Your Union is organizing for safer, fairer campuses in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, in order to protect precarious workers who have been disproportionately impacted. Consult this page to read about on-campus advocacy in light of recent developments in public health and University policy, and learn how to take action if your rights have been violated.
- CONTACT YOUR UNION
- CALL TO ACTION
- COVID-19 UPDATES
- COVID-19 RESOURCES
CONTACT YOUR UNION
SEEKING UNION REPRESENTATION
Your Union is here to ensure that your workplace rights are respected during this difficult time. If your rights are being violated, reach us at (416) 593-7057 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note that sending an email to this account will not automatically result in a grievance being filed).
Your Departmental Stewards are also here to register concerns that arise in your hiring unit; you can find their contact information by logging into the Member Portal.
Have you experienced a change in your contract, or lost work pre- or mid-contract? Write to us at email@example.com and check out our November Update for ways you and your co-workers can hold U of T to account.
Choosing to perform an unsafe work refusal is a personal decision. Your Union is here to help you work through this decision. If you initiate an unsafe work refusal or if you have any questions about refusing unsafe work, please contact us right away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out our Refuse Unsafe Work Linktree for more information about work refusals. A recording of the Unsafe Work Refusals: Information Session hosted by Amy Conwell (Chair) and Jasmine Chorley Foster (Grievance Officer) in Fall 2021 is available on the member portal.
CALL TO ACTION
BECOME A JOINT HEALTH AND SAFETY COMMITTEE REP
There are many ways you can make your workplace safer. Your Union is seeking new Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) Representatives to be politically-involved in matters related to workplace health & safety, with a focus on asserting our rights and duties in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace. JHSCs are also responsible for implementing the University’s anti-harassment policies and for attending to the mental health needs of workers and students, and our representatives play a vital role in ensuring that these mandates are fulfilled.
TEST WORKSITE AIR QUALITY WITH CO₂ MONITORS
Elevated CO2 levels can indicate poor ventilation in a space, which can cause the build up of air contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. In light of U of T’s decision to end capacity limits, social distancing, and mask and vaccination requirements, evidence of poor ventilation on U of T campuses can be a needed catalyst to reinstate proactive health and safety measures.
Contact your Health & Safety Officer, Sandra Sabbagh, at email@example.com to borrow a CO₂ monitor and test the air quality at your work.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), as a worker, you have the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to participate in solving workplace health and safety problems, including through your JHSC.
Use this Outbreak Reporting Form in order to protect these rights and hold U of T to account.
SIGN OUR PETITION CALLING FOR A SAFE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO RE-OPENING
Your Union is urging President Meric Gertler and the U of T Administration to ensure that the campus reopening is safe, in a joint petition with the University of Toronto Faculty Association, USW 1998, and CUPE Locals 1230, 3261, and 3907.
- Align the reopening plan with expert public health science;
- Exercise principled leadership by upholding U of T’s stated commitment to best practices in health and safety;
- Share health and safety data widely and transparently, such as COVID case numbers, outbreaks, and ventilation test results, as well as information about any specific, measurable, and verified steps the Senior Administration is taking to make the community safer;
- Meet and work collaboratively with workers’ and student groups; and
- Broaden the system for medical and family status accommodation, so that those who need to work and study from home can do so.
EMAIL YOUR DEPARTMENT
We can’t do this without you. Since U of T downloads its responsibility to ensure workers’ and students’ health and safety to its various Units (faculties, departments, etc.), we need you to put pressure on your Units. We need you to write to your Unit heads (Deans, Chairs, etc.) to ask your questions and raise your concerns about what in-person looks like. We need to ask them to instate and put pressure on the Administration to support flexible work arrangements, accommodations, and workplace controls. If your Chair, Dean, etc. doesn’t know the answer, they will ask around, creating buzz around your concerns about U of T’s lack of a clear plan for a fair and safer workplace.
