The university still refuses to meet with Unit 1 a week into the strike, according to the unit’s vice-chair Ryan Culpepper.
After Unit 1 members voted down the tentative agreement, CUPE 3902 immediately issued a press release saying that the bargaining team was prepared to meet on short notice to continue negotiations.
VP human resources & equity Angela Hildyard said in a memo on Wednesday that the university will meet Unit 1 when the provincial mediator “thinks there is a basis to return to the bargaining table”.
Culpepper, vice-chair of Units 1 and 2, was sceptical.
“The mediator has only one job and that’s to bring the parties together,” he said. “I can’t believe that if the union is saying it’s ready to meet any time and the employer is saying it’s ready to meet any time that it’s somehow the mediator that’s the hurdle. It’s ludicrous.”
Asked to clarify what was meant by the “basis” for continuing negotiations, Hildyard responded on Sunday that “we have nothing to add to what we have said previously”, repeating that the university remains in touch with the mediator and would return to bargaining once he invites them to do so.
On Tuesday, CUPE 3902 chair Erin Black told The Medium that U of T administration told the bargaining team that they “do not plan to meet with [CUPE 3902 representatives] at this time”.
When asked to comment, U of T news & media relations director Althea Blackburn-Evans referred to the stance taken by Provost Cheryl Regehr in a blog entry for The Huffington Post. In it, Regehr says that all Unit 1 members should have a chance to vote on the tentative agreement, which was overwhelmingly rejected at a meeting of 800 to 1,000 Unit 1 members out of 6,000.
According to Ontario labour laws, an employer can request the Ministry of Labour to hold a vote on their last offer among the membership even after a strike is declared.
“Upon receiving this request, the minister is obligated to direct such a vote,” says the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s website.
It is unclear whether U of T has requested such a vote.
According to Black, around 500 Unit 1 members are course instructors. It is unclear how many courses are unable to meet because of the strike.
Meanwhile, both CUPE 3902 and U of T have publicly accused each other of spreading misinformation.
GRAD STUDENT FUNDING
In an open letter on Thursday, Regehr and Hildyard discussed the tentative agreement that was rejected.
According to the letter, while graduate students are guaranteed a minimum funding package of $15,000, the actual amount of support students receive can range from $23,400 to over $46,000.
When asked to comment, Culpepper called the numbers “junk”.
Culpepper, who is also a member of the Unit 1 bargaining team, said that the $23,400 is the amount of the $15,000 minimum funding package when added to the tuition waiver that is given to students in the funded cohort.
The funded cohort consists of students in either the first four or the first five years of a Ph.D, depending on the program.
According to Culpepper, the average student takes six and a half to seven years to complete their Ph.D.
He claimed that when Unit 1 members win external awards, those members lose their tuition waiver and the fees are deducted from the award. The Medium has not independently verified this claim.
He also said that the unfunded cohort—including international students and students in the upper years of their Ph.D—are charged full tuition without receiving the funding package.
“Shame on the university for using distorted junk numbers,” he said.
The letter also notes that the agreement focused on the working conditions of TAs as part-time employees, which Regehr and Hildyard said is “separate from the broader issue of graduate student support”.
Asked why the bargaining team initially accepted the tentative agreement, Culpepper said that its employment benefits for graduate students were worthwhile.
“The contract that was recommended and then voted on as strictly an employment contract was a good offer,” said Culpepper, noting the wage increases and improved health benefits among other improvements.
“What wasn’t in that contract […] was matters of minimum funding and tuition relief. All the wages and benefits in the world don’t mean anything to you if your funding is capped at $15,000 and can’t go up.”
UNIT 1’S ALLEGED THREATS
Culpepper also accused U of T of spreading misleading information concerning Unit 1 members who continue to work during the strike.
He pointed to the “crazy FAQ” that U of T has posted online, specifically referring to questions that discuss alleged threats from CUPE 3902 to its members who continue to work.
“[U of T says] the union shouldn’t threaten us like that. Well, the union has never said that,” he claimed.
CUPE 3902’s constitution also says that members who work for the employer during a legal strike “or engages in any strike-breaking activities” is guilty of an offence, which can result in fines or the loss of union membership.
Earlier, the bargaining committee-steward’s council representative for Unit 1, Tom Laughlin, told The Medium that CUPE 3902 has not yet decided to engage that provision for members who choose not to strike, but added that the union can choose to do so if the union “goes in that direction”.
UNIT 3 VOTING ENDS ON TUESDAY
Last Tuesday, Black told The Medium that the ratification vote for Unit 3’s tentative agreement was underway.
Unit 3 members had voted in favour of their tentative agreement last Monday, moving the agreement to a full membership vote, which ends on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“We’ll know the outcome later that night,” said Black.
If the tentative agreement is passed, the new agreement will come into effect. If struck down, Unit 3 members would be on strike.
YORK MAKES NEW OFFER
As of Friday night, CUPE 3903 at York had reached a tentative agreement with York administration that will be subject to a ratification vote on Monday.
Three units of CUPE 3903 have been on strike since Tuesday and no classes have been in session since then.
According to a statement released on Saturday by CUPE 3903, union members and York administration returned to the bargaining table on Thursday.
The statement says that if the majority of members in each of the three units vote in favour of the tentative agreement, the strike will end with members likely to return to work on Tuesday.