U of T’s upcoming moves to more in-person work and learning need to be as conscientious and coordinated as possible to prevent our Fall term from becoming a super-spreader event. Our Union has, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, been meeting regularly with U of T’s administration to advocate for proactive, science-based workplace health and safety measures, and communicating with our members across our tri-campus to learn about everyone’s needs and concerns.

Lately, we’ve been demanding that our members who are medically at risk, cohabitate with those at risk, currently reside outside of the province, and otherwise will face serious difficulty returning to in-person work as a result of the pandemic, are granted as much flexibility as possible to work in an accommodated way and access safe working conditions.

We’re also deeply concerned that the University is going to pass much of the responsibility for the wellbeing of our community and our students onto us as contingent workers, such as in overcrowded classrooms with no way of enforcing mask-wearing or physical distancing.

U of T must ensure centrally that every workplace across campus that is transitioning to in-person work is going to be safe. Instead, different Departments are transitioning differently, and it’ll be up to teachers—like brand new grad students—to ensure classroom safety. Although the University has ostensibly committed to a vaccine mandate that requires medical proof, it’s easy for anyone to shirk this requirement by opting for (inaccurate) at-home testing and declaring that they’ve self-tested, without any actual compliance.

An important resource for our organizing has been the Health & Safety Checklist for University Reopening that we’ve signed onto with USW 1998 and the University of Toronto Faculty Association. Health experts from U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health created this checklist as a benchmark for more responsible reopening plans, with a list of some of the minimum requirements for safe—or at least safer—work.

Last night we had an intense meeting with our Departmental Stewards, many of whom are going back to teach in the Fall but have received no communication from their Departments about the likelihood of aerosol transmission in facilities or any community safety measures.

We are carefully monitoring U of T’s slow and ambiguous progress on the Health & Safety Checklist and our other crucial demands for safety and equity. Watch this space for updates and get in touch with us to join our action for a safer Fall!