can provide benefits to all graduate students. Since unionization will mandate certain benefits, procedures, and a grievance process for students that are employees, universities often find it easier to standardize those processes for all students.

Many students enrolled in course-based or professional programs have much less funding than other programs, with many relying primarily on obtaining work as a TA or RA through a competitive process. Standardizing work conditions, including ensuring fair and transparent hiring procedures, appropriate rate of pay, and a fair grievance process, protects professional and course-based students. Making sure TAs and RAs are not overworked often has the positive knock-on effect that more student positions are created, since the same amount of work is now more fairly/reasonably distributed to workers. This can mean more job opportunities for students, in addition to all the protections that come with unionization.

Additionally, even when you are not working, unions can collectively bargain for resources that positively affect all students, such as mandating the university contribute a certain amount of money to various support funds, e.g. a mental health fund, trans support fund, sexual assault survivor support fund, or infrastructure and funding for an anti-harassment office. While CUPE can’t offer as many services when you aren’t a member, you only need to work one semester per year to be a member for that year. It is also common that when CUPE negotiates standards for students who are employees, they become standard for all students for the university’s ease of administration.

I'm a sessional instructor, contract lecturer with a contract less than one year, adjunct professor, post-doctoral fellow, or other kind of non-permanent/contract-based academic worker: how can unionization benefit me?

Unionization benefits sessional, contract-based, and adjunct instructors/faculty, as well as post-docs and other precarious academic workers the same way it benefits other workers, by providing workers a voice at the table. From that point contract faculty can raise issues, and negotiate for benefits. They will also benefit the same way from having a CUPE local representing their interests, having a grievance officer to fight on their behalf, and more.

See also the FAQ on seniority.

I'm a mature student, parent, or caregiver: How can unionization benefit me?

CUPE has a long history of advocating for marginalized groups. They engage in research on a variety of issues and are experienced advisors when it comes to negotiating a collective agreement based on the specific issues on the ground. We are already hearing from student parents about issues around hours of work and working conditions, as well as the difficulties that come from being caregivers and workers during COVID-19. We are committed to advocating at the bargaining table specifically for the needs of those most in need.

From leave provisions, to added health benefits that cover children and dependents, to requirements for scheduling notice/security, or advocating for family-friendly facilities in campus workspaces - there are many ways a union collective agreement (CA) is beneficial for parents or mature students.

For example, in the key area of leaves, a CA can be bargained to include provisions for everything from pregancy or parenting leave, sick leave, and vacation (and we mean a real vacation, not one where even assigned work continues digitally!) to emergency, bereavement, or jury duty leave. Right now, student workers and sessionals at UW have little to no say in whether/how we qualify for a leave or if a certain kind is even available to us. Often eligibility is restricted to semester timelines, even though life events don't usually fall neatly into tidy 4-month chunks. There is often no guaranteed procedure for actually taking time off, as it may depend on the students’ grant or funding source, which can lead to uncertainty about eligibility, payment delays, inconsistency in administration, and ultimately inequity and barriers to access. There may be no designated replacement worker to cover your duties if you fall ill, leading to classes being cancelled unncessarily or workers being pressured to work while ill. This is not only detrimental to workers, who can lose pay or have an illness worsen by “working through it”, but also to the learning environment of undergraduate students, as well as the wider university community. Fostering a culture where it is the norm to work while ill leads to reduced productivity and morale, as those who want to stay home may be labelled “unreliable”, “not a team player”, “lazy”, or as not having what it takes to succeed in academia. COVID-19 also shows how working while ill can lead to the spread of contagious diseases, which is an often prventable, and therefore unacceptable, workplace hazard.

Thus, a CA would not only address the need for new types of leave, but also require the employer to have fair processes in place for workers to actually be able to take time off. For example, at Trent U and elsewhere, the CUPE local negotiated in their CA that departments must hire a certain number of experienced “floater TAs”, who are not assigned to a single course or professor, rather they help provide cover-off when someone is ill or has reached their allotted hours under their contract.

This increases fairness from the current situation, where some TAs/RAs/GAs may work under their hours, while others work way above and beyond. Having a CA will mean accountability and transparency from both workers and the employer, so that we are paid for the hours we work, which will correspond to the contract we have agreed to. It will help reduce the risk that parents, caregivers, or mature students will be reprimanded or pushed out of your program simply because you were “unlucky” that the job you got happens to have a hidden requirement to work many unpaid extra hours, which you can't complete due to important commitments outside the university.

A union local is democratically organized and students from all groups can take part and ensure your voice is heard in the local and at the bargaining table, for example by forming a committee focused on advocating for students who have particular needs or are facing equity issues in their workplace at UW.

I have a disability: How can unionization benefit me?

CUPE has a long history of advocating for marginalized groups. They engage in research on a variety of issues and are experienced advisors when it comes to negotiating a collective agreement based on the specific issues on the ground. We are already hearing from disabled students about issues around hours of work and working conditions, as well as the difficulties that come from being a caregiver and worker during COVID-19. We are committed to advocating at the bargaining table specifically for the needs of those most in need.

