About Organize UBC

Organize UBC is a grassroots movement seeking to unionize all student workers at UBC under CUPE Local 2278. Currently, this campaign is seeking to unionize Research Assistants, Academic Assistants, and student employees who are part of the Work Learn program.

In order for this to happen, we need eligible workers to sign union cards.

Signing a CUPE 2278 membership card means that you agree to be part of our local union. We need eligible workers to sign cards to show the Labour Relations Board that workers like you want to be in our union. According to current BC labour laws, if 55% of eligible workers sign union cards, we will be able to join the union and begin bargaining with UBC for improved workplace rights.

If you’re an eligible student worker, signing a card is the primary way that you can join us in organizing for better pay and working conditions for UBC’s student workers. Union cards are confidential, meaning that your employer will not know that you have signed a card.

Research Assistants, Academic Assistants, and Work Learns (Graduate and Undergrad) managed via the Workday app are eligible to sign a card. If you are paid exclusively in lump sums through the Student Service Centre (SSC) as a scholarship, you are not eligible. Only eligible workers can sign cards.

If you are a student worker paid by UBC to do academic work through Workday and do not believe you fall into any of the above categories, please get in touch with us to discuss your particular situation.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is Canada’s largest labour union, representing 715,000 members who work in the public sector. CUPE 2278 is a locally operating union branch at UBC (typically called a “local”), which functions as a locally democratic collective. CUPE 2278’s current collective agreement pertains to the following worker roles at UBC:

  • Undergraduate Teaching Assistants
  • Graduate Teaching Assistants
  • Tutors
  • Markers
  • Instructors in the English Language Institute (ELI).
  • Exam Invigilators at the Centre for Accessibility

Card signing is digital! All you have to do is follow this link for detailed instructions on card signing, then fill in your information!

Cards expire every six months, so if you signed a card more than six months ago, please sign a new card!

A union advocates for you and your colleagues, negotiating with your boss for improved worker rights. Unions fight for better pay and better working conditions. If you have a grievance with your employer, you can contact your union for help resolving it.

And of course, it’s no secret that unionized employees are paid more. According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, temporary employees who were represented by unions were paid an average of $31.44 per hour, while temporary employees not represented by unions were paid an average of $22.82 per hour. Thanks to CUPE 2278’s current collective agreement, UBC’s graduate TAs are now paid either $33.80 or $35.13 per hour, and undergraduate TAs received a 20% pay increase.

Beyond making sure that your pay goes up, there are plenty of other practical ways that a union can benefit you. For example, things like vacation pay, sick days, maternity leave, and more are all addressed in CUPE 2278’s current collective agreement

About Unions

A union is an organized group of two or more workers who work collectively to advocate for decent wages, safe working conditions, and fair and equal treatment in the workplace. 

Unions in Canada are bound by law to be democratic and financially transparent, to ensure that they are acting in good faith on behalf of the workers they represent. In BC, trade unions are certified under the Labour Relations Code.

A certified trade union can establish a legally-binding collective agreement between the group of workers it represents and the employer, to establish standards for the treatment of its members. This process is called collective bargaining, and in BC, it’s governed by the BC Labour Relations Board.

Primarily, unions use collective bargaining to democratically establish and enforce standards regarding the workplace rights of its members. On a practical level, this means defining and enforcing decent standard wages, benefits, job security, and workplace standards in their collective agreements.

On a broader scale, unions like CUPE advocate politically to improve the lives of working people, through lobbying, working with political parties, and public demonstration. A part of this includes working in solidarity with other social movements seeking to address institutionalized inequality, such as racism, sexism, and ableism, all of which can directly affect workers.

CUPE is the natural choice for unionizing student workers because TAs are already unionized under CUPE 2278.

Only trade unions recognized by the Labour Relations Board can apply to be a bargaining agent for a group of workers. Since some student workers at UBC are already unionized through CUPE—as well as student workers at other universities such as University of Waterloo—CUPE is the appropriate choice. By working with a national trade union like CUPE, we are allowed access to a wide variety of resources to help us organize our local.


Yes. If you think that you will be eligible within the next 6 months, then you can sign a card now!

The main defining characteristic that we are using to categorize student workers as eligible union members is whether or not they are being paid through the Workday app. If you are only paid through the Student Service Center and your work is not organized via Workday, then you are not eligible.

It is true that UBC does not recognize Research Assistants as “employees,” but we want to change that. The Workday app is a clear piece of evidence to show the Labour Relations Board that there is a functional employer/employee relationship at play.

Any official documents that you signed when you accepted your position should have information regarding how your pay is being disbursed to you.

Reading through these documents and discussing them with your coworkers is a great way to build solidarity and form a better understanding of how UBC manages its student labour force.

Getting Involved

You can sign up to join us or volunteer here. You can also send an inquiry to organizeubc@gmail.com if you’d like to get involved!