This approach works: when U of T took the position last August that only workers living in province could be paid, we wrote to every Chair and asked them to support their student-workers and demand U of T’s Labour Relations team find another option. They did, and U of T’s position shifted.
Use the email template below to structure your message. Feel free to take anything from the above message that might help.
Check in with your workplace Steward(/s) to plan other local ways to organize for a safer workplace.
I’ve been keeping up to date with U of T’s 12 step reopening plan and the emails from U of T, but I still have some questions and concerns.
Pick your Question(s):
- What will be the [department’s/unit’s] masking policy in [classrooms/labs/common spaces]?
- Will I need to enforce masking in my classroom?
- What kind of physical distancing policies will there be in the [department/classroom/office/lab]? How will these be enforced?
- I saw that U of T won’t be mandating vaccines, do you know how they plan to keep us safe without universal vaccination? What are they doing to increase vaccine uptake in the campus community?
- What happens if my course moves online and I have extra work to set it all up? Will I be compensated?
- What happens if I have to split my [course/discussion section] into [two/multiple] parts to facilitate physical distancing? Will I be compensated for the extra work?
- If I’m doing a dual-delivery course, will I be compensated for the additional work of teaching twice (once online, and once in person)?
- What about ventilation? What kind of filtration systems will be installed in my [classroom/lab/office] and where can I find this information?
I’m also concerned about [Be open with your concerns about workplace safety; your Deans, Chairs, Supervisors, etc. should have these answers].
Please let me know if you can provide any answers to my questions and concerns. As we prepare to return to in-person [work/teaching], I would like to know how my [department/lab/faculty] is making sure that I’m safe.
August 2022 Update
We’re in the middle of the seventh wave of COVID-19, and U of T has no system to track outbreaks on campus. This means they aren’t informing workers of their risk, and they aren’t engaging Joint Health & Safety Committees (JHSCs) in strategies to mitigate said risk. (Conveniently, they “can’t.”)
Yet, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), as a worker, you have the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to participate in solving workplace health and safety problems, including through your JHSC. In order to protect these rights and hold U of T to account, your Union has created an Outbreak Reporting Form. Please be in touch about outbreaks in your workplace.
And remember, if you believe your working conditions are unsafe, under OHSA you also have the right to refuse unsafe work and the right no reprisals for exercising your other rights. To learn how to refuse unsafe work, watch your Union’s Unsafe Work Refusals Info Session on the Member Portal.
This past year, your Union put pressure on the University to keep you safe. We returned again and again to the same critical demands: outbreak notification, mask mandates, accommodations, and other central protections. And we took joint action with worker and student groups at U of T. Read the COVID-19 Report from our Annual General Meeting to learn more.
There are many ways you can make your workplace safer. Email your department to find out what protections are in place. Apply to be a JHSC Worker Rep for your building. Or, get in touch with your Health and Safety Officer, Sandra Sabbagh, to borrow a CO2monitor and test the air quality at your work!
December 2021 Update
The COVID-19 health crisis is far from over, and U of T must act responsibly to protect the health and safety of its community this upcoming year. We’re demanding this on behalf of tens of thousands of students and workers at the University of Toronto in a joint letter with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, the UTM Students’ Union, and University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and CUPE 1230, CUPE Local 2484, CUPE 3261, CUPE 3902, UFCW Canada, and USW Local 1998.
Together, we call on Senior Administrators to work with students and workers to ensure that U of T is fairer and safer in 2022. Guarantee income security and flexibility to work remotely. Commit to stable learning conditions. Reduce density on campus and indoors. Expand the rapid testing program. Consult with students and workers.
November 2021 Update
U of T has recently taken to messing with our members’ contracts in ways that neglect its basic obligations as an Employer and violate your Collective Agreements. This is unacceptable.
You may have:
- Lost work pre- or mid-contract due to residence requirements
- Been told you will have to work in person despite holding a contract for online work.
This is U of T’s inequitable approach to COVID-19 in action, disproportionately impacting migrant workers and dismissing your real health and safety concerns.
