The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, a subset of the larger CUPE representing academic employees at the University of Toronto, is working on ratifying agreements with the university and beginning negotiations for two of its units.
Tentative agreement negotiations in the past have inspired the union to take up a strike vote, which requires all members of the union to strike until their demands are met.
Unit 5, which represents some postdoctoral fellows employed by U of T, will vote to ratify its tentative agreement with the university. The agreement prioritizes greater work flexibility, longer paid leave for parents and survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and university help for U of T postdoctoral fellows that are relocating to Toronto.
The agreement also includes an annual salary increase of one per cent for minimum postdoctoral salaries, and a one per cent increase in salary for those who have multi-year contracts.
“We believe that [the agreement] reflects the best deal for postdocs that we could win at the bargaining table,” wrote Hamish Russell, Chair of CUPE 3902, in an email to The Varsity.
CUPE has joined other Ontario public sector employee unions in charter challenges against the province for the wage-cap on salary increases that passed under Bill 124 in November. “The Act is a forced pay cut for all public sector workers. CUPE is joining other unions in launching a legal challenge against the Act,” Russell added.
Unit 1, the largest unit and the one that represents other postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who are employed in teaching-related roles at U of T, will begin negotiations in February with the election of a bargaining committee.
The bargaining committee will consist of seven voting members and representatives from several committees in the union. After surveying the concerns and priorities of union members, they will create a union platform to bring to the university. Along with a group appointed to represent the university, the bargaining committee will draft proposals for an agreement with the university. The negotiations will likely continue into 2021.
In order to reach what it would consider to be a more reasonable contract, CUPE 3902 may decide to carry out a strike vote. Should the vote be called, members of the union would vote on whether or not to set a strike mandate, which would lead to legal strike action. All members of the union are required to participate in the strike for its duration.
In 2000, a four-week strike resulted in improved job security, dental care, improved training, and more. The most recent strike happened in 2015, when Unit 1 went on strike until the union entered binding arbitration with the university. Unit 1 was also set to strike in 2018, but reached an agreement with the university two weeks before the strike was set to start.
In the face of cuts to educational funding by the province, CUPE 3902 is working to minimize the impact that cuts have on U of T employees. Russell noted that CUPE 3902 supports the ongoing strikes by elementary and secondary teachers. “We call on the Ontario Government to end the strikes by reversing their cuts to education, their harmful increases to class sizes, and their interferences with free collective bargaining,” wrote Russell.
Mental health, a much debated issue at U of T, is of high priority in negotiations. The 2017–2018 platform stressed improvement to mental health coverage for all members.
“We continue to work with our unions and look forward to productive rounds of bargaining when negotiations begin later this year,” wrote a spokesperson for the university in an email to The Varsity.