Ryan Culpepper, the vice chair and chief negotiator for the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 bargaining committee, has written an open letter to the University Provost Cheryl Regehr:
We know each other. We have sat across the table from each other in previous rounds ofbargaining, and we’ve worked in collaborative ways on task forces and working groups. We share a commitment to graduate-student support. We believe in negotiating fair deals. You are an honest person and a social worker who’s attuned to the needs and vulnerabilities of your fellow human beings. But members of CUPE have not witnessed you acting that way.
I’m asking you the following questions in an open letter because your Bargaining Team is not meeting with ours, and because when hundreds of freezing student-workers came to your office yesterday, and again today, requesting to hear from you, you refused to come out. We’re in the dark here. Without answers and with no communication, and with untrue and insulting information appearing in the media, people are getting increasingly frustrated and angry. The possibility of a negotiated settlement is becoming more remote. I sincerely don’t think that’s what you want to happen.
Can you please clarify the following?
1) You and I both know that graduate funding is insufficient. You’ve said that to me and others. We haven’t agreed on the ways to raise it, but we agree it needs to be raised. On the graduate-funding working group, you proposed departmental slush funds to top up the funding of only certain students. The student representatives insisted on an across-the-board increase to the minimum.
Now you’re speaking to the media and saying grad students are flush with cash and have no need for improvement. Your “Globe” interview included absurd claims that every CUPE member can see through. I’ll spare you a catalogue of the colourful responses I’ve heard. So which is it? You are publicly portraying us as base, greedy and deceptive people who issue threats to fellow member that we in fact have never issued, and in addition to stationing campus security at each of our picket lines, you are spending thousands of dollars every day on a private investigation firm with no function other than to collect evidence toward injunctions against your own students peacefully exercising our legal rights, as if we were criminals.
I know that’s not how you see us. Will you please just confirm your longstanding position that grad students don’t receive enough funding and that the funding must be increased? Is it really your position that the funding minimum will never go up? I can’t believe that’s the case. And if not now, after 7 years, when?
2) You know how the funding package is structured. We spent over a year in a working group discussing the relationship of employment income to the rest of the funding package—something the media have not yet accurately portrayed, largely due to your own knowing misstatements. CUPE, the Graduate Student Union and your administration issued joint recommendations regarding the work/funding relationship. You know that, unless the structure of the funding package fundamentally changes, proposed wage increases are meaningless for people on internal funding. Will you state that publicly and stop focusing on wages? This is a dishonest message, and you know that.
3) The numbers you’ve publicized to the University community regarding average graduate income at U of T are flawed in many ways. You know that, because we’ve been through the numbers on your working group. When we discussed them, your representatives— including a few social scientists—freely admitted the problems with the way the averages were calculated, and the problem with relying on averages more generally (a topic covered in every Sociology 100 class).
The distortions are obvious. CUPE’s membership includes statisticians and economists who can easily expose the ridiculousness of the numbers, as well as computer scientists who can recover the hard data your administration has inexplicably deleted from the School of Graduate Studies web site.
I know you to be a person uninterested in deception. Please provide the necessary context for these numbers or remove them. The Union can also provide this context if you are unwilling.
I believe this labour dispute can be settled relatively easily if your administration simply does the things you’ve known and admitted for years that it needs to do. Increase the funding minimum. It’s been 7 years! Stop charging full tuition to unfunded students who take no classes—anyone with a moral compass knows that’s wrong. If we could take your word that these things would happen without a strike, we would. But when we last bargained in 2012, you sat across the table from me as we negotiated the creation of the graduate funding working group. You and your colleagues looked me in the eye and said, “Ryan, I know that if this working group doesn’t produce results, we’ll never be able to get an agreement with CUPE in this way again.” You knew you had three years or there would be a strike. Here we are, three years later, and you were right. Let’s get together, produce results and get to an agreement. We’re willing if you are.
Sincerely, —Ryan Culpepper
CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Chief Negotiator PhD Candidate