You don’t have to accept this. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how the Employer is altering your contract and we will connect you with a Staff Representative. (Wondering what a grievance is? Read about it here.)
And you don’t have to wait. Here are two ways you and your co-workers can hold U of T to account:
- If your hiring Department says you will have to work in person despite holding a contract for online work, we recommend you follow these steps, in this order:
- Collect evidence that your contract is for online work (e.g., find and save your job posting, contract language, and emails between you and your department; take a picture of your course description).
- Email your Department and ask them to respect your contract, and copy the Union and U of T’s Labour Relations! Use this script as a starting point. If you can, coordinate with a group of your co-workers, so the Department gets many emails at once!
- Contact us at email@example.com if your Department does not agree to respect your contract.
- Get a group of co-workers together (next Department meeting, perhaps?) to tell Meric Gertler (the President of the University), Kelly Hannah Moffat (the Vice President of People Strategy & Equity, i.e., Human Resources rebranded), and your Department Chair, to take their hands off your contract! Here are scripts to help you call and email, but feel free to get creative.
September 2021 Update
Instead of practicing accountability, U of T fills your inboxes with many emails and little information. We have been relentlessly pressing the Employer to get real information. While we have made some headway (see below), U of T evades our questions, delays its responses, and withholds any information that could be used to hold the institution accountable (e.g., the ventilation statuses of the buildings in which we work).
- Vaccines, Paid Time Off, and Vaccine Exemptions
- To comply with the University’s vaccine mandate, you should have received your first dose by September 13th and should plan to receive your second dose by October 15th. Visitors to campus are also expected to be fully vaccinated. You can book your vaccine at clinics on or close to campus (read more here: U of T, Vaccine Clinics).
- If you are scheduled to be vaccinated on a work day, you can take paid time off work for vaccination without using any other leave provision in your Collective Agreement, e.g, sick leave or personal leave (U of T, COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments). Inform your supervisor or department chair in advance if you plan to take this time away from work.
- To apply for an exemption to the vaccine mandate, you have to submit a request through the University’s Enterprise Service Centre (ServiceNow). Exemptions are only available for medical reasons or on the basis of religion or creed. If you have questions about COVID-19 vaccine safety, sign up for a Q&A (COVID-19 Resources Canada, Vaccine Q&A).
- Rapid Antigen Testing for Everyone
- There are rapid antigen tests available for everyone, including fully vaccinated folks. If you work in-person, regular rapid testing is an additional measure you can take to reduce your risk of asymptomatic transmission of the virus. Tests are available for pick-up at locations on all three campuses (find your location here: U of T, How to Participate in the Rapid Antigen Screening Process).
- COVID-19 Accommodations: Illness, Disability, Family Status
- You can seek accommodations and/or flexible work arrangements for illness, disability, and family status, and Union representatives can support you in this (contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org). To seek accommodation for illness or disability, contact Health and Well-Being (email@example.com); for family status, contact the Family Care Office (firstname.lastname@example.org). To request a flexible work arrangement, contact your supervisor.
- Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit
- Workers in Ontario have access to 3 days of paid infectious disease emergency leave. An amendment made to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 on April 29, 2021 requires employers to provide eligible employees 3 days of leave for certain COVID-19 related reasons, such as:
- going for a COVID-19 test and waiting for the results
- when you’re sick with COVID-19 or have been advised by an employer or medical professional to self-isolate
- getting medical treatment for mental health reasons related to COVID-19
- getting vaccinated and/or experiencing side effects after vaccination
- providing care for relatives who are sick with COVID-19, have symptoms, or are required to self-isolate
- More information about infectious disease emergency leave is available at Ontario.ca.
- Workers in Ontario have access to 3 days of paid infectious disease emergency leave. An amendment made to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 on April 29, 2021 requires employers to provide eligible employees 3 days of leave for certain COVID-19 related reasons, such as:
- Masks and Mask-Wearing in the Classroom
- As face masks must be worn in instructional spaces, Units are encouraged to provide non-medical masks for workers and students. Ask your department how you can access their supply of face masks; ask for extra for your students.
