A few weeks ago, both CUPE 3261 and USW 1998 voted overwhelmingly in favour of securing a strike mandate. Although these votes don’t translate to immediate strikes, they highlight the impending challenges that unions face with bargaining every few years and further remind us that we should be paying attention to how this issue unfolds.
Historically, unionized work at U of T has allowed many workers to bargain for decent wages, healthcare, retirement benefits, sick days, and even subsidized tuition. However, challenges to protecting worker welfare constantly arise. CUPE 3261, representing workers from food services to caretaking, is presently negotiating for improvements to their contract. The union is faced with the daunting task of playing catch-up after enduring years of austerity spending. Casual workers, many of whom are students, have not seen an increase in wages since 2009, and are paid far less for doing the same work as their full-time counterparts. Meanwhile, in order to cut costs, the university continues to contract out cleaning services, replacing unionized positions with low-wage jobs.
Bargaining is an important process not only in determining the conditions certain workers face, but in setting the standards for workers everywhere. A strike would affect everyone from cafeteria staff or teaching assistants. Campus unions deserve our support in their fight for better working conditions — and not just during negotiations or strikes. As a premier public institution, U of T should be setting the standard for high-quality working conditions, not promoting low-wage, austerity-driven labour.
Stanley Treivus is a fifth-year student at Innis College studying Human Geography and Political Science.