The Varsity has learned that Mikael Swayze, chief negotiator for CUPE 3902 during contract negotiations with the University of Toronto administration earlier this year, was hired away by the university weeks after concluding high-stakes bargaining that made headlines in this newspaper over the threat of a TA strike.
Swayze was employed by the union from December 1998 until his departure in April 2012, and acted as the chief negotiator for CUPE 3902 Unit 1 during talks last year. CUPE 3902 represents all teaching assistants, writing instructors, and lab demonstrators at the university.
Swayze left the union for a position as a strategic labour consultant within the university’s Department of Human Resources & Equity. University spokesperson Michael Kennedy said the university does not comment on matters involving individual employees.
Sources within CUPE have suggested that as chief negotiator, Swayze had significant strategic weight in shaping the tone and direction of the negotiations. His duties included training the bargaining team and giving strategic counsel. He was also the designated voice of CUPE 3902 Unit 1 during the bargaining process with U of T administration.
When a deal could not initially be reached, 91 per cent of union members voted in favour of a strike last December.
University administrators and students prepared for the worst as negotiations went on into February. The strike was narrowly averted when a last-minute deal was struck at 2 am, two hours after the deadline had passed.
From the beginning, the final terms of the agreement appeared to be contentious. The bargaining committee was divided 4–3 on whether to recommend the offer for ratification. James Nugent and Ashleigh Ingle, two members of the bargaining committee opposed to the final terms, resigned in protest.
The terms of the agreement were unenthusiastically adopted by the membership in a later vote. Sixty-seven per cent (1197 members) voted in favour of the agreement, while 600 voted against. CUPE’s 2009 ratification vote garnered 97 per cent voter support.
The new terms included establishing a working group to look into ballooning tutorial sizes and replacing the doctoral completion grant with an allotment of $250,000 over two years for unfunded fifth- and sixth-year grad students. The university also agreed to give graduate students two one-time payments totaling $150,000 to compensate for increased workload.
Current CUPE 3902 chair Abouzar Nasirzadeh declined to comment, adding that his current contract forbade him from commenting on staff matters. But some of Swayze’s former colleagues say they feel betrayed.
“The ink was hardly dry on the tentative settlement that Swayze and other bargaining team members signed when Swayze accepted his new post,” says Nugent, who sat on the committee with Swayze and acted as spokesperson during negotiations prior to his protest-resignation.
Swayze stated that he did not start searching for a new job until after the deal was finalized.
“Collective bargaining concluded in February and the contract was ratified at the beginning of March of this year,” he said. “Completing this round was a major project for me in my career. With my major project for the year completed, as someone mid-career, I contemplated my future and commenced a job search.”
Swayze also noted that the job listing for the new labour relations position at U of T was not posted until mid-April, when changes in staffing warranted the creation of a new position.
Nugent says members of the union looked to Swayze at the time “for a certain degree of leadership and guidance as to whether or not the U of T Administration’s final offer was adequate, was indeed their ‘final’ offer, or whether our union should have continued bargaining or taken strike action.”
“My role as staff rep involved being a problem solver,” insisted Swayze. “I had no vote in any decisions made. My only role was to provide my best professional advice.”
“This kind of move — from union to management — is quite common in labour relations at the university and more generally in the industry,” he added. “For instance, Angela Hildyard, vice-president, human resources and equity was a leader in OPSEU 578 at OISE before moving over to an administrative labour relations role.”