- Students may apply for mask-related accommodations through Accessibility Services. Accessibility Services will contact you if students in your classroom/laboratory have approved mask-related accommodations.
- You are not required to enforce the University’s mask-wearing policy, but you can encourage mask-wearing compliance. Remind students at the start of class that University policy requires all those who do not have approved accommodations to wear face masks: show a slide with this reminder; do not call out or confront individual students (U of T, Policy on Face Masks).
- If students or others at your workplace are not wearing face masks, you can initiate a work refusal. This is a legal tool that allows you to refuse unsafe work without reprisal. See below for work refusal resources. When you initiate a work refusal, immediately contact us at email@example.com.
As expected, this September looks a lot like a regular, pre-pandemic semester. Despite the ongoing pandemic, prevalence of the Delta variant, and likelihood of transmission in closed, crowded settings like classrooms and laboratories, U of T has few real workplace controls in place, especially at the St. George campus (e.g., limiting in-person interactions, adequate ventilation, screening, mask-wearing).
Many, if not most, classes on St. George Campus are in-person or are scheduled to move in-person soon, and there are no central capacity limits or physical distancing in classrooms and laboratories. This is because U of T lobbied the Provincial Government to exempt your workplaces from Stage Three COVID-19 safety protocols, including capacity limits and physical distancing, that apply to businesses and other communal indoor spaces in Ontario (Council of Ontario Universities, Ontario’s Colleges and Universities Urgently Seek Provincial Support). Instead of collaborating with workers and students to create a coherent plan for safe in-person work, U of T used tuition and donation money to lobby the government to make our workplaces unsafe.
Moreover, U of T has misled you about the workplace controls that are in place. The University has claimed that only classrooms with six air changes per hour will be used; however, they are basing air change rates on simulations and not actual measurements. (See your classroom’s simulated air change rate here: U of T, Classroom Ventilation.)
The University has also claimed that all employees and all those intending to come to campus or other University facilities are mandated to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination by October 29th via UCheck. Also, that all those actually about to come to campus are also required to participate in daily advance screening through UCheck. However, U of T has no central plan to verify proof of vaccination or limit admission to buildings by UCheck status. Without such a plan, the University has no way of guaranteeing that all those coming to campus are vaccinated and not symptomatic. Similarly, the University has no plan to ensure compliance with its mask-wearing policy. U of T is deferring its health and safety responsibilities to the honour system.
Unsafe Classrooms Action at Robarts on Friday, September 24th and Wednesday, September 29th at 11 AM-3 PM
Join us for a back-to-work action in front of the Robarts Library and share with us what Fall in-person work has looked like for you. We’re going to put U of T on blast on our social media pages and show the community that teaching on campus is nowhere near as safe as U of T tries to make it look. We want to hear from every possible lab and classroom about what the Fall reopening is really like.
Join us on September 24th, Tuesday, September 28th, and Friday, October 1st at 10-11:30 AM, 1-2:30 PM, and 5-6:30 PM.
The right to refuse work you believe to be unsafe is protected by the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act, along with the right to know about workplace hazards, the right to participate in keeping your workplace safe, and the right to no reprisals when you exercise these rights. Our sessions will walk you through the process of delivering a work refusal and outline your rights and responsibilities throughout. The material has been developed by CUPE 3902 in consultation with CUPE National and in collaboration with CUPE 3907, and is tailored to the specific circumstances of academic workers at U of T. Register for a work refusal information session on Zoom or check out our Refuse Unsafe Work Linktree for more resources!
In other news, the video from the Town Hall on September 9th hosted by the Toronto Inter-University coalition is up, with a transcript. Learn the science of why the Fall reopening at Toronto universities isn’t safe enough, with insights from scholars in pandemic-relevant fields such as epidemiology, indoor air quality, bioaerosols, bioethics, and population health equity. We collaborated to put on this event with the University of Toronto Faculty Association, X University Faculty Association, York University Faculty Association, OCAD Faculty Association, CUPE 3903, CUPE 3904, and USW 1998.
