What has been one of the University of Toronto’s biggest stories from this past year is nearing its end.

On June 29, representatives of the University of Toronto administration and members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 Unit 1 will convene at an arbitration meeting.
CUPE 3902’s Unit 1 represents approximately 5,500 teaching assistants and other academic staff.

At this meeting, an arbitrator appointed by the province will hear presentations from both sides and come to a decision on a new collective bargaining agreement. This decision is final and binding for both parties.

“I remain confident, as I was at the end of the strike, that the union has strong proposals to bring to the arbitration and that the union is very likely to win the arbitration,” said Ryan Culpepper, chair of CUPE 3902 and chief negotiator for Unit 1. Along with Unit 1’s attorney, Culpepper will be giving the union’s presentation at the meeting.

Both CUPE Unit 1 and the university have confirmed that the arbitrator is William Kaplan, who has been working in law since 1989. A U of T alumnus himself, Kaplan received his B.A. and M.A. in 1980 and 1985, respectively.

U of T representatives have said they will be giving no further comment on the process until the arbitrator gives his ruling.

The strike itself

The collective bargaining agreement expired on April 30, 2014. The subsequent months saw no real progress towards a new deal, leading the union to accuse the university of having “stonewalled” attempts to negotiate.

Tensions rose, and Unit 1 members rejected a last-minute deal in near-unanimous fashion at a meeting at Convocation Hall on February 27, triggering the strike. The strike caused the cessation of all tutorials, some lecture sections, and some labs.

Undergraduate students and teaching assistants alike protested and took to the picket lines. Due to the disruption, U of T introduced a controversial strike contingency plan.

After the union rejected a second deal in late March – an action that prolonged the strike – the administration offered to go to binding arbitration. CUPE 3092 Unit 1 members accepted binding arbitration on March 26, ending the strike after a month.

Collective Agreement

A confidential Governing Council document obtained by The Varsity outlines some of the Collective Agreement’s key revisions that are not in dispute. These are both monetary and non-monetary.

The main provisions of the latter include a guarantee of appointment extended to a sixth year for PhD candidates, with a limitation of 280 hours, or one course instructorship, on subsequent appointments. The expected cost is $200,000, in place effective September 1, 2015.

The existing Letter of Intent was also renewed, stipulating a reduction of hours that can be counted towards the funding package from 205 to 200, from September 1, 2015 onwards. This number will be reduced to 190 hours commencing on September 1, 2016, and then reduced again to 180 hours one year later.

“New provisions for parental leave top-up, non-birth parent leave – the former paternity leave – and a new Serious Illness, Surgery and Hospitalization paid leave,” are one of the document’s promises, alongside the establishment of a new Health Care Plan.

This new plan involves handing over management of the plan to U of T through Green Shield, with a fixed annual cost of $3.2 million per year, resulting in an adjustment of benefits to not exceed this amount.

According to the document, the changes result in an increase in base of $400,000 per year, effective September 1, 2015.

Over the past two Collective Agreements, CUPE 3902 Unit 1 managed its Health Care Spending accounts on behalf of its members using a third-party. In this arrangement, U of T provided $2.8 million per year, with the union in control of setting individual and family entitlements, which the document states were set to an unsustainable level.
The lack of sufficient funds resulted in the accumulation of a $400,000 deficit in 2013–2014 and a similar figure the following year. The amendments therefore stipulate that U of T will cover the overspending for both years, provided that audited statements that demonstrate the overspending are produced.

A motion to implement the new healthcare plan passed at an in-camera meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on June 18, 2015.

Non-monetary revisions include a reduced requirement to print hard copies of the Collective Agreement; greater clarity in the hiring criteria for departments; a limitation on arbitral awards in respect of hiring grievances, and revisions to articles related to discipline.

The document claims that the discipline revisions would align with “more normative discipline articles thereby enhancing the University’s ability to respond in situations that warrant discipline.”

Remaining disagreements

As part of the arbitration process, both sides have submitted briefs. These are available on CUPE 3902’s website and they discuss the remaining issues facing the union and university.

The remaining disagreements pertain to who has the responsibility to administer and dispense funds for tuition relief to the Unit 1 members, and whether the money in these funds will be capped at a fixed total, amounting to just over $1.6 million a year, or be stipulated as a minimum amount to each individual eligible member.

The union is pushing for the latter, and is arguing that the university should be in charge of the funds themselves. They argue in their brief that the university should bear the risk of more money being required for tuition relief, such as there being an increase in the number of eligible members, since they have “greater control over the variables” that may cause this.

The university’s brief argues for “the terms of the ungratified March 18 2015 Memorandum of Agreement… should be awarded by the arbitrator” as the new collective agreement between the parties. This is referring to a tentative deal that was rejected in a ratification vote of the union membership on March 23, in a closely run vote.

In this deal, the university would dispense the fixed amounts of money to the union every year, which they would then be responsible for administering and dispensing to the members.

With files from Iris Robin