Similar to the issues mentioned in the FAQ above, UW student workers report serious issues actually accessing disability accomodations for their work as TAs or RAs. They report being passed back and forth from their department, to HR, to Accessibility Services, to Health Services, to GSPA and everwhere in between, because UW has no standardized process for accessing accomodations for work, as opposed to for graduate coursework. This goes to a larger problem of UW not seeing graduate student workers as workers, who have the same rights under the law as all other UW staff (e.g. we have had reports of student workers not receiving health and safety-related emails about COVID-19 sent to “all employees”.)

These huge barriers are completely unjust and unacceptable, not to mention being quite possibly illegal under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (associated). All workers with disabilties have the right under the AODA to supports they need to ensure equal access to do their work. CUPE locals at other universities have negotiated provisions in the collective agreement (CA) to help students with temporary or permanent disabilities. For example, at Trent U and elsewhere, departments must hire a certain number of experienced “floater TAs”, who are not assigned to a single course or professor, but rather help cover-off when someone is ill or has reached their allotted hours. This is especially important for workers with disabilities, who may have accomodations by which they need/are entitled to more time to do tasks, due to the nature of their disability.

In all cases, a key focus of unionization is to have a supportive, outside party you can go to to discuss issues you are facing in the workplace. Union local executives are elected from among the membership and get training in topics like labour and disability law, employment relations, health and safety regulations, the ins and outs of the CA, and more, so they can help workers understand our rights, and fight for them when needed in the face of unfair treatment, discrimination, or unjust barriers. CUPE union locals are democratically organized, so that students from all groups are encouraged to take part and ensure your voice is heard in the local and at the bargaining table. One way to do this can be to form a committee run by and for students with disabilities, which is focused on advocating for the needs of students and those facing equity issues at their UW workplace.

Can a union help if I’m having issues with my supervisor or someone else I work with (e.g. harassment, bullying)?

Yes! CUPE has often negotiated strong language regarding supervisor relationships, intellectual property, and anti-harassment provisions. While CUPE can’t offer as many services if you aren’t currently an employee, the collective agreement can mandate things like the university providing infrastructure and funding for an anti-harassment office, create a sexual assault support fund, trans support fund, etc. and can help negotiate when a student wants to change supervisors or labs. It is also common that when CUPE negotiates standards for students who are employees, those standards become standard for all students for the university’s ease of administration.

Can a union still help me if/when I’m not (currently) working as a TA, RA, etc.?

While you may not always be a member of the union (depending on when you are working or not) having a union setting clear terms for employment allows students and workers to better understand our relationship with the university. The members of the union can also vote to direct the union to advocate on behalf of its members and join in campaigns with similar organizations across the campus, province and country.

CUPE is active in national, provincial and local campaigns to advocate for high-quality, well funded, accessible, public post-secondary education in Canada. They work closely with their many coalition partners through cross-campus alliances to support these campaigns locally so all members of the university community can strengthen your voice to the administration.

Many collective agreements (CAs) in the sector also include that the university contribute a certain amount of money to various support funds and/or offices. For example, a student mental health fund, trans support fund, sexual assault support fund, or infrastructure and funding for an anti-harassment office. While CUPE can’t offer as many services in terms when you aren’t working an employee, it is also common that when CUPE negotiates standards for students who are employees, they become standard for all students for the university’s ease of administration.

All such funds are negotiated during the bargaining process, and priorities areas are decided on democratically by the bargaining committee, based on surveys of what students at UW want to be included in our CA. Thus, student workers can advocate for services and supports that benefit all students, no matter their current employment status.

I’m on co-op or doing an internship (on- or off-campus): Am I eligible?

  • You are eligible as long as you are a UW student or non-permanent/contract-based academic worker who works for UW in a non-management role, no matter where you are currently located physically.
  • If you are on co-op placement at UW, you should be eligible, but if you are working for a private employer or another organization (even if on-campus), then you would not be.
  • Ultimately, it doesn't matter where the funding originally comes from for your position – whether internal or external, department or faculty, tied to a professor/lab/PI or not – what matters is who you receive your paycheque from. If it comes from uWaterloo (i.e. accessed in WorkDay), then you qualify!

If you have a particular or unique situation and/or would like to check specifics about your eligibility to join the union, please feel free to contact us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

I am/teach in an online program, at a satellite campus, in a federated college, or in a joint degree program: Am I eligible?

  • You are eligible as long as you are a UW student or non-permanent/contract-based academic worker who works for UW in a non-management role, no matter where you are currently located.
  • Satellite campuses of UW like Stratford, Cambridge, Kitchener, and CIGI/Balsillie, etc. are included, as well as students in online programs.
    • NOTE: The federated colleges of UW – SJU, Renison, Grebel, and St. Paul's – are an exception. Due to their unique governance structure and based on past precedent, it is likely the labour board would consider them to be a distinct employer from UW. In addition, some academic staff at SJU and Renison are already unionized.
  • If you are in an online or joint program between UW and another university, you would be eligible as long as you are solely or concurrently enrolled at UW.
    • NOTE: Because joint programs between WLU and UW typically don't require concurrent enrollment (rather students enroll at their “home” university, and access all courses and service through them), this means joint-program WLU students wouldn't normally be eligible to join CUPE at UW; rather you would fall under the union in place at WLU for grads (PSAC).
  • However, if you work for a UW professor as an RA, teach a class at UW to earn extra income, etc., then you would be eligible (even if technically you are a joint student at WLU).
  • Ultimately, it doesn't matter where the funding originally comes from for your position – whether internal or external, department or faculty, tied to a professor/lab/PI or not – what matters is who you receive your paycheque from. If it comes from uWaterloo (i.e. accessed in WorkDay), then you qualify!

