Exactly one year after the beginning of the University of Toronto teaching assistants’ (TA) strike, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3902 demonstrated at King’s College Circle. The protest on February 25, 2016 was intended to remind the administration of the conflict, which the union maintains will remain unresolved until bursary funding is distributed.
In a handout prepared for the Governing Council, CUPE 3902 stated that they “demand their representatives in negotiations with CUPE act immediately to resolve the complaint and pay CUPE the damages to which it is entitled.” The Governing Council is the highest governing body at the University of Toronto.
Evan Miller, external liaison officer of CUPE 3902, and Robert Fajber organized the protest. “[The] goal of this rally was to apply pressure to the university and get all of the governors aware of the issue, since technically our contract is between the entire council and the union (even though only a few people actually negotiate the contract),” said Fajber.
“The administration provided faulty data to the Union around our graduate student members’ funding during last year’s strike, data which included all income rather than just funding, including income sources such as travel grants or casual employment (for instance, a summer job at the library or the bookstore),” said Miller. He said that the effect of the university’s error is to “claw back our members’ wages.”
“If the union were to distribute the money according to the employer’s data, as they are insisting, we would be complicit in what is tantamount to wage theft against our own members,” Miller added.
CUPE 3902 represents TAs, sessional lecturers, and postdoctoral fellows of U of T. Unit 1 of CUPE 3902, which represents around 6,000 TAs, went on strike last year for approximately one month. The strike resulted in the cancellation of numerous labs and tutorials; it ended with an agreement to enter into binding arbitration in late March 2015.
Last year, the union filed an unfair labour practice complaint with U of T, alleging that the university bargained in bad faith during the negotiations for the current collective agreement.
“The admin did not stay true to their word at all!” Fajber said, adding that the university promised them enough funds to raise all students to $17,500. Initially, this figure was part of a deal that the union rejected during the strike and was imposed during binding arbitration after the conclusion of the strike.
Fajber said that CUPE 3902 is not alone in its protest. Workers from four different locals on campus including CUPE 3902, CUPE 3261, Unite 75, and USW 1998 joined in to present a united front, despite protesting different issues.
These groups represent workers in the food service, custodial workers, groundskeepers, and day-to-day administration. Fajber said that shows of support such as this are effective during a labour dispute. He also said that the momentum was good, with a turnout of 60–70 people.
CUPE 3902 is currently in mediation with the university.
The Varsity did not approach the university for comment.