CUPE3902 represents 8000 educational workers at the University of Toronto. This includes all Teaching Assistants, Sessional Professors, exam invigilators, writing coaches, lab demonstrators, post-doctoral students, and a range of other people who make the university work.
Grad student employees at U of T were the first in Canada to unionize, back in 1973. Since then, we have added a range of other crucial educational workers to our local. The purpose of CUPE 3902 is to present a collective voice to advocate for our rights. Our relationship with the university is defined by our Collective Agreement. It lays out our pay, benefits, training, the leaves we can take if we get sick or have kids, as well as rules on hiring, and other things that affect our lives as employees and as a result change the dynamics of your education. Renegotiating every few years is our only opportunity to make essential gains and to fix workplace problems.
Our union gives us a means for collective action and a way to overcome our parochial self-interests. We recognize that we would not have any of the rights we currently enjoy were it not for the solidarity of our predecessors and we are committed to the long-term project of labour rights and the quality of education at the University of Toronto. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
Why Strike Now?
CUPE3902 does not take the possibility of a strike lightly. While we are committed to the quality of education and most of us will pursue it as a career, the majority of our members are graduate students first and educators second. We have been working without a Collective Agreement since April, 2014.
On the first day of bargaining the Administration claimed its hands were tied by a dubious Provincial directive to freeze wages for public employees. Over the course of the past month a number of other unions at Ontario universities bargained for significant wage increases and commitments to job security, casting a rather stark light on the University of Toronto’s commitment to open and honest bargaining. Claims by the University Administration were later proven false by a spokesperson from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities who stated: “Ontario universities are autonomous institutions with responsibility for their own labour relations and human resource issues, including collective bargaining,”
The University has since backed off its position about provincial mandates, but still claims its hands are tied by “challenging fiscal realities.” The University of Toronto has a yearly operating budget of almost $2 billion. It recently announced a profit of $200 million for 2015. In addition, tuition rates for domestic students have increased 75% over the past fifteen years! These numbers simply don’t add up.
By every measure, the administration is asking us to take serious hits to our standard of living. We can’t walk away from our negotiations without fixing these problems. We took a strike vote hoping to break the deadlock. The strike vote enjoyed a historic turnout – the biggest ever for an academic union in Canada. Over 90% of members voted “YES”.
How Long Will a Strike Last?
The short answer is that we don’t know. The duration of a strike is entirely up to the university administration’s willingness to offer us a new Collective Agreement that ensures respect and dignity for the University’s education workers. Remember, the university works because we do!
The last time we went on strike was in 2000. The strike lasted 3.5 weeks, and resulted in the legally guaranteed funding package for all funded graduate students at the University of Toronto. No students have ever lost a semester due to an educational labour strike outside of Quebec. This being said, we are in an unprecedented position given the intransigence of the employer.
How can YOU Help
We are committed to running an effective, strong, and public strike. The best way to ensure we can all get back to work, and, more importantly, back to learning, is to lend your public support.
You can do so in a number of ways: send a letter to the administration, sign our petition, join us at public rallies, or come show your solidarity on the picket line!
Check out our page here
What Do We Want?
Our members face severe financial insecurity. Currently, Graduate Student Teaching Assistants receive a Guaranteed Minimum Funding Package of $15,000 for the work we do at the University of Toronto – 35% below the Low Income Cutoff line of $23,000 as defined by Statistics Canada.
Our situation is complicated given the fact that we’re bargaining for a range of different types of educational workers. Our bargaining platform focuses on addressing financial insecurity by attempting to get our members closer to the poverty line and offset the cost of inflation and rent increases over the years. In addition, we’re asking for job security for all our members through a number of different mechanisms and increased contributions to our union health care fund which has become over-burdened as our membership grows.
In past bargaining rounds we’ve focused on quality of education through hard caps on tutorial and lab sizes as well as better accountability to student feedback. This time we’re asking for more professional development in order to increase our effectiveness as teachers.
What is the Current State of Bargaining?
We have been bargaining in good faith for 10 months. The University administration has made little movement in terms of any of the chronic issues facing our members, continuously reiterating that there will be “no new net compensation increases.”
As a result of lack of movement, the Union filed for conciliation in accordance with The Ontario Labour Relations Act in December. In conciliation, a Ministry of Labour officer is brought in to bridge the differences between the parties. Since then, the University administration made little movement on the key issues and offered very few dates to meet with the Union’s bargaining team. CUPE3902 has consistently and publicly reiterated its commitment to add as many bargaining dates as necessary to come to an agreement. The university has balked, and has refused at all stages to even speak with undergraduate students.
As a result, the Union filed for a “no board” report (which marks the end of conciliation and suggests that the parties are not likely to reach an agreement). With the “no board” report issued, a mandatory 17-day cooling-off period is now in effect and parties are now in mediation where the Labour Relations Officer is attempting to bridge the gaps between the parties. Once the 17 day period is over on February 26, a strike is lawful.