CUPE 3902 Unit 1 sent its tentative agreement with the university to ratification Friday at Convocation Hall, but some members remain disappointed with the settlement.
“This tentative agreement that CUPE 3902 members will be voting on in the coming weeks is inadequate and premature,” said former CUPE chief spokesperson James Nugent.
Nugent, along with recording secretary Ashleigh Ingle, resigned from the union’s bargaining committee to speak out against the settlement. The committee was divided 4–3 over whether or not to recommend the offer for ratification.
“I could not, in good conscience, stand up in front of my fellow members and recommend a contract that will make their lives worse,” said Ingle, mentioning that the bargaining team’s original proposals amount to 0.2 per cent of U of T’s operating budget.
The proposed settlement will establish a working group to look into the issue of huge tutorial sizes instead of decreasing tutorial sizes to a maximum of 50 students like the union originally requested.
Nugent noted that the working group on tutorials established after the last round of bargaining “failed to achieve anything.”
To compensate for the recently eliminated Doctoral Completion Grant (DCG), the university will allot a $250,000 fund to be divided amongst unfunded fifth- and sixth-year grad students for the next two years.
The former spokesperson explained that if the fund were to be divided between an estimated 800 unfunded grad students in their senior years, each student would receive $312.50 annually for two years. In comparison, the DCG offered around $6,000–$8,000 per student.
Also, to address the issue that over the past three years, graduate students’ salaries haven’t increased but their workload has, the university will reward them two one-time-only payments totalling $150,000.
The deal was reached at 2 am Friday, two hours after the strike deadline.
Nugent said that he blames the admin’s “late-night” offer for the bargaining team’s “hasty decision.”
“Why did it take the administration eight months, plus the final week of negotiations, and a looming legal strike deadline, before they even began to start negotiating our three big problems?” he questioned. “The strategic decision of the administration to create this psychological pressure is completely irresponsible and reprehensible.”
Members of the union seem to be split in their feelings about the tentative agreement.
“Congrats to #cupe3902 on a reasonable tentative agreement, and well run meeting. Life’s not perfect, but it could be worse. Time to vote!” tweeted Matthew Parrott (@parrottmd) hours after the meeting.
On the other hand, socio-cultural anthropology PhD candidate Glen Chua (@gychuaa) tweeted, “Disappointed, after a long process” a day after Friday’s meeting.
Nugent said that the university has the money required to meet the union’s original demands.
He stated that according to Ontario’s Sunshine List — an annual compilation of public sector employees whose salaries exceed $100,000 — U of T’s top 50 administrators earn an average of $304,000 and receive over $5,000 in fringe benefits, while the “entire TA budget amounts to only 2.5 per cent of the entire U of T operating budget.”
Previously located at Hart House’s Great Hall, the meeting was moved to Con Hall due to the overwhelming attendance of more than 800 members.
Polls for the ratification vote will open on the week of March 5. Originally scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the date was changed due to the seven-day notice required for poll times and locations.
The deal that prevented CUPE 3902 from going on its fourth strike in the 39 years since its inception marks the culmination of more than nine months of contract negotiations between the union and U of T admin. It has stalled a potential strike of 4,200 union members including teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, invigilators, and some PhD and post-doc students who teach courses.
“Now that [the deal is] going to ratification, we have the opportunity for the entire membership to vote this contract down so we can get back to bargaining,” Ingle said. “Our members are mobilized, organized, and prepared for whatever happens, and I feel confident that we can come together and get a contract that actually fixes the problems that are leading to unpaid work, ballooning tutorial sizes and senior non-funded students being unable to pay their tuition.”
According to CUPE’s website, there is currently no strike action planned pending the outcome of the vote.
If the agreement is ratified, it won’t be up for renewal until April 30, 2014.
The university does not intend to comment further while the settlement, which has been recommended for ratification by the union, is under consideration by its membership.