Please note, this article was published last January 2009. For the latest news on the potential U of T Strike on November 9, 2009, visit themedium.ca/strike
Students at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) may be getting an extended reading week if negotiations break down between the university administration and its contractual staff union, CUPE 3902. As part of a regular collective agreement renewal process, the University of Toronto is asking the union to make a number of concessions, such as eliminating a Tuition Assistance Fund (TAF) created in the last agreement, which provides tuition relief for members of CUPE 3902 in deregulated programs. Unfortunately, the members of the union voted on December 11 to instruct their bargaining team not to accept any concessions, a move which has resulted in the current deadlock.
Unlike at York University, where classes have shut down since November over pay-related issues, CUPE 3902 is fighting for equity issues, not wages according to union representative Rebecca Sanders. We recently bargained for improved maternity and parental leave, but are still pressing for decent childcare assistance in line with what other employees at the university receive.
Childcare access for students has also been a major issue for students at UTM. Some protests arose at a recent childcare meeting due to the fact that UTM students are charged St. George rates, which is much more expensive than comparable childcare here in Mississauga.
We are also asking the employer to cover the extremely expensive UHIP (University Health Insurance Plan) premiums forced on international students and their families, says Sanders. This private, for-profit plan charges over $3,000 per year to insure a family, a huge burden for already impoverished students.
The low income of their members is one reason why CUPE 3902 is rejecting any concessions, especially given the worsening economic conditions worldwide. As Sanders points out, our members are already the poorest employees of the university, living well below the poverty line [so] if cuts need to be made, they should not target people who can barely get by as is.
Furthermore, Sanders insists that her unions proposals would not cost the university very much. The University of Toronto has over $1.4 billion in operating revenue [and] the proposals in dispute cost the university a tiny fraction of a percent of that, she explains. We have even made proposals that literally don’t cost the University a penny more than they’ve already committed to in the past. For example, combining our benefit plans without raising the cap, and yet the university has rejected these ideas and refused to make any concessions of their own.
Sanders blames the university for being unreasonable, for refusing to consider their proposals and insisting on a reduction of benefits, and hints that they are to blame for the current stalemate in discussions. CUPE 3902 wants to avoid a strike at all costs, but feels that U of T is not making an honest effort to reach a new agreement with them. We are willing to be flexible and creative [in finding solutions] and our proposals are moderate and reasonable, she says. If the employer shares our desire, they need to reciprocate and come back to the table with a fair offer that addresses our core concerns.
The University of Toronto administration could not be reached for comment due to office closures over the holiday break. According to the CUPE 3902 website, negotiations thus far have resulted in an additional hour of paid training, release time from work duties around major academic deadlines, and a better wage rate for assistant invigilators and that despite this positive momentum, the union and the employer have decided to file jointly for conciliation. Such a move means that the Ontario Labour Board must now appoint a conciliator to oversee negotiations and try to foster some sort of agreement.
For more information please visit http://www.cupe3902.org