Why a Strike?

Overview of UofT Budgeting

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The University of Toronto is the largest and wealthiest public university in Canada. It has a student body of over 80,000 students across its campuses and increasingly relies on contract labour at the same time as it increases enrolment, class sizes, and tuition. The University has a yearly operating budget of almost $2 billion. The majority of this operating budget comes from you in the form of tuition fees and government grants. This means you have a say in how the university, as a public institution, allocates its funds.

The reality is that the university allocates a mere 3.5% of the budget to pay the education workers responsible for 60% of all teaching across the three campuses. As class sizes increase, many students feel alienated from the learning process. In this context TAs, writing coaches, lab demonstrators, and a range of other education workers play a crucial role in bridging the gap between teaching and understanding.
In past bargaining rounds we’ve fought for hard caps on tutorial and lab sizes, pushed the university to be more accountable to student feedback, and very often go beyond our contracted duties to help students apply for grad school, get jobs, and succeed.
What does the university’s budget commitments say about how it values educators? What does it say about its core mission of providing high-quality education? More broadly, what does it say about the changing role and purpose of public universities?

Facing “Challenging Fiscal Realities”?

In 2000, CUPE3902 fought for and won the first guaranteed funding package for graduate students at the University of Toronto. It took a 3.5 week strike and the incredible support of the University of Toronto community.
However, the funding package has been frozen at $15,000 since 2008. The result is that every year the real value of the funding package decreases as the cost of living skyrockets. The university is sticking to its bargaining position that it will not offer any increases to the overall value of the funding package because of “challenging fiscal realities.” This amounts to asking education workers at the university to sit idly by and watch the erosion of their funding package.
As it currently stands, TAs at the University of Toronto - Canada’s richest, and purportedly best public university - live at 35% under the poverty line. Once we’re finished our course work, domestic students continue to pay $8,500 for tuition and international students pay over $15,000 - for a library card and monthly meetings with our supervisors. All comparable institutions in the United States offer post-residency fees to reflect this reality.
Sessional professors have virtually no job security and mere $275 in health care despite having the same qualifications as full time faculty.

At the same time, tuition rates continue to climb and class sizes increase.

Where is your money going? Who, exactly, faces challenging fiscal realities? The students and education workers at U of T who live under the poverty line, or an institution that spends $2 billion annually, has billions of dollars in investments, and recently announced an income stream of $200 million for 2015?

The Bargaining & The Strike

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 wages 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 wage 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 TA members 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.