Following the expiration of their collective agreements on June 30, two campus unions — CUPE 3261 and USW 1998 — have secured a strike action mandate from their members. This means that as these two unions prepare for bargaining negotiations with U of T, they have the ability to leverage a threat of strike action.
CUPE 3261 represents full-time, part-time, and casual service workers at the university, as well as workers in the University of Toronto Press and the Faculty Club. USW 1998 represents 4,300 administrative and technical workers on all three U of T campuses.
After members voted on August 22, 23, and 24, CUPE 3261 secured a 96 per cent vote for a strike mandate from full-time and part-time workers, and 95 per cent from casual workers. According to the union, this was based on “substantial turnout.”
Strike mandate votes do not mean a start to strike; according to Ontario law, unions are required to hold these ballots before they are allowed to move towards strike action. If the bargaining committees cannot recommend the university’s offers by their respective deadlines, the unions may hold a second vote, this time on whether to go on strike or not.
In the case of CUPE 3261, according to the union, if the bargaining committees are unable to come to an agreement with the university, they will ask the Ministry of Labour Conciliator to issue a 17-day countdown. If, during that period, no agreement has come to fruition, a strike will begin.
Following the positive strike vote, CUPE 3261 has seven more meetings planned with the university, with the last on September 14. The USW 1998’s bargaining deadline is September 5.
The main point of contention for CUPE 3261 is immediately increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, ahead of provincial law providing for it in 2019.
Allan James, President of CUPE 3261, told The Varsity that they “want the Employer to hire U of T employees who make a living wage with health benefits and pensions who live and work and spend money in the GTA.”
Other points CUPE 3261 will bring up at the negotiations include paid emergency and sick leave, greater ability for casual workers to become permanent, and ending the external contracting out of cleaning services.
The strike mandate votes come as the new 2017–2018 academic year begins. James says that CUPE 3261 does “not want to inconvenience anyone. Our members do not want to go without income. However, we do want a campus which pays a living wage and which has pensions and benefits and a reasonable path to precarious employment.”
USW 1998 held a strike vote on August 17, in which 94 per cent of the union’s members voted in favour of a strike mandate. USW 1998 President Colleen Burke told The Varsity that the vote “lets management know that our members are behind us and that they are ready to take job action if need be, in order to get the best deal that we can.”
Burke said USW 1998 was “holding a strike vote now because the fall semester is approaching. Snow plow operators don’t go on strike in July. September is the busiest time for the university, when the work of our members is most important. A strike at this time of year would be far more effective than a strike earlier in the summer.”
A strike at the beginning of the new academic year has the potential to greatly affect the university community; these two unions represent thousands of service workers, ranging from maintenance technicians to grounds staff. They also serve employees greatly involved in student life, such as residence, athletics, and health.
The Varsity has reached out to the university for comment.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a correction to the details of the way the strike mandate vote works, and to include the 17-day countdown process that may be utilized by CUPE 3261.