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U of T unions continue to ask for more transparency on winter semester

Many demand more support, safety measures from the university
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Province-wide organizations criticize U of T’s lack of leadership. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY
Province-wide organizations criticize U of T’s lack of leadership. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Labour unions have expressed concern over what U of T’s cancellation of in-person classes until January 31 will mean for the future of in-person instruction during the winter semester. Though they have praised the university for making the decision to cancel in-person exams and move classes online for the month of January in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, they seek clarification from the university on whether it will implement safer precautions going forward. 

The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (CUPE 3902) have both published statements containing a number of demands for the university’s decision-making process for the winter semester. 

UTFA statement

The UTFA, which represents faculty and librarians on employment matters, expressed its concerns in a statement demanding that the university clarify how the changes in the meaning of “full vaccination,” now that booster shots are being given, would impact health and safety standards at U of T. It also requested the university provide N95 masks to faculty, librarians, staff, and students.

In an email to The Varsity, UTFA President Terezia Zorić wrote that while the university has been in contact with the association, it has not yet meaningfully responded to the UTFA’s concerns. “Our members overwhelmingly want to return to in-person teaching and other work but only when it is safe enough to do so,” Zorić explained. She added that many are “frustrated and disappointed” in the university’s lack of transparency regarding its decision-making. 

CUPE 3902 open letter

CUPE 3902, which represents contract academic workers at U of T, released a separate open letter that was co-signed by 10 student and labour unions, including United Steel Workers Local 1998 and the University of Toronto Students’ Union. The letter, titled “Defy Expectations: A Fair and Safe U of T in 2022,” called on U of T to put in place many of the same precautions addressed by UTFA.

In an interview with The Varsity, Amy Conwell, CUPE 3902’s chair, stressed that the union wants to ensure a safe and high quality education to students. She added that she was disappointed with U of T’s lack of transparency in the decision-making process. 

In a statement, a U of T spokesperson reiterated that the university acknowledges the challenges of the current situation and that it has maintained regular contact with all trade unions throughout the pandemic. They added that U of T will remain flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. 

Broader circumstances

Provincial labour organizations, such as the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), have also put out statements expressing concern for their members. 

The OCUFA has cited an “absence of provincial leadership” and expressed a need for universities to collaborate with workers on a case-by-case basis. In an interview with The Varsity, OCUFA President Sue Wurtele emphasized her organization’s commitment to helping individual faculty associations based on their specific contexts. 

A sense of fatigue and exhaustion also remains consistent across unions. When asked about faculty morale, Wurtele replied, “Well, do you want to record my deep sigh?”