Following more than five months of negotiations, on February 8, the bargaining team of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902, Unit 1 reached a tentative agreement with U of T, two weeks ahead of the strike deadline of February 26.

To avoid the possibility of a strike, the tentative agreement will have to be ratified by the union membership. An ascension meeting will be held today, Monday, February 12, at 6:30 pm in Convocation Hall. The bargaining team will present the agreement and recommend it to the unit’s membership. They will also field questions, host a discussion, and vote on whether or not to send the document to a unit-wide ratification vote.

If the vote at the ascension meeting fails, the unit will return to the bargaining table with the same strike deadline of February 26. If it passes, voting stations for ratification will be available across all three campuses until February 16. If the full ratification vote fails, negotiations will resume with the university again.

CUPE 3902, Unit 1 represents more than 7,000 academic employees across the university who work as teaching assistants, student and postdoctoral course instructors, and exam invigilators at all three campuses.

Graduate funding was at the centre of negotiations. The unit’s bargaining team was seeking a roughly 25 per cent increase in the minimum graduate funding package, from the current $15,000 to $20,000 over the next two years, ending in 2020. Other issues included improved equity, health care, support for unfunded unit members, and working conditions.

The details of the tentative agreement are not currently available to non-union members.

Days before the tentative agreement was reached, the union held a strike countdown rally outside Simcoe Hall in support of the bargaining team on the last day of conciliation with a provincially appointed conciliator. The event drew more than 250 people, many of whom were waving flags, holding signs, and chanting, “Hey, hey, U of T, we won’t go quietly!”

“We’re confident the rally had a significant effect,” commented Aleks Ivovic, Chief Spokesperson for the unit’s bargaining team. “It wasn’t until after the rally that we made our most significant gains.”

Academic workers firmly backed their bargaining team at the rally. “This is very important. We have to show our support and solidarity for this cause,” said Chris Chung, a Teaching Assistant in the Department of History. “There are a lot of issues that are long-standing, and we have to go out and show our support in order to effect any change.”

“The union was guided from the beginning and at all times by the priorities set by the membership,” said Ivovic. “We have made significant gains in these areas and we are proud to present the agreement to our members.”

The university voiced support for the agreement. “We are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with CUPE 3902, Unit 1,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity. “We encourage Unit 1 employees to get out and vote on it and be part of this process.”

—With files from Kathryn Mannie.