Contract negotiations will continue between the University of Toronto administration and the labour union CUPE 3902 Unit 1, after the collective agreement expired on December 31st with no new agreement reached.

“We’re still talking to them and we’re still in bargaining, and having very productive discussions and looking at creative solutions to different issues. And I expect that we will continue to talk until we can come to agreement on a range of different topics,” stated Kelly Hannah-Moffat the vice president for human recourses and equity at U of T in an interview with The Medium.

“It’s fairly normal to continue labour negotiations after the expiration of a collective agreement and in this context, with this particular unit, we are having what I would describe as very good discussions and very good conversations and we’re working towards creative solutions,” she continued.

Hannah-Moffat stated that members of Unit 1, which represent all teaching assistants across U of T’s three campuses, will continue to work despite the expired agreement until a new agreement is established.

“Things continue and teaching assistants and employees continue to work after the expiration of the collective agreement and we work towards bargaining a new collective agreement. And that new collective agreement will be set for another period of time, normally three years, sometimes longer,” she continued.

On December 12th, over 89.4 per cent of members belonging to Unit 1 voted “yes” in a strike mandate vote. This vote would grant the union to legally strike if no agreement has been reached and negotiations have ceased.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going on strike but it puts us in a legal position to call a strike if necessary,” stated Pamela Arancibia, the chair for CUPE 3902 in an interview with The Medium, “We’ve been bargaining up until the 18th of December. In those meetings, we did see quite a bit of progress, in fact that strike vote is part of the reason it has been much more effective. Things were going quite slowly until we held our strike mandate vote and in that last week of meetings, we weren’t able to come to an agreement on a number of issues.”

According to Arancibia, Unit 1 is bargaining for a number of platform points, both in collaborations with other university unions as part of their 2020 vision, as well as unit-specific goals.

Arancibia outlined that Unit 1 is trying to negotiate for improved health care benefits, including better pregnancy and paternal leave, support for domestic and sexual violence survivors, as well as mental health coverage.

“What we did get before going on holiday was improvement to sexual harassment language. So for example, the university in the past has objected to our members objecting to the investigator of any sexual harassment claims. And what we have been able to gain is the right for our members to raise concerns,” Arancibia said.

According to Hannah-Moffat, there is no set deadline to have a new collective agreement established after an initial contract expires so long as both parties continue to negotiate.

“We have very good relationships with our unions on campus and we strive to continue those strong relationships and partnerships. We always aspire to have meaningful conversations and discussions in bargaining,” Hannah-Moffat continued.

Arancibia stated that Unit 1 has filed for a conciliation period meaning that a neutral third party appointed by the provincial government will be aiding in negotiations between the two parties.

According to the U of T bargaining page, Conciliation is defined as: “An official appointed by the provincial Minister of Labour (the conciliator) assists the parties in reaching a tentative agreement. The conciliator cannot require the parties to agree on anything, has no decision-making power and is not a compellable witness in any legal proceeding. Either party may ask the Minister to appoint a conciliator.”

The page adds, “The parties are not legally allowed to strike or lockout until after they have met with a conciliator and a ‘no board’ report has been issued by the Minister.”

“We will be meeting with a neutral third party with the province to see if we can come to some sort of agreement on some or all of these issues. One of our next steps is to set a strike deadline. So once we have a meeting with our members, they will set a strike deadline, by which point we have to have a tentative agreement to bring to our members or we will be in a strike position,” explained Arancibia.

“We hope to reach a negotiated contract. There’s always the possibility that things don’t always pan out, in which case, we would start looking at a potential strike position. That’s something, for the moment, we are not at that point. Right now, what we really want is to see some real progress with the university in conciliation and to set that strike deadline,” Arancibia added.

Previously in 2015, the university and the CUPE bargaining team failed to establish a new contract resulting in a month-long strike across all three U of T campuses. All tutorials, practicals, and courses led by a TA or course instructor belonging to the union were cancelled during the labour disruption.

Bargaining meetings between U of T and Unit 1 are expected to continue as early as this month.