Thanks to a reclassification of their role, some TAs are getting a raise

Some students will be receiving up to a 12 per cent raise after the reclassification of certain undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants (TAs) on October 13. 

“[UBC] expects these changes to affect approximately 10 per cent of the more than 3,000 TAs,” said Linda McKnight, the director of HR Advisory Services, in a written statement. 

This change is a result of an eight-month long negotiation between CUPE 2278 — the TA’s union — and UBC. According to Peter Lane, the business director of the union, this duration of time was needed to make the decision because while both UBC and the union agreed on the motivation behind it, which was mainly about fairness in pay, they needed to get consensus from and communicate the decision to different departments. 

The decision reached created two new categories of TAs, changing the pre-existing structure of job responsibility and pay grade. Structures differed based on whether TAs were undergraduate or graduate students.

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs)

The classification of UTAs has been divided into two groups, called UTA 1 and UTA 2. According to McKnight, UTA 1 comprises of UTAs whose responsibilities include “substantial student contact.”

Those who qualify for this group will receive a 12 per cent pay increase from $15.04 per hour to $16.84 per hour starting January 1, 2017. This start date was picked for administrative convenience. 

UTA 2 is for UTAs whose duties do not require such contact. Their pay will remain at $15.04 per hour, which is the current rate for all UTAs. Beside this difference, both groups will receive the same yearly increases as guaranteed by the collective agreement

According to the Memorandum of Agreement between UBC and CUPE 2278, “substantial student contact” is defined as “direct interaction with students on more than an incidental basis, [which includes] providing classroom teaching, conducting tutorial sessions, providing feedback on assignments and exams, holding office hours or demonstrating procedures to students.”

It does not include “setting up labs, demonstrations or classrooms; administrative duties; or class or material preparation notwithstanding that incidental or transactional contact with students may occur.”

“The aim of the reclassification was to recognize that UTAs do substantially the same work as graduate TAs, but they were getting paid substantially less,” said Lane. “The problem with that is that they are not only paid less, but every time there is a pay increase, the gap widens.”

This situation was attributed to the perception that teaching assistantships are mostly reserved for graduate students. This is no longer viable because of the skewed ratio between the number of undergraduate students and available graduate teaching assistants. Instead, UTAs now make up a considerable portion of all TAs in certain departments such as maths, computer science and commerce. 

Lane explained that to address this issue of fairness, UBC has created new positions through the reclassification that do not come under the government’s mandate. This allows the university to circumvent the existing cap on the pay increase and give UTAs the 12 per cent raise.

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA)

While keeping the two pre-existing categories largely unchanged, UBC has added a new classification called Senior TA to formally distinguish Lead TAs from general GTAs. According to the Memorandum of Agreement, the duties of a Senior TA will be mostly the same as those of a Lead TA, which include “coordinating other TAs and providing guidance, technical knowledge and subject matter expertise.” 

“[Furthermore], the new ‘senior TA’ job category established in the reclassification recognizes the leadership role that TAs with significant experience play for their colleagues,” said McKnight in a written statement. 

As a result, this group will receive a seven per cent pay increase from $31.33 per hour to $33.53 per hour. 

This change goes into effect this term instead of waiting for January 1, 2017.