Teaching Assistants are essentially glorified tutors, who are being paid to be students, while getting a coveted opportunity to build their resumes for a track they hope will someday lead to a professorship.
The real exploitation going on at universities is the way sessional staff are treated.
John Robson in National Post:
...The CBC also claimed sessionals teaching big survey courses “put in 60- to 70-hour weeks grading hundreds of essays and exams,” which is not true. My TAs work 130 hours per semester total, 10 hours a week per 13-week course, attending lectures, preparing, grading and seeing students, and as I split the grading with them I do roughly the same.
The problem isn’t how much sessionals do. It’s how little. Sessionals don’t get six courses a year; it would show up the professors. They’re lucky to get three. Meanwhile a full professor’s four courses a year averages out to 10 hours a week, a quarter of a real job, for pay and benefits out of reach of the typical taxpayer. Granted they also endure burdensome and largely pointless administrative duties. But they get ample time for research they presumably enjoy, of no necessary worth to the rest of us, including a sabbatical every seventh year...
See also: A remarkably idiotic editorial in the University of Toronto's newspaper, The Varsity, in which a MA student in Public Health claims that Teaching Assistants must be paid more to support their mental health. It's silly, but also a great study in the unrealistic worldview of the self-centred, self-entitled narcissism of a Canadian university student.
By his logic, McDonald's should be paying its burger-flippers six-figure salaries, but why should he have thought it through? It's not like universities teach or expect their students to do that anymore.
...As an employer, the university is responsible for improving the mental health of its students to create a safe and healthy environment. If the university is committed to improving mental health, then the negotiation with the TA union is an opportunity to transform the mental health challenges of students. The report by the Provostial Advisory Committee On Student Mental Health produced last year recommends programs for graduate students to create a greater sense of community. However, how can this sense of community be created when students spend their time struggling to make ends meet? Improving mental health at U of T requires interventions that transform the student experience. Reducing financial burdens on students is one of these interventions...