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:Sign Our Petition
Join Our Public Rallies
Send a Letter to the University of Toronto Vice President and Provost
Dear Professors Hildyard and Regehr,
Dear Professors Hildyard and Regehr,
I am writing to express my concern about the ongoing CUPE 3902, Unit 1 strike and to signal my support for the teaching assistants who make this university run. CUPE 3902’s proposals for living wages, job security, and working conditions are fair and reasonable, and have a direct impact on my learning conditions.
You have claimed that the University’s hands are tied because of an Ontario Government directive, and “challenging fiscal realities.”
However, U of T recently forecast a $200 million income stream for 2014 / 2015, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has said that universities are autonomous in labour relations, and a number of other universities in Ontario have granted significant wage increases and job security guarantees to educational employees.
In addition, the university spends only 3.5% of its almost $2 billion yearly operating budget on contract education workers who are responsible for 65% of teaching. Most of the educators responsible for my education earn 35% under the poverty line. This situation is entirely unacceptable, both to me and to my fellow undergraduate students.
Most of your operating budget comes from tuition fees and taxes. Why don’t you spend it on my learning conditions? Why are you subjecting the university to a damaging strike? Since the strike began, you have refused to meet the union at the bargaining table. U of T has settled agreements, including improvements in wages, job security, and working conditions, with other unions on campus, including contract faculty also represented by CUPE 3902. Why have you refused to speak to your TAs representatives?
Why do you continue to hide behind the logic of austerity when the numbers simply don’t support your position? I demand that the university abandon its false claims around fiscal austerity, bargain in good faith, and agree to CUPE3902’s demands for living wages.
I assure you that, in this strike, my TAs will have my full support.
[Your Program], [Your Position]
Distribute Our Open Letter to your Parents, Partners, and Support Networks
Members of CUPE 3902 – the union representing 7000 Sessional Instructors, Teaching Assistants (TAs), Lab Demonstrators, Invigilators, and Writing Instructors across all three U of T campuses – have been working without a contract since mid 2014. We have been negotiating with the U of T administration since the summer, trying to agree on the terms of a new Collective Agreement (our contract) for teaching assistants. As of Friday, February 27th, U of T TAs are on strike.
We’re writing because many of us are students ourselves, and we’re intimately aware that undergrads are not the only people affected by the strike. Many of you financially support, share a debt burden with, or simply care about an undergraduate student, and as such you deserve an explanation about the situation, what to expect going forward, and how you can get involved.
Grad student TAs have two roles. Our primary role is as students and early-stage academics. This is why we’re at U of T. Our secondary role, to which students are exposed, is as educators. Most of us are passionate about teaching and intend to pursue careers in education. Still, we often undertake TA work as an obligation. The casualization of labour at U of T means that members of CUPE 3902—including TAs—do around 60% of teaching. The university relies on our cheap labour, while raising tuition and increasing class sizes.
Our union represents a collective voice to advocate for our rights. Our Collective Agreement lays out our pay, benefits, training, leave if we get sick or have kids, as well as rules on hiring, and other things that impact our lives as employees. Re-negotiating every few years is our only opportunity to make essential gains and to fix workplace problems. In the past we have worked hard for caps on tutorial sizes, more responsiveness to student feedback, and more support for pedagogical training to improve quality of education. We can’t stress this enough: our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
Since the beginning of the strike, the University has refused to negotiate. This is in contrast with York University, the president of which has stated his intention to negotiate with the union representing York TAs and sessional instructors, who are now also on the picket lines. Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has stated that both universities should return to the bargaining table. We agree. Our negotiating team remains available at any time.
No one relishes being on strike. We want to be in the classroom and advancing our research, not picketing in the cold. Still, more than three months ago, more than 90% of our membership endorsed this strike action in the largest academic local union turnout in Canadian history. They did so believing they had no other choice. On February 27th, an overwhelming majority of members at a union meeting voted down the university’s last offer. The university continues to press an agreement its TAs have overwhelmingly and democratically rejected. Provost Cheryl Regehr has called the offer “fair” and even “generous,” even though it will leave our members well below the poverty line.
