UBC Research Assistants to join CUPE in the largest successful union organizing campaign in recent B.C. history

More than 3,200 Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) who work at the University of British Columbia (UBC) will join B.C.’ s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). GRAs will join CUPE 2278, the union that already represents Teaching Assistants, English Language Instructors, and Invigilators at UBC.

“We’re proud to welcome Graduate Research Assistants to our local,” says CUPE 2278 President Emily Cadger. “Research Assistants play a crucial role in the academic community, and they have sent a clear message that their compensation and working conditions need to improve.”

UBC has filed several objections to the union’s application for certification and they have argued against research assistants’ right to unionize claiming they are students and not employees.

“The research that these workers are producing contribute immensely to the university’s reputation. Their work is a key factor in UBC being an elite research institution,” says Gracy Buckholtz, CUPE 2278’s vice-president as well as an organizer with the campaign and a current GRA.

She adds that there are already many unionized research assistants across Canada at various institutions, including some right here in B.C.

“Thousands of workers have signed a union card and it is clear that they want a more respectful work environment and fair compensation from UBC,” said Buckholtz.

Working conditions, compensation and dispute resolution were motivating factors for GRAs seeking union representation. Cadger outlined that this group of employees lack any limits on the number of hours they can be asked to work on their research and that currently there aren’t clear and transparent scheduling policies. These workers also don’t have access to a dispute resolution process free from academic harm which means often there is no formal way for GRAs to address the concerns they are having at work.

“GRAs want to be treated like the thousands of other UBC employees who have union protection, respectful working conditions, fair dispute resolution, and compensation that enables them to do their jobs without constantly struggling to make ends meet,” says Cadger.

After an eight-month public campaign, CUPE officially filed an application with the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to unionize GRAs and have them join CUPE 2278 on April 28.

The union was notified on May 11 by the LRB that more than 55 percent of all eligible employees had signed a union card. This means that if the LRB dismisses UBC’s objections, the LRB will automatically grant the union’s application to represent GRAs because of the overwhelming support demonstrated.

CUPE 2278 represents approximately 3,000workers including teaching assistants, tutors, invigilators, markers, and English language instructors at UBC and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Northern British Columbia.

CUPE is Canada’s largest union with more than 715,000 members across the country and more than 100,000 in British Columbia.