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Their working conditions are our learning conditions

By: 
Chris Bruno

January 10, 2012

On 29 November, CUPE 3902—the union which represents teaching assistance at the University of Toronto—concluded one of the largest strike votes in the university’s history.

Members voted 91 per cent in favour of allowing the Bargaining Team to call for a strike if need be. The union has been in negotiations since their contract expired on April 30.

Funding for graduate students has stagnated in recent years and the quality of education at UofT is declining, the union says. Upper year graduate students are left to fend for themselves after the university eliminated the Doctoral Completion Grant in 2010.

The union would like to restore this grant and ensure that their wages keep up with inflation. While the administration declines these demands, the top 100 administrators make an average salary of $260,000 and gave themselves an 8.6 per cent raise last year.

UofT’s often praised tutorial system, which are supposed to provide an atmosphere where students can get help in small classrooms have grown too large, such that 42 per cent of tutorials have 50 or more students.

The union returned to the bargaining table on 5 December. The employer did agree to some minor demands—such as paternity leave, transparency and easier access to the hiring process, and gender reassignment leave.

However, they refused to discuss any of the major grievances the union brought up, such as upper year funding and tutorial sizes.

CUPE 3902 also demanded that the employer provide guaranteed work for unfunded PhD students, increasing several grants to keep up with inflation, child care benefits, and pay equity between instructors and undergrad TAs, all of which were either refuted or watered down.

The university intends to apply for conciliation, a process that will take until January to appoint a mediator from the Ministry of Labour to assist them on the bargaining table. If they cannot agree, then it becomes legal for the employer to lock out the workers or for the union to call for a strike.

Like the issue of tutorial sizes, it’s obvious that CUPE 3902 working conditions are students’ learning conditions. If there’s a lockout or strike it’s crucial that students support their TAs on the picket lines

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