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. We are comprised of a number of ‘Units’. Unit 1, our largest, represents TAs, Course Instructors, Exam Invigilators, Lab Demonstrators, and a number of other education workers.
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 leave 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 of 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.
Unit 1 members officially went on strike on Friday, February 27th. We do not take striking 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.
The Administration negotiated on the basis that it could not increase compensation because its hands were tied, by a dubious Provincial directive to freeze public employee wages. Over the past month, a number of other unions at Ontario universities bargained for significant increases and commitments to job security. This cast the University of Toronto’s commitment to open and honest bargaining in a rather stark light. The claim was 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,”
Since the beginning of the strike, Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has called on the Administration to return to the bargaining table. However, the continues to claim 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! Meantime, CUPE 3902 members account for about 3.5% of the University’s budget. These numbers just don’t add up.
By every measure, the administration is asking us to take serious hits to our standard of living. We can’t accept a new collective agreement that does not address these problems. The union’s TAs, Course Instructors, and Exam Invigilators have spoken with one voice on this. Last November’s strike vote enjoyed a historic turnout – the biggest ever for an academic union in Canada. Over 90% of members voted to authorize a strike, in the event an agreement was not reached.
No. Undergraduate students can continue to attend lectures and other courses taught by professors and contract faculty. Doing your academic work and going to the library do not constitute crossing a picket line. That said, choosing not to go to class in solidarity with the picketers is a powerful statement, and the university’s own policy states that you will NOT be penalized for not going to class during a labour strike as long as you continue to complete your coursework.
We recognize that you may have been planning your events for many months in advance, and that moving them off campus may not be practical or even desirable in many cases. However, we do ask event organizers to consider moving them if possible. If that’s not a possibility, a statement of solidarity and/or acknowledgement that your event is occurring would be most welcome.
We can’t know how long the strike will last. Its duration rests on the University Administration’s readiness to bargain for a new Collective Agreement that ensures respect and dignity for the University’s education workers.
There is no reason to think that the academic year will be lost. No Canadian students have ever lost a semester due to an educational labour strike, outside of Quebec. We hope and expect that the university will return to the bargaining table and begin to bargain in earnest. If this happens, we believe a settlement can be reached.
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 tuition relief for unfunded PhD students who take no courses. Lastly, 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.
No. The average student’s tuition fees have increased by 75% in the past fifteen years (source: http://www.fees.utoronto.ca/archive.htm), while our funding package has increased by only 12% over the past fifteen years. If our funding package had any relationship to your tuition, it would have increased from $12,500 in the year 2000 to $22,000 today! However, it only stands at $15,000 right now, and has not changed since the year 2008. Incidentally, administrative salaries have increased 4 times the rate of inflation since 2008.
This is not true. For example, TAs and contract faculty at York receive compensation and benefits that are in many respects better than U of T’s. York TAs achieved these gains by acting collectively, as U of T TAs are doing now. More importantly, though, relative pay is not entirely relevant. What matters is that U of T TAs are compensated well below the poverty line. In real terms—adjusted for inflation—their wages and compensation are decreasing every year.
On February 27th, the Union’s bargaining team brought the administration’s final offer to the membership. The members present voted overwhelmingly—about 90%—against it. They did so believing it failed to address their core concerns about compensation, tuition, and quality of education.
Since the beginning of the strike, the University Administration has refused to bargain. Our bargaining team has repeatedly made clear that they are ready and willing to meet at any time. We want to resolve this strike now. The University can help us end it only by addressing the real issues our members face.
We did not get to this stage easily or lightly. Indeed, we have worked hard to reach an agreement from the inception of bargaining, 10 months ago. The University administration has made little movement on any of the chronic issues facing our members. Throughout the process, the University has offered the union few bargaining dates, preventing enough meetings for a meaningful agreement to be reached.
In December, in accordance with The Ontario Labour Relations Act, the Union filed for conciliation. In conciliation, a Ministry of Labour officer is brought in to facilitate negotiation. However, conciliation produced little additional progress. As a result, the Union filed for a “no board” report, marking the end of conciliation. A 17-day cooling- off period followed, after which the union was in a legal strike position.
CUPE 3902 has consistently and publicly reiterated its commitment to bargain as often as necessary to reach an agreement. We have taken this action only because the University has consistently failed to bargain for a fair deal.
We did not walk away from the bargaining table, and we are more than willing to come back to the bargaining table. At this point, we have issued an open invitation for talks with the employer. They have said they have no plans to meet with us, now or in the foreseeable future.
After a strike, back to work conditions are negotiated between the University and the Union. The employer has made assertions about what will be negotiated in the protocol. However, in practice, only negotiations can determine its content. The Union is committed to negotiating a protocol that minimizes any loss of hours/wages, and thus of grading that gets done.
The capacity of the union to negotiate a protocol that’s fair to members and students will depend on the strength of our picket lines, and the strength and duration of the strike. A strong, short strike will help us arrive at a strong back-to-work protocol. Most of all, the way for the University to facilitate returning to work is to return to the bargaining table.
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!
Contribute to the crowd fund started by undergraduate students to raise money for the picketers: