The NB Media Co-op interviewed Nigam Khanal, the Chief Steward and a bargaining team member for the Union of Graduate Student Workers at the University of New Brunswick (PSAC Local 60550) on the current issues and struggles of her union.
NBMC: What are some main issues for graduate student workers? What issue is especially important to you?
Nigam Khanal: We set out to improve the language concerning harassment and violence in the workplace in our contract and have a new monetary offer, among other issues. We made some improvements on the harassment and violence at the workplace front on the day of mediation on March 11. However, we did not reach an agreement on a new monetary offer. The employer wants to give us 8 per cent increase in 8 years while we are asking for 14.5 per cent increase. The mediation ended on March 11 for the day because the employer was not willing to make any further moves in their proposal despite knowing that the majority of our members (72%) rejected their final offer in a vote.
NBMC: What is the best outcome that could arise from the bargaining table?
Nigam Khanal: The best outcome from the bargaining table would be to settle the negotiation in a respectable way, i.e. UNB should be more flexible regarding their offer. We have been very flexible in our approach to the bargaining process and willing to make sacrifices where we thought necessary. However, the employer hasn’t had the same attitude.
All of us want the negotiations to end respectfully so we can all carry on with out lives. We have courses to finish and work to do to graduate. We want to achieve a collective agreement that is fair and respectable so future graduate students who decide to join UNB will be happy and proud of the contract that they have in hand. We feel that the university is being unfair by taking so much time from students and letting this linger for so long.
NBMC: How can people at the university and in the wider community support graduate student workers?
Nigam Khanal: The university community should pay attention to labour-related issues. The community itself is made of several unions and in a difficult time like this, we really look forward to solidarity from the community. They could support us by sharing our petition which is online, encouraging others to sign the petition, sharing our letter to the Board of Governors, staying updated on our progress and participating in UGSW events.