SFU Works

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Local 3338 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees represents over 1200 workers, mainly at SFU campuses. Our diverse membership is spread among 7 Bargaining Units, with 7 different employers.

Precarious Work Plagues Higher Ed, Affecting Students Too, Say Workers

Written by Dave Chokroun. Posted in News

At CUPE town hall, speakers describe how waning job security seeps into the classroom.

By Katie Hyslop, The Tyee

Precarious work is on the rise at post-secondary institutions across British Columbia and the country, with negative impacts felt in workers’ security and wages. But it’s also impacting the quality of education students receive. 

That was the message at a CUPE town hall Thursday night at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus, where members from UBC locals discussed the implications of part time, casual and contract employment in higher education. Speakers included former and current union reps from UBC, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and North Island College.

But in the lead up to B.C.’s provincial election, CUPE BC members say there are many small changes the next government could make to turn things around for casual and part-time post-secondary workers.

“The post-secondary sector is one of (CUPE National’s) sectors that has the highest number of precarious workers,” said Chandra Pasma, a researcher for CUPE National.

Precarious employment affects post-secondary instructors, custodians, food service workers, admin workers and tech support workers, to name a few.

Ed Kroc, former UBC graduate student and teaching assistant, presented his research on precarious work in B.C.’s institutions. He cited CUPE Local 116 as an example: representing a wide variety of non-academic UBC workers, members included nearly 750 part-time workers in 2008 — an eight-fold increase since 1993. 

“At the same time there’s been a contraction of full-time workers, and you can see the share of full-time workers from almost all full-time workers in ’93, down to just more than half [of members] being full time in 2008,” said Kroc, now a UBC post-doctoral student. 

The implications are broad. Leann Dawson, business manager for CUPE 4163 representing sessional lecturers at the University of Victoria, said that out of nearly 500 sessional lecturers in her union, only 65 have guaranteed courses every semester. Everyone else must reapply for courses every semester, with no guarantee of work. 

“There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t have somebody in tears, either on the phone or in my office, because of the lack of security,” said Dawson, a problem made worse by the rising cost of housing in Victoria. 

Nor can sessional lecturers easily apply for employment insurance to make up for lost work when they’re paid by the course instead of hourly. 

But there are implications for students, too. When courses are cut, students aren’t always able to access prerequisite courses, thereby extending the length of their studies and the tuition they pay. 

“At our university, there’s been cuts to programs and there’s been huge increases to class sizes,” Dawson said of UVic. “Those very clearly don’t equal good learning. We should be bringing the parents in on a coalition to say ‘no.’”

Speakers pointed to B.C. government mandates requiring that institutions make cuts to pay for any gains workers achieve through bargaining, as well as a decrease in provincial and federal funding to post-secondary education, as reasons behind the growth in precarious work. 

“Institutions used to be 80 per cent or more funded by government,” said Michelle Waite of CUPE Local 3479, which represents North Island College support staff. Now it’s around 50 per cent, she said, with the rest made up from a combination of tuition fees and corporate partnerships. 

Presenters identified several steps the next B.C. government could take, each one providing a step towards instructor job security: remove government mandates that dictate bargaining outcomes; increase minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $10.85; increase funding to post-secondary; and fix the housing crisis.

“That would take a huge amount of pressure off,” said David Chokroun, Simon Fraser University CUPE Local 3338, in reference to housing costs. “I would love to work 60 per cent full time instead of 100 per cent full time, but who can afford it living in Vancouver?”

This article was originally posted on March 20 at
Reproduced with permission.

“A constant state of anxiety”: Living and working next to the Kinder Morgan tank farm

Written by Dave Chokroun. Posted in News

Members of the SFU community continue to voice their concerns after Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Burnaby Mountain tank farm have met with approval from federal and provincial governments.

In a presentation to the local at the November 30 AGM, member Lauren Barke called on the university to honour its responsibilities to the community. “Will SFU be able to fulfill its legal and moral responsibilities to provide a safe environment and workplace for its faculty, students, and staff if the expansion goes ahead as planned?”

Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion was approved by the federal government on November 29 and by the province on January 11. The expansion will more than triple the capacity of the tank farm, which currently houses 13 tanks with a capacity of 1.7 million barrels of petrochemicals. Kinder Morgan plans to add 14 new tanks, raising capacity to 5.6 million barrels.

“Essentially, my whole life is on Burnaby Mountain. I live, work, and go to school here, as does my husband. Right now I feel like I’m living in a constant state of anxiety because my basic living environment is unsafe due to the tank farm,” Barke says. “Based on extensive evidence I have read, I’ve been active on this issue because I truly believe expanding the tank farm is unsafe – and will lead to a major catastrophe that will put entire communities, both on and off Burnaby Mountain, at extreme risk.”

Local president Fiona Brady Lenfesty shares the same concerns: “The local is extremely disappointed by government decisions to approve the Trans Mountain expansion. Many of our members travel to the Burnaby Mountain campus on a daily basis and we are very concerned about the profound environmental impact that increased tanker traffic will have on our work site, not to mention the significant health and safety risks that would arise should there be a spill. We stand in solidarity with environmentalists, First Nations, lower Mainland mayors and our campus community on this issue.”

According to a report by PGL Environmental Consulting released by SFU in November 2016, the expanded tank farm would place tanks approximately 150m from the intersection of Burnaby Mountain Parkway and Gagliardi Way and 700m from the campus. The report notes that Kinder Morgan has not provided adequate information for the university to develop an evacuation or emergency response plan in a “worst-case scenario.”

SFU administration has voiced serious concerns to Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board since the Trans Mountain expansion was first proposed in 2014. In a November 28 statement accompanying the environmental report, President Andrew Petter stated that “any increase in risks to the health and safety of the SFU community resulting from this expansion is unacceptable to the University.”

Kinder Morgan plans to start construction on the Trans Mountain expansion in September 2017. The proposal has met with criticism and resistance from Burnaby and Vancouver councils, Burnaby Fire Department, community residents, academics, and activists. In November 2014, over 70 were arrested after protestors defied a BC Supreme Court injunction to leave campsites in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area where Trans Mountain employees were surveying. Five protestors – including SFU staff and faculty – were named by Kinder Morgan in a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit, later dropped by the company.

Upcoming events and information

On Friday, March 24, Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder-Morgan Expansion (B.R.O.K.E.) and environmental group 350Vancouver are organizing a rally and Toxic Tour of the tank farm. Event details are at: 

SFU statement on the tank farm expansion and PGL report

Kinder Morgan and Public Health at stand.earth

Burnaby Fire Department analysis (May 2015)