The striking SFU Teaching Support Staff Union has received a surprising sign of solidarity: the Toronto Raptors players have donated to the instructors’ strike fund.
The Raptors are in Vancouver for their 2023 training camp and the players, through the National Basketball Players’ Association, have donated $10,000 to the fund. And around lunchtime on Friday, Raptors player and NBPA vice-president Garrett Temple joined the TSSU’s picket line at SFU Harbour Centre.
In speaking with pickets, Temple said he applauded them for what they are doing. A graduate in business management from Louisiana State University, Temple said he very much understood how important teaching assistants are to a university’s learning experience.
“Teacher’s assistants were basically everything for us,” he said. “I understand how much TAs do for a university so on behalf of the union, on behalf of myself, we applaud y’all’s efforts, and continue to fight! Continue to fight!”
The NBPA is standing in solidarity with the TSSU, he said.
“The NBPA and its members on the Toronto Raptors are donating to the union’s strike fund, to support them as they continue their fight for a fair contract. We are hopeful they are soon able to return to the jobs they love, with a deal that respects their important contribution to student and university life,” he said earlier in a statement.
The TSSU has 1,600 members who are in a labour dispute with the university and are seeking cost-of-living adjustments and better wage policies and more secure working conditions.
TSSU trustee Dalton Kamish said the NBPA’s donation and then Temple’s appearance at the picket line had energized the union’s membership.
“There’s palpable electricity among our membership today,” they said.
The NBPA’s support was a big reminder of how the labour union movement stretches from coast to coast and across borders, Kamish added.
“Everyone knows Vancouver is a union town it’s really cool to see that manifest in such a generous donation,” the said. “Their donation goes a really long way to keep TSSU members housed and fed while we fight for a better future.”
SFU faculty have donated food and other unions from across the country have also donated to the strike fund, Kamish said.
“Our only opponents are the deep-pocketed SFU executives who think we should starve while they give themselves bigger and bigger raises each year. We’re tired of dunking on SFU’s weak defence of indefensible contract offers. The ball’s in their court”
The Raptors are holding an open practice at SFU’s Burnaby campus on Friday evening. When the TSSU realized this was on the schedule, they reached out to the NBPA about their situation, Kamish explained.
“The NBPA won’t host events at places that exploit their workers like SFU does,” they said.
Because the campus is a community hub, picketing on campus always requires walking a careful line, Kamish admitted. The open practice will include a ceremony recognizing Indigenous truth and reconciliation, for instance.
“We recognized these sorts of things shouldn’t be disrupted,” Kamish said. Talks between the union and the university are continuing and some progress is being made, but there remain many large differences between the two sides.
As a result, the TSSU continues to selectively picket at SFU’s three campuses — Burnaby, downtown and Surrey — with consideration given to community events that are taking place in all locales, like Friday night’s open practice.
“We’re not steelworkers. If we stop working, things don’t stop,” they added. Kamish and their colleagues recognize that they need the public on their side.
“One of the ways we get those fair wages is community support. It’s a different organizing situation.”
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