Contract academic workers at the University of Toronto, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (CUPE 3902), voted yesterday to give their bargaining team a strike mandate. Over 1500 members of CUPE 3902’s Unit 1 (Course Instructors, Teaching Assistants, Chief Presiding Officers, and Invigilators) turned up to cast their ballots at polling stations across the three campuses.
After a standing-room only meeting on December 5, Unit 1 members decided unanimously to open the polls. The vote achieved an 89.4% mandate to take job action, up to and including a Unit-wide strike, to secure a fair collective agreement.
CUPE 3902 represents 9,500 workers, with 7,000 working in Unit 1. Between Units 1 and 3, members of CUPE 3902 deliver around 30% of the undergraduate-level courses at the University of Toronto, as well as all labs and tutorials. They are all employed on short-term contracts of one year or less, with few benefits and little job security.
“The University runs on precarious labour. It’s a cost-cutting tool, and it’s rampant at post-secondary institutions in Ontario,” reported Pamela Arancibia, Chair of the Local and member of the Unit 1 bargaining team. “The U of T is the most prestigious post-secondary institution in the country. We’re good enough to educate future leaders, but not good enough to earn living wages.”
Unit 1 members are bargaining for systematic improvements to their working conditions such as improvements to the graduate funding package, and improved pregnancy and parental leaves. The Union’s proposals would change the day-to-day lives of members, leading the academic sector in a progressive direction.
“I’ve personally been affected by the lack of benefits and protections for new parents,” said Arancibia. “How can parents afford to take time off from work when we make barely over $7,000 to teach a course each semester?”
This strike vote comes on the heels of contract ratification by CUPE 3902 Unit 3 members (Sessional Lecturers) and back to work legislation affecting 12,000 college instructors represented by OPSEU.
“CUPE 3902 is proud of our members and the decisiveness of this strike mandate. We are willing to fight hard for our collective needs,” said Megan Harris, Vice-Chair of Unit 1. “With this vote, the Unit 1 membership has demonstrated our resolve, and we hope the University administration hears clearly this collective message from its workers.”
The parties will continue to bargain throughout December. Their contract expires on December 31, 2017.
Chair, CUPE 3902
Unit 1 Spokesperson
CUPE 3902 Staff