Read and share our press release from September 23rd about our Fall back-to-work actions: Outraged the University of Toronto colluded with Conservative Government to strip them of COVID-19 protections in the name of revenue, CUPE 3902 encourages members to learn how to refuse unsafe work. We were at a press conference this morning with CUPE Ontario, who released a statement this morning too about the removal of Stage 3 guidelines at Ontario Colleges and Universities. Check out coverage of this event in the Toronto Star and CP24, and pass it around on Twitter. CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn and your Chair, Amy Conwell, joined to criticize the overreliance on vaccine policy at U of T and other Universities and Colleges, and call on the Ford Conservatives and U of T to bring back to campus the capacity limits and physical distancing protocols that apply to other businesses and indoor spaces.
August 2021 Update
U of T’s current plan for September 2021 looks a lot like a regular, pre-pandemic semester.
To start with the question we’ve been getting the most lately, most students and workers will not be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before working, learning, and otherwise interacting in person. The University will only require students and workers involved in high-risk activities (e.g., varsity sports, music instruction) to either evidence their full vaccination status or regularly test negative for the virus (U of T News, U of T to require vaccination for high-risk activities, self-declaration of vaccination status). We have asked U of T what it would take for the Administration to impose a universal vaccine mandate: because of the absence of a decisive legal framework to support a vaccine mandate in Ontario, they say it would take a provincial government mandate. It is also important to say that the Union’s position, in the case of such a mandate at the University, would not be clear or easy. While full vaccination and herd immunity are critically important in curbing community transmission and ending the COVID-19 pandemic, CUPE has a long history of fighting vaccine mandates (e.g., in Healthcare Unions) because of the surveillance and policing that tend to result from enforcing such mandates, which often target communities already over-impacted by state and workplace surveillance.
Even with a fully vaccinated community, workplace controls (e.g., limiting in-person interactions, good ventilation, mask-wearing, screening) would still be critical to stopping the spread of the virus (Government of Ontario, Vaccination and COVID-19 Workplace Control Measures). Full vaccination against COVID-19 does not completely eliminate the risk of transmission of the virus and we are far from, and not expected to be at, the vaccination rate required for herd immunity in September 2021. The Delta variant and other variants of concern are spreading in Toronto and globally and are expected to continue to mutate, spread, and challenge current vaccination achievements (World Health Organization, Variant Tracking). As the current risk of contracting COVID-19 remains high for most people in Canada (Government of Canada, COVID-19 Prevention and Risks), in close and confined congregate settings with prolonged periods of contact (classrooms, laboratories, study spaces, offices), we will spread COVID-19 within and beyond the community.
Despite the misleading 12 Step Reopening Plan infographic (U of T, 12 ways U of T is preparing for a safe return), U of T has no adequate central health and safety measures in place to ensure safe working and learning conditions for you and your coworkers and your students—aside from the same insufficient Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings that’s been in effect since August 2020 (U of T, Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings). As the title of that policy suggests, it allows workers, students, and community members to wear face coverings instead of masks and is thus not even compliant with current federal government guidelines around non-medical masks (Government of Canada, Non-Medical Masks). Moreover, the Joint Provostial and Human Resources Guideline on Non-Medical Masks establishes no process to communicate student accommodations around mask-wearing to instructors and teaching support, no mechanism to enforce the policy, and offers instructors the discretion to recommend exceptions to mask-wearing in their classrooms for pedagogical reasons if they are willing to take on the personal responsibility to ensure that learning activities are carried out safely (U of T, Joint Provostial and Human Resources Guideline on Non-Medical Masks). This means general mask-wearing but no capacity limits or physical distancing in classrooms, laboratories, offices, and other shared spaces.
