The University of Toronto has avoided labour strife to start the school year, after university administration and the United Steelworkers Local 1998 (USW), which represents nearly 7,000 permanent and casual workers at U of T, reached a new deal last week. USW membership voted to ratify the agreement on September 12, with the final count showing 73.9 per cent of members in favour. The contract applies to 4,100 employees.
Among the most significant stipulations in the new contract was a series of salary increases each year, through a combination of percentage increases and one-time cash payments. USW economist Erin Weir initially said the university was pushing for a wage freeze.
The salary increases amount to 0.5 per cent every six months for the first two years, rising to 1.25 per cent in the final year. The cash payments total $500 over the span of the contract. The deal also includes other benefits and education assistance.
Concessions from the USW include a decrease in the number of personal leave days from four to three, a reduction in the vacation payout that employees receive upon retirement or departure, and an increase in the amount of money employees contribute to the pension plan.
“We moved the University from austerity to increases, and from concessions to better benefits. Some may say this is not a ‘good’ deal, but I say this may be the ‘best’ deal possible,” said USW president Paul Tsang in a message to USW members preceding the vote.
Not all were in favour of the agreement. Linda*, an administrative worker at the Rotman School of Business, said this was her third time going through the collective bargaining process at the university.
“I don’t think this is a fair deal, especially in terms of the pension,” said Linda. “We didn’t lose the pension — the university kind of lost it for us, so having to pay it back, I don’t think is fair,” she added.
Linda said the loss of a personal day was a sore point, adding that while not every industry gets personal days, it is fair compensation for the work done by the USW members.
“In corporate, they get bonuses if they do well and meet their targets; we don’t, even though we are meeting, even exceeding targets…Most of the departments, because of all the cutbacks they’ve done, are seriously overworked and undermanned,” said Linda.
Mary*, however, who has worked at U of T for 34 years and is currently employed in a registrar’s office, echoed the majority of voters with her positive comments. “I think it’s a fair deal,” she said, adding that, given the economic climate, she was not expecting a raise.
Mary added that the concessions made by the union were “more than fair,” in light of the raises, and that they were ultimately manageable. “Losing a personal day, having to sacrifice vacation days if you don’t take them when you’re supposed to, the possibility of having to make higher contributions to our pension plan— it’s my pension plan and I’m happy to contribute, I don’t think that’s such a hardship… I am very happy to vote yes.”
The new contract will last until June 30, 2017.
*Name changed at request.