The process of binding arbitration to reach an agreement between Unit 1 members of CUPE 3902 and U of T is set to begin this week following a strike that lasted four weeks.
Last Thursday, Unit 1 members voted overwhelmingly in favour of U of T’s proposal to resolve the dispute over binding arbitration, through an arbitrator selected by the provincial mediator. The vote brought an end to the strike and Unit 1 members returned to work on Friday.
In a phone interview, Unit 1 vice-chair Ryan Culpepper told The Medium that the arbitrator has already been appointed and that he has been in contact with CUPE 3902. Union representatives will take part in a conference call with the arbitrator this week to set the timeline for the arbitration process.
Provincial mediator Peter Simpson could not confirm the length of time it would take to reach an agreement, but said the aim is for the dispute to be resolved “as quickly as possible”.
“I doubt it will take months. The goal is to find an arbitrator who is available,” he said.
Culpepper said that after both parties have presented their offers and arguments, the union has been told that the arbitrator would make a decision in less than 30 days.
The new agreement will last for three years and eight months after the date when the previous agreement expired, April 30, 2014. Culpepper said this means that Unit 1 members would be bargaining again in the next two to three years.
The arbitrator is only responsible for settling “all matters that remain in dispute”, according to a statement by U of T president Meric Gertler, and will decide on a final solution that both CUPE 3902 and U of T will have to accept.
Culpepper said that there are only two items remaining to be resolved: an increase to the guaranteed minimum funding package and tuition relief for Unit 1 members. According to Culpepper, both parties have agreed on including the two items in the new agreement and have also agreed on the amounts for the funding—a minimum funding guarantee of $17,500 in place of the current $15,000 and a tuition rebate that amounts to 50% of domestic tuition.
What remains to be resolved in Unit 1’s view is an adjustment to the structure of the benefits so that they are guaranteed on a per-member basis rather than as a lump sum, because the latter would be worth less for each member if the funded cohort expands.
As previously reported by The Medium, after initially rejecting binding arbitration last Wednesday, the Unit 1 bargaining team sent an offer to U of T introducing per-member guarantees into the agreement. U of T did not respond to The Medium’s previous request for comment on whether the university intended to respond to the offer. According to Culpepper, U of T rejected the offer the same day.
Asked about the discrepancy between the increased value of the minimum funding package and the poverty line, which was a major concern of Unit 1 members during the strike, Culpepper said that the union intends to continue to fight for funding that reaches the poverty line.
“There was also a sense among many people of trying to realistically assess what could be achieved in a single round of bargaining,” he said, adding that settling on an amount lower than the poverty line “wasn’t an easy decision […] to make”.
As determined in the back to work protocol negotiated between the two parties, Unit 1 members are currently working under the terms of their expired contract. Asked what would happen to Unit 1 members whose work was altered or eliminated due to syllabi changes during the strike, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of news & media relations, said that “the university has encouraged all TAs to speak to their supervising instructors as soon as possible about plans for the remainder of the term”.
Culpepper was unable to confirm the number of Unit 1 members who had continued to work during the strike. The Medium was unable to reach U of T in time for comment.