Teaching assistants, administration reach tentative agreement

Agreement must be ratified at ascension meeting to avoid possibility of strike

Teaching assistants, administration reach tentative agreement

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.

St. Mike’s faculty, administration negotiating collective agreement as strike deadline looms

Faculty filed for a no-board in January, triggering a countdown for strike action

St. Mike’s faculty, administration negotiating collective agreement as strike deadline looms

After eight months of negotiations, the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) faculty and administration are heading back to the bargaining table on February 9 in pursuit of a collective agreement before the February 11 no-board deadline. A strike is imminent after 86 per cent of unit members voted in favour of job action at the college.

A no-board triggers a 17-day timer for an agreement, after which either side can legally take job action, either by striking or locking out. USMC faculty filed for a no-board with the Ontario Ministry of Labour after they were dissatisfied with negotiations during a January 19 meeting between the two sides. University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA)-USMC Chief Negotiator Michael O’Connor said that the faculty filed for the no-board as a way to increase pressure on the administration, which they felt was “not up to speed.”

If a strike should happen, undergraduate students in Book & Media Studies, Medieval Studies, Christianity and Culture, and Celtic Studies would be affected. Graduate students in the Faculty of Theology, and by extension the Toronto School of Theology, would also be affected, along with some services at the John M. Kelly Library.

“We’re hopeful that if the employer comes to the table prepared to bargain and ready with a serious effort to reach an agreement, then an agreement should be possible,” said O’Connor. “We don’t think a strike is necessary; we think it’s avoidable if the college administration is serious about reaching a deal.”

Negotiations have been ongoing since the last collective agreement expired on June 30, 2017. The two sides did not meet until August 8 and 9, after which the administration filed for conciliation to bring in an individual to mediate negotiations. Since then, they have met in September, October, December, and at the January 19 meeting.

USMC Director of Communications Stefan Slovak wrote that the administration will continue to work to secure an agreement.

“We’ve been negotiating in good faith for many months to reach an agreement with our colleagues who are members of UTFA,” reads a statement to The Varsity from USMC President David Mulroney. “We’ve tabled a comprehensive offer that tracks closely with the agreement that UTFA reached with the University of Toronto some months ago, that respects our autonomy as an institution, and that contributes to the long-term viability of our university and the community it sustains.”

Faculty and administration are at odds on four key issues, according to O’Connor. The first is greater job security. The administration has proposed a new category of limited-term contract faculty at the college. The faculty, however, believes this is “precarious employment,” and it does not motivate participation in college life.

The second is that the administration is asking for a one-year agreement, which O’Connor attributes to changes facing the college with Mulroney’s exit. This means that a new agreement would be backdated to July 1, 2017 and would send the two sides back to negotiations next summer.

“To drag things on for eight months in a way that’s felt just very frustrating, and then say we want to do this right away again just seems impractical and unreasonable to us,” said O’Connor. “So we’re looking for a multi-year agreement that would give us much more stability.”

Third, faculty are also asking for “equity and diversity in hiring,” requesting that those on hiring committees receive training and that language in USMC job ads mirror U of T’s.

Fourth, they are requesting compensation that mirrors the one per cent plus the $1,150 lump sum that U of T faculty received last June.

O’Connor said that the administration has rejected all of these proposals.

Editor’s Note (February 5): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lump sum that U of T faculty received last June was $11.50. It was actually $1,150. 

No end in sight for Centennial, Sheridan faculty strike

Students in joint programs at UTM, UTSC still affected

No end in sight for Centennial, Sheridan faculty strike

According to a bulletin posted on the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) website, Ontario college students, including those in joint programs with Centennial College at UTSC and with Sheridan College at UTM, are “in real danger of losing their semester” due to the ongoing faculty strike. The bulletin further alleges that although colleges are trying to reassure students they have a plan, faculty have not seen it.

The OPSEU strike, which began on October 16, has seen full-time and partial load staff on protest indefinitely as bargaining teams from 24 colleges across Ontario work to renegotiate a collective agreement with the union.

The strike at Sheridan affects about 1,000 students out of approximately 14,000 at UTM, while less than half of the 170 students enrolled in joint programs at UTSC and Centennial are affected.

The bulletin says that some colleges have “casually mentioned” that students may only have to complete 80 per cent of their course requirements.

“Students do not pay 100 per cent tuition to receive 80 per cent of the learning,” continues the bulletin. “Faculty are passionate about what we teach, and passionate about making sure students succeed.”

According to Amrita Daniere, the Vice-Principal Academic and Dean at UTM, the administration cannot provide support to students beyond communication, updates, and refer them to support systems.

“We’re not playing any active role in dealing with any of the Sheridan courses, in any of the Sheridan issues. We’re not allowed to, and we would never dream of it,” said Daniere. “The process has to play out and that’s basically our approach […] in terms of the messaging we’re giving our students and the support we are providing our students.”

“Can you imagine if you’re a first year student and it’s your first semester and half of your program is taught at a campus where the professors aren’t teaching? It could be very stressful,” continued Daniere. “So we refer them to counselling, we refer them to the registrar’s office, the chairs are doing everything they can to be a presence and to reassure them.”

Daniere added that UTM does not receive any additional information about the progress of negotiations between OPSEU and the colleges. “No more than what you could pick up on the web or in the newspaper,” she said.

Representatives from UTSC did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment as of press time.