No strike today as mass meeting sends U of T agreement to ratification

| February 25, 2012
CUPE 3902 members vote on the proposed agreement after a five-hour mass meeting. Photo: Mick Sweetman

A tense marathon meeting saw upwards of 2,000 union members debate a tentative agreement with the university late into the night on Friday. CUPE 3902 represents 7,000 sessionals, teaching assistants and other contract instructional staff at the University of Toronto.

Wayne Dealy, Chair of CUPE 3902 said, "Bargaining a collective agreement is never an easy task, but the best settlements are the ones that are achieved through the hard work of both parties to come to an agreement that both sides can live with."

At the end of the five-hour meeting, a clear two-third majority of members voted in favour of sending the agreement to a unit-wide ratification vote. The union uses a two-part voting process and the agreement must now be voted on by referendum. Polls opened at the close of the meeting and will reopen on the week of March 5.

James Nugent, the former Chief Spokesperson of the Bargaining Committee who resigned in protest of the proposed deal said, "I would say if anything, it was an evenly divided room in that there was heavy support to reject ratification of this agreement. I think some members believe that it's a bad agreement but they thought other members should be voting on it. So they voted to send it to referendum."

According to documents obtained by rabble.ca, the major points of disagreement about the proposal are:

-  The number of students in tutorials. Over 24 per cent of tutorials have over 50 students. There is no cap in the new agreement. Instead a joint working group would be set up to make recommendations to the Provost -- who is also the chief budget officer for the university.

-  The Doctoral Completion Grant, which covered 40 per cent of tuition costs for all year five and six students and was eliminated by the university in the spring of 2010, would not be reinstated. Instead there would be two-time payments of $250,000 in the second and third years of the contract. If this money was divided evenly between the 600 eligible students it would amount to $416.66 each time.

-  Funding package and research work. There would be the creation of a Provostial Committee with union and Graduate Student Union membership to study the appropriate ratio of employment income in the minimum funding package. There would be two payments of $150,000, which would total about $35 each time for the 4,200 teaching assistants. There would also be an increase in research assistants' hourly rate in line with the United Steelworkers Local 1998 collective agreement.

"I think it's a disgusting agreement, I'm going to be voting against it. I encourage all of our members to vote against this agreement," said Nugent. "We are simply trying to get to where we were three years ago and that's not too much to ask."

The full text of the tentative contract can be downloaded from the CUPE 3902 website.

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Comments

I think there are several points here which may be misleading without further clarification:

1. There were not 2000+ members at the meeting on Friday. Convocation Hall doesn't even seat that many, and there were many empty seats. CUPE indicates there were at least 800 present, I would estimate about 1000 max.

2. CUPE 3902 in its entirety might represent 7000 members, but Unit 1 (the one negotiating the contract) has about 4200 members.

3. The Doctoral Completion Grant (and its successor the Doctoral Completion Award) was never under the purview of CUPE, and was always under the full administration of the University. There is $4 million currently allocated to this Award by the University. This money used to be a grant that was distributed to all qualifying upper year PhD students. A couple years ago, the University made it a competitive award, so that fewer students got the award, but those that did get it received much more than the Grant would have given them.

CUPE fought on upper year PhD students' behalf to reinstate the Grant system. The University is offering CUPE two $250,000 payments to help offset these students' tuition costs. However, this money is in addition to the $4 mil which the university currently administers. $4mil divided over 600 students is over $6500 each.

My understanding (as derived from the the bargaining team's explanation) is that the University will give the $4mil annually to the individual departments to administer to their own students. Granted, CUPE has no control over how this money is administered. But, CUPE has never had this control. The two $250,000 payments the University is offering are not replacing the DCA funds, but rather giving CUPE extra money -- money that it actually will have control over. (For what it's worth, the bargaining team's impression seemed to be that most departments would probably just distribute the funds equally amongst those outside the funded cohort, but it is ultimately up to the departments.)

 

To imply (as I felt one of the ex-bargaining team members did) that the University is proposing to replace the DCA with a system that would only give each upper year student ~$400 is disingenouous at best. This is not the perfect offer, and it certainly is a complicated read, but it is dangerous and IMO deceptive to present the DCA numbers out of context like this.

It's inaccurate to assume that the $250,000, one-time only payments in 2012 & 2013 will be "in addition to the $4 mil which the university currently administers".  One important reason to get langauge governing this DCA funds into the collecitve agreement is precisely because this $4 mil could be elimnated tomorrow unilaterally by the Provost.  The Provost is well-known for such unilateral action, both in cancelling the DCG, in instituting flat fees on part-time students, and in "restructuring" the Faculty of Arts and Science all without any consultation.

I'm not going to comment publically on whether it truly was the bargaining team's impression that "most departments would probably just distribute the funds equally",  but the fact of the matter is that departments are NOT doing this.  My understanding is that the first round of the DCA saw only 1/3 of students who applied getting any funds.  This would mean that 2/3 of senior students are being left high-and-dry. compared to when there was the DCG.  I think it remains to be seen how departments will administer the funds, but early indications do not look good. From reading publically available bargaining bulletins, the concern of the bargaining team over the past eight months has been that not enough senior students are actually receiving any financial support.

If about 800 CUPE members are unfunded in their senior years (keeping in mind that many more are not in CUPE), this would amount to only $312.50 for each student, compared to the DCG which offered each student between $3,500 (domestic students) to $8,000 (international students)! Even if a third of these students were eligible for the new Doctoral Completion Award (as current figures suggest), and our union decided to let let these students "double-dip", then the remaining unfunded students would still only get $468.75 per year for two years only, compared to $3,500-8,000 per year that they used to receive!

And the growth of 5th and 6th year students in our union is going to decrease the amount of funds allocated to each eligible union member. Enrollments of doctoral-stream grad students at UofT in years 5 and 6 has increased both in terms of the rate of increase, but also as an absolute increase. This is due to both the double cohort making its way through and the provincial government's policy of "graduate expansion" which saw departments taking in more incoming students about five years ago.

Here is the increase of UofT graduate students: 7,455 (2004); 7,466 (2005); 7,665 (2006); 8,309 (2007); 8,393 (2008); 8,576 (2010); (2009 is not available). What these numbers show is that in the early 2000s, graduate student enrollment was going up by 11 members (no data before 2004). Then in 2006, we start to see the double cohort, with increases between 2005-2006 of 199, then between 2006-2007 we see a jump by 644 students, then 2006-7 increase of 82, then between 2008-2010 an increase of 183 students (91.5/year). Until c.2010, the DCG fund had been increasing every year to account for the small increases to graduate student enrollment in years 5 and 6. One reason the Provost cancelled the DCG was because her 5 year plans told her that the double cohort was about to enter years 5 and 6. She knew that the DCG fund would need to jump substantially from its $4M starting in the year 2010-2011, and this is why she wanted to turn it into a DCA or download it onto departments which would get a lump sum that did not increase every year. Effectively, she wanted to cut her obligation to the double cohort when they got to years 5 and 6.

In addition to the double-cohort and graduate expansion, with the new tentative agreement, new guaranteed work in years five and six would bring many new members into the Union and thereby create growing demands for these union-administered one-time-only funds. Moreover, we also already know that not all members know about our union's funds (this is one problem with accepting these funds vs. automatic employer-distributed grants-in-aid), but awareness and corresponding demands on our funds are increasing. All told, I think we are in fact looking at the amount of money given to each senior student dwindling.

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