To put it plainly, U of T’s current “plans” would have masked instructors teach full capacity, in-person classes (e.g., 260 students in a room that can hold 270, making physical-distancing impossible) to masked and unmasked students—with no way of knowing which students have approved accommodations. Have questions? So do we. U of T doesn’t have answers.
Any further workplace safety measures have been determined and imposed at the “Unit” level. If your campus, faculty, department or building pursued additional measures beyond what’s described above, that’s great, but health and safety shouldn’t come down to the discretion of administrators of individual departments or buildings. It’s the University’s ethical and legal obligation to put workplace safety measures in place that are responsive to the ongoing global crisis. COVID-19 can present a workplace hazard, but it doesn’t have to: it’s up to U of T to conduct appropriate risk assessments and take real steps to ensure a healthy and safe workplace (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety Guide). It’s up to you and your coworkers to hold the University to account by putting pressure on your Unit.
Over 500 of you responded to our emailed form “COVID-19 Survey: Work in Fall 2021,” launched on July 10, 2021. Between July 10 and July 30, we received 652 responses, 548 of which were complete, from workers in all six Units.
In response to the key question, “Will you feel safe working in person in September 2021?,” 63% of you selected “No/Not sure”—and, notably, many in this group also answered “Yes” to the question, “Are you or is someone in your household part of a high-risk group?” 37% of you selected “Yes” overall, and many in this group flagged that your comfort is contingent on the continued efficacy of full vaccination against COVID-19 variants of concern. This worker’s comment summarizes the general sentiment: “I’m comfortable working in person as I am fully vaccinated. However, if the virus were to mutate and breakthrough cases become more common, I would immediately want to switch to remote.”
The majority of you don’t feel totally safe working in person in September. But, you know what you need to feel safe: a provincial and city response that stops the pandemic in its tracks; equitable treatment of all who work and learn in person, and accommodations for those who cannot; clear, comprehensive information from U of T both assessing your risk from COVID-19 in individual workplaces (classrooms, laboratories, music studios, writing centre offices, etc.) and detailing the workplace controls put in place to mitigate it (e.g., capacity limits set in relation to ventilation, modeled by this app: COVID-19 Indoor Safety Guideline); and all of those workplace controls actually in place.
The public health context of U of T and its surroundings needs to change in order for you to be able to work safely. You need provincial and city case numbers that are dropping, daily cases under 20, and a prolonged period of low case numbers. You need a high level of herd immunity, 90% or more, supported by increased, majority, or universal vaccination uptake on campus and beyond. You need a reasonable risk of exposure in transit, not possible with the current state of the TTC: enclosed, crowded spaces with many “close contact” exposures. The fact that your Employer hasn’t addressed these needs is concerning to you. In your words, “I am not convinced that our employer realizes that not all their staff and faculty commute in a private car. The risks associated with spending long periods on TTC/GO, etc. should be part of any decision making.”
You’ve insisted repeatedly that the transition to in-person work needs to be slow and clear in order to responsibly minimize potential harm. The safety risks posed by the Delta variant and other variants of concern are real, and the psychological impact of flipping a switch back into in-person lectures after 18 months online is a factor that U of T is disregarding. As it is, U of T is putting profits over people, and you are not okay with it. You might refuse or abandon contracts: “My life matters more than working a part-time job.” You don’t want to rush back into an un(der)planned organizational nightmare that will make you and your students sick, “I feel like the University is rushing to in-person classes too quickly. Currently large first-year courses with over 1000 students are being planned for in person.”
Instead, you need a “frictionless accommodation system” for workers and students designed to address pandemic-specific needs, flexible work arrangements, the same course delivery options as Meric Gertler, and extra pay for extra work: workers and students who are sick from COVID-19; recovering from vaccination; immunocompromised or otherwise high-risk; unvaccinated; or who have access needs difficult to support during the pandemic (e.g., mobility needs) need clear, supportive pathways to work from home. Workers and students with caregiving responsibilities; family or household members sick with COVID-19; immunocompromised, high-risk, and/or unvaccinated children unable to go to school need family status and the inequitable, gendered nature of care work recognized through quick, straightforward pathways to work from home. Currently, U of T’s unclear, unadvertised accommodations processes have put some of you in the impossible position of “choosing between 1) working so I can support my family and risk bringing home the virus to them and 2) opting to resign so that I can keep my family safe, but not be able to provide for them because of not working.”
