With Unit 3 of CUPE 3902 having reached a tentative agreement with U of T, only four days remain for Unit 1 to reach an agreement before the deadline at midnight this Thursday.
Unit 1 represents mostly graduate students employed as TAs and other academic staff.
The Unit 3 bargaining team, representing instructors and other staff hired under contracts of less than one year, tentatively settled on an agreement, which must be ratified on March 2.
The union as a whole continues strike preparations as the date set for reaching an agreement approaches nearer.
UNIT 3 TO VOTE ON TENTATIVE AGREEMENT
In a memo released Wednesday, Angela Hildyard, U of T’s VP human resources & equity, announced that the university and Unit 3 had reached a tentative agreement.
Unit 3 met with university officials last Tuesday, resulting in the agreement after negotiations ended at 2:30 a.m., said CUPE 3902 chair Erin Black.
Although Black, who is also a Unit 3 employee, was unable to discuss details about the tentative agreement, she said that the it reflects progress on the unit’s priority of job security.
According to Black, U of T has agreed to make the Sessional Lecturer III rank a “permanent and ongoing” position.
Previously, the ranking was limited to the term of each agreement and had to be renewed once the agreement expired.
Black says that the tentative settlement, if ratified, will mean that the SLIII rank will continue to exist beyond the length of a specific agreement.
Other concerns addressed by the agreement include improvements to members’ healthcare funding account and “small increases” to compensation.
The agreement will be subject to a two-stage ratification process. Members will be asked to vote at a meeting on March 2 on whether to send the tentative agreement to the full membership to ratify.
Black explained that if the vote passes at the meeting, an additional couple of days would be given for the wider membership to vote on ratifying the agreement.
However, Black said that if the agreement is struck down at the meeting, Unit 3 will go on strike.
Black said that the team is unanimously supporting the tentative agreement.
In the meantime, however, she said CUPE 3902 as a whole is continuing its strike preparations since Unit 1 has not yet reached an agreement, adding that the preparations are not specific to any unit.
Black encouraged Unit 1 to continue fighting for its members’ needs as negotiations continue.
“If that means having to go on strike […] then Unit 3 stands in full support,” she said.
UNIT 1 CONTINUES TO FACE DIFFICULTIES
As of press time, Unit 1 vice-chair Ryan Culpepper had not responded to The Medium’s requests for an interview on the status of Unit 1’s negotiations with U of T.
According to the latest bargaining bulletin on CUPE 3902’s website, dated February 5, the Unit 1 bargaining team was scheduled to meet with U of T last Friday to continue negotiations.
As of press time, CUPE 3902’s website did not contain updates on the outcome of its latest meeting.
Following the announcement of Unit 3’s tentative agreement, however, Culpepper commented on Facebook that the development did not, “in a strict sense”, affect Unit 1’s bargaining.
“We still face the same difficulties and obstacles to reaching that agreement that we did before [Unit 3 reached an agreement],” he said.
U OF T’S OWN “EMERGENCY MEASURES ACT”
In the event of a strike, U of T has the option to declare a “disruption” if administration decides that university operations are unable to continue as normal.
If a disruption is declared, U of T’s Policy on Academic Continuity would come into effect, giving administration greater control over how professors run their classes.
In a statement to the Toronto Star, Professor Scott Prudham—president of the U of T Faculty Association, which represents teaching-stream and tenured faculty at U of T’s three campuses—compared the policy to an emergency measures act “that would allow the provost to make fundamental changes to [their] courses just to make sure the trains run on time”.
In normal circumstances, U of T’s Assessment and Grading Practices Policy requires course instructors who wish to make changes to syllabi to have students vote on those changes in class.
However, the Policy on Academic Continuity can override that requirement and allow courses to be changed without student consultation.
Prudham attended a confidential meeting with university officials on February 12 to discuss the UTFA’s concerns.
“We brought our concerns forward because of the potential for the policy to be invoked in ways that undermine academic freedom,” Prudham told The Medium in an email on Friday.
Prudham declined to comment on the details of the concerns and the outcome of the meeting, but said that the UTFA was “seeking assurances from the Provost’s Office that academic freedom will be upheld [in the event of a disruption]”, and said that they had received those assurances.
U of T spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans said in an email on Thursday that the Policy on Academic Continuity was intended to help the university continue its academic programs “in difficult and challenging circumstances”.
She added that the policy gives the Provost and Academic Board the authority to declare a disruption, meaning that U of T’s academic operations would not be “proceeding as normal and that changes may have to be made to aspects of its academic activities”.
While she noted that a labour strike would not automatically lead to a university-declared disruption, Blackburn-Evans was vague on what exactly it would take for a disruption to be declared, only saying that the option exists in the event that normal operations become “untenable”.
Blackburn-Evans did not answer questions about how the policy would be implemented, including how it purports to maintain the “academic integrity” of a course or how soon instructors would be required to inform students of changes to course syllabi.