Everyone is welcome regardless of how much time or experience you have to contribute. We are looking to organize workers by department, so if you have connections within your department, we need your help!

If you’re looking for other ways to help, we can always use volunteers for help putting on events, putting up campaign posters, and canvassing around campus. Even if you only have an hour or two to spare, every little bit helps! The best way to get the most out of your union is to get involved!

The first thing we need you to do is sign a card if you’re eligible! Once you’ve done that, talk to your friends and colleagues about the union. Even if you’re not eligible to sign a card, you might know someone who is! Consider sharing about the union drive in your online spaces where other student workers or potential volunteers might see it.

The next thing you can do is connect with us! We want your voice to be involved in this movement, so we’d love to hear about your experiences as student workers at UBC. What kinds of things make your job more challenging than it should be? Maybe you have a specific concern that you’d like to be addressed during collective bargaining, or maybe you have other questions about our campaign. Send an email to organizeubc@gmail.com to get in touch!

We would love to discuss how you might fit in if you’d like to be more deeply involved in organizing with us! Here are some ways you might be able to be a part of our drive:

Organize your department: We are trying to connect student workers by organizing within departments and programs first, since this is already how they are being managed. Networking the union in the student communities that you already occupy is one of the most important things we can do to unify student workers all around campus!

Join the core organizing team: There’s lots to do, and there’s room for more on our team! We meet on a weekly basis as a large group and also conduct meetings within smaller committees focused on individual academic departments.

Join a planning committee: We need help organizing events, developing and distributing communications materials, and doing direct outreach on campus.

Everyone is welcome! If you’re passionate about contributing your skills to our union drive, we need you—it doesn’t matter how much experience you have with organizing. It’s up to all of us to provide the support you need to find your place in this movement!

Yes! We hold our weekly organizing meetings on Tuesdays, 4 pm to 5 pm in the CUPE 2278 office, which is located on the 4th floor of the Thea Koerner building (above Koerner’s pub). You can also send us an email at organizeubc@gmail.com to arrange a time to meet with someone from the union.

Concerns About Unionization

Yes, it’s true that union members have to pay union dues. Union dues are a way that unionized employees pool their resources to ensure that the union is able to function effectively. CUPE is a non-profit labour union, and all spending is transparent. Topline financial statements are posted on our website: Reporting and Accountability.

Union dues are equivalent to 2% of your gross pay and are also tax-deductible. If you look through CUPE 2278’s collective agreement, you’ll notice that the cost of TAs’ union dues are more than offset by benefits such as sick and vacation pay and general wage increases. Union dues are definitely worth the money!

CUPE’s union dues are divided into two parts:

1. 0.85% of base salary is the dues rate going to CUPE National. These dues are used to pay for staff and services of the union, including your National Service Representative, research, communications, and legal, education, human rights, and health and safety support. These dues also support national campaigns, publications, meetings, and conventions which allow for the democratic functions of CUPE to function.

2. Local dues rates are set democratically by the membership of the local. CUPE locals have democratic autonomy over the spending of our dues, which gives CUPE locals more autonomy than most unions. All locals must have trustees and audited financial statements that oversee local spending and report that spending to the members.

The unionization of student workers at UBC should not affect the scholarship(s) you receive, even if we manage to bargain for increased wages.

This was an issue recently encountered by student workers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario when a pay raise was introduced. A union can fight to prevent UBC from reducing scholarship pay to compensate for the cost of increased wages.

At universities where Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and similar positions are unionized, those universities are not allowed to do this.

Will I still qualify for student loans if I am in a union?

Yes! Being in a union will not affect your eligibility for student loans. However, if your income increases, this might affect the amount of financial aid that you are eligible for.

When your eligibility for student loans is assessed, your income, your parents’ income, and your spouse’s income are all taken into account. This ensures that more aid is given to students with greater financial need.

Yes! Being in a union will not affect your eligibility for student loans. However, if your income increases, this might affect the amount of financial aid that you are eligible for.

When your eligibility for student loans is assessed, your income, your parents’ income, and your spouse’s income are all taken into account. This ensures that more aid is given to students with greater financial need.

This is a commonly used talking point to discourage unionization in any field of labour, but history has shown it to be entirely baseless. The unionization of workers at other universities in Canada has not led to reduced hiring. In fact, in some cases, university unionization has resulted in increased hiring, because the union establishes boundaries preventing students from working extra unpaid hours.

Universities like UBC have historically taken advantage of student workers by expecting them to do more work than they are being paid for. Unionization will help ensure that you are paid fairly for all of the work that you do.

Yes—this is one of the major reasons that we started the organizeUBC drive. Last year, we joined other organizers in campaigning for a tuition freeze for all post-secondary students in BC. Tuition is a unique challenge faced by university student workers that directly affects how much of their employment income can actually be used to pay for their basic needs.