Out of province and international workers and students are now being asked to return to Toronto with less than a month to go before the start of term, to leave families, new apartments, job and internship opportunities for expensive last-minute flights, long quarantine periods in two countries, and the prospect of maybe 280 hours of work as a TA, for example. You need the University to honor its commitments to out of province and international workers. Departments, PIs, TA Coordinators, and SGS, for that matter, have assured students that they can complete degrees, fellowships, and contracts remotely; many workers have even signed contracts on the guarantee that their work will continue remotely. You know your experience best, “For me as a physically disabled instructor, things like coordinating a move to be closer to the University, sorting out wheelchair maintenance, and figuring out safe transit options are all complicated by COVID. I think there also needs to be more consideration for instructors who face similar complications because they live outside of the province or country and need to deal with travel restrictions, family considerations, etc.”
You also need the same flexible work arrangements extended to faculty and other sole-responsibility lecturers and instructors extended to teaching support staff such as TAs and SIAs. Departments such as Sociology are “planning to have tutorials in person on the St George campus, but have lectures online. This means only TAs would be forced to be on campus.” How is it fair to force the most precarious academic workers to choose between income and unacceptable risk? If U of T wants to act on its talk of employment equity, it can set a central policy in place, making the same flexibility available to all academic workers and all other workers that can perform their work from home. Moreover, you need U of T to pay you for all of the extra work you’ve put in to manage courses and sections straddling or transitioning between in-person and online delivery and broken down into multiple parts.
With the Fall term approaching fast, there’s still not enough information about the transition to in-person work. You need ample notice of whether work will be remote or in-person, as well as more evidence that U of T has clear contingency plans, including explicit step-by-step guidelines for when outbreaks occur. Finally, you need reassurance that U of T will protect you if it gets worse, an “exit strategy” if the spread of variants becomes even more concerning or a fourth wave occurs, and we all need to return to remote work again.
U of T is downloading its responsibility for health and safety protocols onto confused and ill-equipped departments and onto workers and students who commute between different locations and don’t know what to expect. You need U of T to make central decisions to provide clear, accessible, and transparent safety protocols, ensure consistency and compliance across workplaces, and take accountability for these decisions; and you need comprehensive, up-to-date records of all identified risks—including ventilation information and air quality records—and all the steps U of T has taken to mitigate those risks.
You know exactly what you need for your workplaces to be safer, and we’re urging U of T to listen. You need as much flexibility as possible to work remotely, especially if your work does not need to be done in person (e.g., marking and other computer work). But given that you expect you will have to work in person, or quit, you need to know the steps U of T is taking to make your classroom, laboratory, or other instructional areas safe in person—and you wonder if that’s even possible. You know there’s not enough space in many buildings on campus to ensure physical distancing, and the ventilation in your classroom at the Colleges is not going to work in the winter.
To make things safer, you need clear capacity limits that will make physical distancing possible, especially for high-risk activities such as music instruction. You also need robust mask mandates and protocols, screening at building entry points, regular sanitation of high touch point areas (desks, elevator buttons, washrooms etc.) and for U of T to provide the PPE you need to be safe. You also need a public plan to prevent and handle outbreaks: free and rapid on-campus antigen and PCR testing for COVID-19, including asymptomatic testing; rigorous contact tracing and; and public notices of outbreaks at the building level. Some of you would feel safer if U of T had vaccine mandates or sought proof of vaccination, with reasonable exemptions; others emphasized the need for bodily autonomy in the workplace. You also need to feel confident that the environment you provide will be safe for your students. You need to be able to responsibly grade your students on their participation in the in-person classroom. You also need to know U of T’s plan to ensure these protocols are consistently observed: merely “educating” students about the risks won’t cut it.
