U of T teaching assistants will vote on a strike mandate from Dec. 3 to Dec. 9. If they pass the mandate, their unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3902 will have the option of striking should contract negotiations with the administration break down.

CUPE 3902 has been bargaining with U of T since July. Improved maternity leave, smaller tutorials and labs, wages tied to inflation, improved health and dental benefits, and a two-year contract are currently on the table.

The union hopes to gain momentum from a yes vote, but the prospect of an actual strike will have to wait at least until February, after either the admin or the union has sought conciliation from the Ministry of Labour. If the parties still don’t reach an agreement, the union can then strike.

“The university continues to bargain with CUPE 3902 and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties without a strike,” said Angela Hildyard, VP of human resources at U of T. Several meetings are scheduled between the union and admin, starting today.

CUPE bargaining team spokesperson Rebecca Sanders said that they had reached agreements on several smaller issues, but not major monetary concerns.

“Before the strike vote they said no to our maternity and parental leave program,” said Sanders. Since the strike vote was announced on Nov. 4, she said, the proposal has been revisited.

Not all teaching assistants are supporting a possible strike. Mathieu Roy, a TA at U of T, wrote in opposition to TA strikes in the National Post, “I’ve had a taste of the exceptional conditions and wages, and believe me, you will never find better for a part-time job: $36 per hour, health and dental benefits for the entire family, flexible schedules, guaranteed re-hiring until graduation.”

“I can tell you from personal experience that TAs usually work considerably greater hours than what is in their contracts,” said Sanders. She argued that at those rates TAs earn $15,000 a year, which is below the poverty line. Sanders added that to complete their degrees, grad students complete hours of research outside of TA duties, for which they are paid little or nothing.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Union have both pledged support for CUPE 3902. A strike would only occur in the event of a serious breakdown in negotiations. In September, the Steelworkers union passed a strike mandate but reached an agreement with admin before they were due to strike.

“None of our members want to go on strike, but it is one of the few tools left to us if our demands are denied,” said Sanders.

TAs at York University went on strike on Nov. 6, shutting down classes. No resolution is in sight. The York Federation of Students has been criticized for announcing public support for the strike, even though 50,000 York students could lose a semester.

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