The administration came to the bargaining table claiming that under no circumstances would it increase the value of our funding package or our health benefits. Accounting for inflation, this means cuts to real compensation and benefits, and a continuing reliance on cheap, casual teaching at one of North America’s top universities. Indeed, our graduate funding package—much of which we earn through an hourly wage—has been fixed at $15,000 since 2008, with inflation eroding its real value. The university allocates a mere 3.5% of its $1.9 billion budget to CUPE 3902 workers, the vast majority of which comes from tuition and taxes.
Many students feel the University owes them the courses they signed up for. As students ourselves, we couldn’t agree more. As workers, we believe our employer should not force us to strike to achieve a living wage. Striking takes time away from our careers, not to mention driving a wedge between us and our students. Unfortunately, by any measure, now work harder with less support and for less money than we did three years ago.
We know a fair contract is possible. The university claims its hands are tied by a Provincial Government directive to freeze public sector wages. However, sessional faculty at Ryerson ratified an agreement that provides a 4.5% wage increase, funding for professional development, improved benefits, and pay for important work performed outside of the classroom. At U of T, our fellow union members who are sessional instructors achieved a new contract on February 18th, with substantial gains. Sessional instructors work without job security, for low wages, and with few benefits. Many hold PhDs and have publication records like regular faculty, but teach on a course-by-course basis for far less income. However, thanks to the union’s efforts—and your support—they have achieved real improvements. The University can afford to support its TAs as well.
You are far from powerless in this situation, and with your help we can change it. You can call, email, or send a letter to personnel in the University’s administration and ask them to bargain in good faith with the people who are responsible for undergraduate education. Let the university know how you feel about the reality that despite being the wealthiest university in Canada, working and learning conditions are falling behind other universities while class sizes and tuition rates continue to climb.
We suggest contacting:
Professor Cheryl Regehr, Provost
Alex Brat, Director of Labour Relations
Professor Angela Hildyard, Vice President for Human Resources & Equity
Office of the Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity Room 112, Simcoe Hall 27 King’s College Circle Toronto, ON M5S 1A1
Office of the Vice-President and Provost University of Toronto Simcoe Hall, Room 225 27 King’s College Circle Toronto, ON M5S 1A1
You can read updates on the strike, and find out how to help, at www.weareuoft.ca. Follow us on Twitter @cupe3902. Our Facebook page is CUPE Local 3902.
You can reach our Outreach Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, clarification, or advice.
Support the Union During the Strike
1) Join strikers on a picket line during your free time. You can join up anywhere you see picketers; just ask for the Picket Captain when you arrive.
2) Try to minimize your time on campus unless you are clearly there to picket. Although it’s unlikely all of campus will close all of the time, the University is considered a “struck” location cordoned off by picket lines both real and symbolic. It’s a show of solidarity not to enter a struck workplace if that’s at all possible.
3) If you’re asked to attend a meeting on campus—especially if it’s at a campus café or other commercial venue—politely ask if you can meet off-campus instead.
4) If you’re part of an event on campus and the event cannot be rescheduled or moved off-campus, ask to make a statement at the beginning of the event clarifying that the organizers of the event support the Union and the strike.
5) If you do have to be on campus, carry Union literature with you and distribute it to your friends and colleagues around campus.
6) Make it clear when on campus that you’re a Union supporter. Wear buttons and other Union swag. Express vocal support to the strikers if you see them around campus; it will raise their morale.
7) Pack a lunch and avoid patronizing the University cafeterias; try not to spend any money on campus—this would be like supporting the Employer during a strike.
8) Write an op-ed to a campus paper, a city or national publication, or an online forum like blog.toor torontoist.com. Tweet pictures of picket lines, and write Facebook messages of support. Try to counter negative comments that may appear on social media with real facts.
9) Write or call the University administration and let them know you support the Union’s demands. Urge them to get back to the bargaining table and give Union members a contract.
10) Ask your own Union (if you’re a Union member), activist group or community organization to donate to the Union’s strike fund and/or send a letter of solidarity to the Union.