We’ve been working with allies to coordinate our strategy and demands. With a coalition of Unions and Faculty Associations from four Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Universities, U of T, OCAD University, X University, and York University, also including the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) and United Steelworkers (USW) 1998, we put pressure on our Universities and the province to take steps to ensure a safer Fall. We issued a joint press release and health and safety checklist compiled by professors from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (GTA Coalition Press Release and Health and Safety Checklist for University Re-opening), calling on GTA universities to take proactive, science-based steps to prevent the Fall return to campus from becoming a superspreader event. Some of those Universities have listened: York currently has a 30% capacity limit; U of T is still planning on no central capacity limits.
Alongside USW 1998 and UTFA, we asked U of T to meet to plainly lay out its plans for September and collaborate with us to increase vaccine uptake in the University and community (CUPE 3902, UTFA, USW 1998 Joint Letter re: Vaccines). We haven’t received a response.
We’ve also read every single one of your responses to our COVID-19 survey, and we’ve raised your questions at our regular meetings with U of T Labour Relations, as well as at meetings with Human Resources at Victoria University and St. Michael’s College. We’ve asked all three to agree to baseline steps to compensate, accommodate, and mitigate in order to address the risks they are currently imposing on your safety and your livelihoods. Those of you juggling multiple delivery models or parts for one course or section need extra pay for your extra work. Those of you who are sick, might become sick, care for family or household members, can’t risk bringing home the virus, or have access needs that complicate in-person work need well-advertised, easy-to-access accommodations. Those of you currently located out of province or out of Canada need to be able to work from home without upheaving your lives and taking on unnecessary risk. Those of you who work in person need workplace controls to lessen the threat of the virus: mask mandates, appropriate ventilation, capacity limits, physical distancing, and regular sanitation.
Our demands address the concerns that are top of mind for you and, we think, other workers at the University, but also echo concerns students have been voicing. Undergraduate student unions such as the U of T Mississauga Student Union have recently hosted town halls to give students the opportunity to put their questions to U of T Administrators directly. Many students expressed confusion and dissatisfaction that Administrators misunderstood (rather, willfully misinterpreted) their desire to return to in-person learning with a desire to return at all costs, without a clear plan in place to ensure their health and safety. We think a number of our asks will lead to safer classrooms, better accommodations, and fewer exposures, supporting students’ demands.
We’re also working with your Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) Worker Reps to strategize and collaborate to make the same recommendations at JHSC meetings as workers and students are demanding in other spaces.
With the Fall term less than a month away, U of T still has not convinced us that the planned transition to in-person work will be responsible or equitable, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19. We’re writing to review the situation with you, summarize the consultations and negotiations we’ve undertaken with community members to put pressure on U of T, go through the survey data we’ve synthesized about your concerns for September, and finally, urge you to demand safer working conditions from your own workplaces on campus.
We can’t do this without you. We need you to write to your Unit heads (Deans, Chairs, etc.) to ask your questions and raise your concerns about what in-person work will look like in September and to ask them to instate and put pressure on the Administration to support flexible work arrangements, accommodations, and workplace controls.
Use the email template above to structure your message. Check in with your workplace Steward(/s) to plan other local ways to organize for a safer September.
Vaccination is an important part of making our workplace and each other safe. CUPE 3902 encourages everyone who is able to get vaccinated. If you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, we invite you to register for a Vaccine Q&A session on Monday or Thursday at 8 PM EST.
University of Toronto’s Guideline on Vaccination (September 2, 2021)
Statements from Other Faculty Associations, Labour and Student Unions
Joint OUWCC and CFS statement on unsafe campus reopening plans (September 7, 2021)
CUPE 3903 position on COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements and Safety (August 30, 2021)
CUPE ON OUWCC statement on capacity limit exemptions (September 2, 2021)
OCUFA statement on capacity exemption (September 1, 2021)