If you have a particular or unique situation and/or would like to check specifics about your eligibility to join the union, please feel free to contact us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

I work at a UW research institute, am funded through external grants, or am a student at another university who is employed at UW via a grant: Am I eligible?

  • You are eligible as long as you are a UW student or non-permanent/contract-based academic worker who works for UW in a non-management role, no matter where you are currently located.
  • This includes students who are located at an associated research institute (e.g. Perimiter Institute); get external grants from the tri-council granting agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR), MITACS, or another funding agency, or industry; or are also enrolled as a student at another university.
    • NOTE: If you are solely enrolled at another university you would normally not be eligible to join CUPE at UW, rather you would fall under the union in place at your university for grads; however, if you work for a UW professor or department as an RA, teach a class at UW to earn extra income, etc., then you should be eligible to join CUPE at UW.
  • Ultimately, it doesn't matter where the funding originally comes from for your position – whether internal or external, department or faculty, tied to a professor/lab/PI or not – what matters is who you receive your paycheque from. If it comes from uWaterloo (i.e. accessed in WorkDay), then you qualify!

If you have a particular or unique situation and/or would like to check specifics about your eligibility to join the union, please feel free to contact us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

I work on-campus for a “UW Employer” through the OSAP/UW “work-study” program: Am I eligible?

  • You are eligible as long as you are a UW student or non-permanent/contract-based academic worker who works for UW in a non-management role.
  • If you are working for a unit/department of UW in an academic role, then you are likely to be eligible.
    • NOTE: if you are working in a non-academic role at UW, or for a private employer or another organization (even if on-campus), then you would likely not be eligible for this union (but, you could still unionize, see below!).
  • Ultimately, it doesn't matter where the funding originally comes from for your position (whether a government grant, other third-party, etc.), what matters is who you receive your paycheque from – If it comes from UW (i.e. accessed in WorkDay), then you qualify!

If you have a special or unique situation, and would like to check specifics about your eligibility to join the union, please feel free to contact us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

I am an undergraduate student who works as a proctor/TA/RA, or another kind of academic worker not mentioned above: Am I eligible?

  • This union drive is currently targeted at graduate student workers, with sessionals, post-docs, and other non-permanent/contract-based academic workers encouraged to take part if they wish.
  • You can sign a card as a union supporter who works (gets a paycheque from UW via WorkDay) in an academic capacity, regardless of your future (graduate) study plans.
  • However, please be aware that undergraduate workers, sessionals, post-docs, etc. will only be included in the application to the labour board if enough workers from these groups sign cards.
    • NOTE: The final scope of the bargaining unit will depend on the interpretation of the labour board. It may be that workers in these groups will form their own (sub-)bargaining unit in the union local. But this is not a bad thing! It means that it will have been determined that these workers have sufficiently different interests and needs, such that it would be better if they are represented in a democratic union structure made up of workers from that group.

If you have a burning desire to unionize (yay!) and want to work to organize in your area via CUPE (even better!), then we can offer support for you to start a(n) (sub-)organizing committee. Once Grad Students are unionized, other groups of workers can also form their own local, or join our local, later on (most likely as a separate or sub-bargaining unit, as stated above). Send us an email at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

I am a staff member at UW in a(n) (non-)academic support units: Am I eligible?

If you are a staff member who works in a non-management role in a support unit like the library, writing and communication centre, centre for teaching excellence, centre for career action, centre for extended learning, finance, retail services, etc. then you could be eligible to join a TA/RA/GA + sessional union, but it would depend on the situation (e.g. the nature of your role, and whether workers in your position would share sufficient interests to be considered by the labour board to be appropriately included in the same bargaining unit). If you would like to check specifics about your potential eligibility to join the union, please reach out to us at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

This union drive is currently targeted at graduate student workers – with sessionals, post-docs, and other non-permanent/contract-based academic workers encouraged to take part if they wish – but you can sign a card as a union supporter who works for UW on staff (gets a paycheque from UW via WorkDay), if you feel you are in an academic worker role that could be part of the union. The caveat is that you understand that support staff would be much more likely to need to form their own bargaining unit, and that undergraduate workers, sessionals, post-docs, staff etc. would also only be included in the final bargaining unit (scope of the union) if enough workers from these groups sign cards (see FAQ above).

However, if you have a burning desire to unionize (yay!) and want to work to organize in your area via CUPE (even better!), then we can offer support for you to start a(n) (sub-)organizing committee. Once Grad Students are unionized, other groups of workers can also form their own local, or join our local, later on (most likely as a separate or sub-bargaining unit, as stated above). Send us an email at organizeuw@joincupe.org.

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