Teaching Assistants (TAs) at the University of Toronto are walking the picket lines today after members voted overwhelmingly against ratifying a tentative agreement negotiated late last week.
The strike deadline was set for 12:00 a.m. midnight last Thursday and negotiations were down to the wire. After the bargaining committees reached a tentative agreement early Friday morning, it seemed like the strike was going to be averted. A special membership meeting was convened that afternoon to go over the details of the proposed agreement. Over 1,000 Unit 1 members attended the meeting and voted to reject the contract, triggering a legal strike for 6,000 TAs at the university.
"Our members have spoken overwhelmingly. They have said we are poor, precarious and we need an increase in our standard of living," said the Union Chair, Erin Black in a press release.
One of the main contentions of the contract was graduate funding. Currently, graduate students are guaranteed a minimum of only $15,000 a year in combined fellowships and TA-ships. While the administration has argued that there is no room for funding increases due to the limited resources provided by the province, the union has pointed out that the current funding rates put TAs well below the low income cut-off for a single person living in Toronto.
"The consensus of those in attendance at the special membership meeting was that people felt disrespected by U of T administration, and they require compensation which reflects the high standard of instruction our members provide," said Black.
According to the union, more than one third of all courses are taught by Sessional Faculty who are paid approximately $7,000/half-course with minimal benefits and no job security despite years of long service. Despite the rising cost of living in Toronto, they have not had a wage increase since 2009.
On U of T's human resource website, the university is offering alternative payment routes to TAs who are willing to cross the picket line.
Classes will continue to be held, though some faculty may choose to hold classes off campus so as not to cross the picket line. Workers who are not members of CUPE 3903 Unit 1 are legally obligated to continue to perform the duties outlined in their jobs descriptions.
However, as the University's Faculty Association (UTFA) stated in an open letter to its membership, "no faculty or librarian can be legally required to perform the work of striking CUPE members [...] UTFA will vigorously defend any faculty member or librarian represented by the Association who feels pressured to take on extra work and who wishes to resist such pressure."
CUPE 3902 says that it is willing to begin negotiating again at short notice.
Meanwhile, negotiations continue on York University campus between the administration and U of T's sister union, CUPE 3903. Adjunct faculty and TAs may go on strike at that institution if an agreement is not reached by Tuesday night.
Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.
Photo: flickr/Charlyn Wee
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