Teaching assistants set strike deadline for February 26

CUPE 3902, Unit 1 to go on strike should agreement not reached by then
Members of CUPE 3902 Unit 1 on strike in 2015
Members of CUPE 3902 Unit 1 on strike in 2015

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 3902, Unit 1, have voted unanimously to set February 26 as their strike deadline, as negotiations with the university continue. This means that if no tentative agreement has been reached by that date, or if it gets rejected by the unit’s membership, then they will automatically vote to go on strike.

The vote took place on Monday, January 22 in Convocation Hall. It comes after the union voted 89.4 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in December.

Unit 1 represents over 7,000 people who work as teaching assistants, student and postdoctoral course instructors, and exam invigilators at all three campuses of the University of Toronto.

Profesor Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice-President of Human Resources & Equity at U of T, told The Varsity that both the union and the university are “working hard” to reach a tentative agreement.

Since the strike mandate vote, the bargaining committees of the university and the union have started a conciliation process with the help of a government-appointed conciliation officer from the Ontario Ministry of Labour. The process was initiated by both sides. They first met on January 19, and will meet again today, January 24, as well as on February 7. This is in addition to regular bargaining meetings.

Aleks Ivovic, Chief Spokesperson for Unit 1’s bargaining team, told The Varsity that their current concern is that they haven’t made any progress on is their funding package. “That’s the biggest issue for members,” Ivovic said. “That’s been the biggest issue every round of bargaining since we had the funding package.”

Hannah-Moffat said that the university’s goal is to have productive and constructive rounds of bargaining to reach a collective agreement. “That said, as a matter of course during any bargaining process,” she said, “we have both business and academic continuity plans in place to minimize the risk of disruption for our students and the broader U of T community.”

The union is seeking a roughly 25% increase in the graduate funding package — from a minimum of $15,000 to $20,000 — over the next two years, culminating in 2020. According to Ivovic, however, the university contends that the funding is not a labour issue. “We told them it is,” Ivovic said. “We went back and forth a little bit about that, but didn’t actually discuss where to go,” he said.

On a potential strike, Ivovic reaffirmed the union’s position that they do not want a strike but will strike if they have to. “We go on strike because our working conditions aren’t what they should be,” he said. “We definitely don’t want to put undergrads in the position of a strike. We don’t want to be in a strike ourselves, and a strike only ever happens if we’re just so far apart from what we need, that we can’t come to an agreement.”

The collective agreement Unit 1 had with the university expired last December 31. It was initially struck up in May 2014. Bargaining negotiations have been ongoing for four months, since September.

The unit last went on strike three years ago, in February 2015. This caused a disruption in classes and tutorials, as teaching assistants and student course instructors went on strike for close to a month after rejecting a tentative agreement.

Editor’s Note (January 25): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the minimum funding package for graduates is $16,500. It is $15,000.

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