CUPE 3902 holds strike countdown rally outside Simcoe Hall

Rally in support of bargaining negotiations comes on last day of conciliation

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, Unit 1 held a rally today outside of Simcoe Hall to support their bargaining team on the last day of conciliation between the union and the university with the help of a provincially-appointed conciliator.

The rally drew more than 250 attendees, many of whom wore CUPE toques, waved union flags, and carried signs and tarps that read, “UofT works because we do,” “Stop treating students like shit,” and “If no deal we’ll shut it down.”

“Hey hey U of T, we won’t go quietly,” and “We strike to win,” were among the chants at the rally.

Featured speakers at the rally included Pamela Arancibia, Chair of CUPE 3902, Ryan Culpepper — the CUPE 3902 Chair during the TA strike in 2015 — and Ahmed Gaied, Executive Vice President of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

Unit 1 represents more than 7,000 people who work at U of T as teaching assistants, student and postdoctoral course instructors, and exam invigilators.

Chris Chung, a PhD student and a TA in the Department of History, told The Varsity that they “have to show our support and solidarity for this cause.”

“There are a lot of issues that are long-standing,” Chung said. “And we have to go out and show our support in order to affect any change.”

Students also voiced their support for teaching assistants. Graham Coulter, a U of T student, said he was “here today because I’m supporting TAs in solidarity. 65 percent of my undergraduate department transfers into graduate education, so over half of us are going to be TAs, or are in a position where we can become TAs at one point.”

The main issue at the bargaining table is graduate funding. The union is currently seeking an approximately 25 per cent increase in the minimum graduate funding package, from $15,000 to $20,000, over the next two years, until 2020.

“We are hoping that the University will start to show us that they are willing to engage with the funding package and our other major priorities in a more meaningful way very soon,” Aleks Ivovic, Chief Spokesperson of the unit’s bargaining team, said.

U of T Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat told The Varsity that “it’s our goal to have a productive and constructive round of bargaining in order to reach that collective agreement.”

“While we remain focused on reaching an agreement, as a matter of course during any bargaining process, 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,” Hannah-Moffat said.

Other student groups were present as well, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU). Tom Fraser, Outreach Director of the U of T New Democrats, told The Varsity that he “[hopes] that the university can recognize how critical the fair treatment of our teaching assistants is to the functioning of the University and amend its side accordingly.”

Shortly after the rally, the UTSU posted a statement on Facebook and asked U of T Provost Cheryl Regehr to “do whatever you can within the collective bargaining process to avoid a strike.” The UTSU also asked for expanded CR/NCR option for students, even within their program of study, and to guarantee that no one’s graduation would be delayed as a result of a strike.

Teaching assistants voted to set February 26 as their strike deadline. This means that if no tentative agreement has been reached by then, or it the unit’s membership vote against it, then they will automatically vote to go on strike.

Update (February 7, 10:00pm): This article has been updated to include more comment from U of T’s Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat.

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