When we file for union certification, there is a statutory freeze on current employment terms and conditions until the first collective agreement is completed. This means that legally, your pay and work conditions cannot get worse during the bargaining process.

The purpose of a union is to negotiate for better conditions for all of its member workers. While this might not necessarily mean that everyone gets a pay raise, it will not result in the enforcement of a new standardized wage.

At the very least, a collective agreement will establish enforceable boundaries preventing you from doing more work than you are being paid for.

This is something that will be dependent on the collective agreement made between CUPE 2278 and UBC. The union will seek to bring transparency to how many hours you are expected to work so that you can be paid properly.

Being unionized does not mean that mandatory standardized hours need to be enforced. For example, you don’t need to work 9 to 5 if you are in a union. We recognize that some workers prefer to work on weekends.

Nobody can force you to go on strike. Every aspect of the union’s collective bargaining process is conducted democratically, including striking. A strike will only happen if a strike vote is conducted and the majority of union members vote to strike.

A strike vote will only be initiated if CUPE 2278 and UBC are unable to reach a collective agreement during the negotiation process. It should be seen as a last resort if UBC refuses to negotiate in good faith and respond to the demands of student workers.

A strike doesn’t necessarily mean that all work is halted entirely—if you have time sensitive duties pertaining to your research, we can make accommodations for you. For example, if your research involves living things that require ongoing care, you’ll still be able to perform those time sensitive duties and get paid for them without “crossing the picket line.”

Thinking about the possibility of a strike can be scary and unfamiliar, but we shouldn’t see striking as a bad thing if it means securing workers the rights they deserve. One way that unions like CUPE can help make strikes a bit less scary is by providing something called strike pay. This is an hourly rate of pay which is disbursed from the national union in order to help recuperate the cost of missed work during labour action.

Striking would likely include picketing, but the primary driving force of a strike is the cessation or omission of work—proving to employers that they need us more than we need them by refusing to provide our labour until we know conditions will be improved. Since TAs are already unionized under CUPE 2278, they would be striking alongside and in solidarity with us, and we’d also have the support of other local unions.

Once you are unionized, the work you do must be paid for as wages, rather than in the form of a “stipend” or “financial award” like a scholarship or fellowship—even if the money is coming from a grant. This doesn’t mean you will get paid less, it’s simply a matter of legitimizing how you are paid, so you are not at risk of being overworked.

By paying for portions of your work as scholarships, UBC establishes a power imbalance. Rather than paying workers directly for their labour, UBC receives massive tax breaks by offering you compensation in the form of a stipend. Yes, your wages will be taxable if we unionize, but the impact on you should be negligible, considering the tax rebates available for full-time students

Questions from International Students

A union can make collective demands that address challenges that impact international students more significantly than other students. Since TAs are already a part of our bargaining unit, CUPE 2278 will be demanding that UBC cover the cost of international student MSP payments when they are working as TAs.

We could also demand that international students are given equal opportunities to be hired by challenging UBC’s hiring practices

This is a concern that the union could bring up during negotiations after unionization, since many student workers at UBC are international students. However, Canada’s immigration laws do not currently allow you to count the work you’ve done while you are a student toward your Express Entry application.

In Canada, labour unions exist apart from the government, and are run democratically, functioning according to the needs and wishes of voting union members. Most unions in Canada—including CUPE—are unified under the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

The CLC functions as the national governing body of unions in Canada, but it is not affiliated with the government of Canada. The Canada Labour Code outlines the national legislation surrounding the rights of employees and employers. The Canada Labour Code also determines how trade unions are legally allowed to function in Canada.

This is especially important for CUPE and its members to understand, because CUPE represents public employees—workers who are employed by the government. When CUPE bargains for improved rights for its workers, we have the added challenge of bargaining with an employer who is also the government itself. If you are a student employee at UBC—a public university funded by the Canadian government—that makes you a public employee.

Each Canadian province has its own central labour federation, such as British Columbia’s BC Federation of Labour (BCFED), which unifies all of the trade unions in BC under the CLC. BC’s trade unions defer to the Labour Relations Code (often referred to as simply “the Code”), which lays out the legal framework for how unions are allowed to function within BC. The application of this Code is overseen by the Labour Relations Board.

BC’s Labour Relations Board is a neutral party called an “administrative tribunal.” This tribunal resembles a legal court, but it is not part of the Canadian court system, existing separately from the government of Canada. Instead, it exists to mediate the relationship between BC’s trade unions and the government of Canada, as well as the relationship between the employee and their union.

While unions in Canada exist within larger provincial and national groups, they are ultimately centered around local unions or simply “locals.” CUPE 2278 is a local union that focuses on a specific group of workers in a particular place (UBC). It is essentially a branch of the larger national union, which can provide resources to our local union to help us organize.

No. Union cards are confidential, meaning that your employer will not know that you have signed a union card. The personal information that you share with us is kept securely and used so that we can stay in touch with you about our organizing drive.