With 91 per cent of its 4,200 members in favour, CUPE 3902 (Unit 1) is set to strike on February 24 if U of T is unable to provide them with an agreement.
Despite the deadline, the union and the administration are hopeful that CUPE members won’t be forming picket lines.
“We remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement with our teaching assistants, who are so important to us,” wrote vice-provost, students Jill Matus in an email sent to U of T’s student body. “We assure you that, in any event, we remain committed to ensuring that the academic programs of our undergraduate students are continued without significant interruption.”
CUPE 3902 chief spokesperson James Nugent said that, likewise, the union is trying its best to avoid a strike and if they see progress, they will continue negotiating rather than put members on the picket line.
“During either a strike or lock-out, student course instructors would not hold classes, TAs would not be marking, and tutorials and labs would be put off until the labour disruption is over,” Nugent said. “We are hoping to negotiate a solution to the problems facing undergraduate and graduate students created by the administration during the term of our last contract. “
U of T has agreed to continue its discussions with the union on February 21 and 22. However, in the event that a strike occurs, Matus said that the university would remain open and would “respect the decision of those Unit 1 members who wish to continue working.”
“The University will not lock out its teaching assistants, as long as this remains operationally feasible. The University will also respect the decision of those who choose to strike,” Matus wrote.
The union, which represents teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, and graduate-student and writing instructors, brought three main issues to the negotiation table: tutorial sizes, funding for grad students — especially in their senior years — and dissertation research compensation.
The union wants to decrease tutorial sizes to a maximum of 50 students as well as award extra TA hours for those who manage tutorials with over 20 students.
They also want to alleviate the problem of decreasing funding for fifth- and sixth-year students — a problem worsened by the Doctoral Completion Grant’s elimination — and the up to $3,200 stripped from their annual dissertation research funding, especially when they have been assigned new non-dissertation research work responsibilities without an increase in pay.
Nugent said that the administration took no action in resolving these concerns, leading to 91 per cent of CUPE members to vote in favour of a strike.
“Despite the creativity and flexibility that our Bargaining Committee has brought to the negotiation table, the Administration has basically come to the table and said ‘no’ on our three core issues,” he said.
The union recently launched its own Boundless campaign, which is intended to be a parody of U of T’s Boundless fundraising campaign. It features pictures and subway posters of select CUPE grad students who are affected by the university’s alleged “boundless inequity,” “boundless inflation,” “boundless financial uncertainty,” and “boundless deception.”