The Unit 1 bargaining team has brought forward a controversial proposal to U of T administration following a meeting on Friday that left members divided.
The proposal, which was narrowly passed by members after limited debate, mainly rearranged the numbers from the agreement that Unit 1 previously rejected, with some additional funds, according to online posts following the meeting.
Details about the meeting and the proposal were leaked online through social media and a blog post by a Unit 1 member, which was briefly removed from online amid comments that the author was giving administration the opportunity to prepare a response to the proposal before the meeting.
Social media blew up after the meeting as members expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal and the way the three-hour meeting was conducted, particularly since members were not given advance notice that they would be voting on a motion.
A petition was also launched calling for Unit 1 to hold another meeting to discuss the proposal before presenting it to the administration.
According to social media posts by members of the Unit 1 bargaining team, the bargaining team brought the proposal to the mediator on Sunday and had not as of press time received a response from U of T.
The Medium was unable to reach Unit 1 vice-chair Ryan Culpepper in time for comment.
According to Unit 1 member Milan Ilnyckyj in his blog, the proposal presented to members at the meeting was mainly an effort by the bargaining team to “reorganize” U of T’s last proposal, which was rejected by Unit 1 members.
The agreement would increase the minimum funding package from $15,000 to $17,500 while also reducing tuition for both domestic and international Ph.D. students in their fifth and sixth years by half, according to the post.
“The big gain […] is getting tuition and the funding package explicitly incorporated into the collective agreement,” wrote Ilnyckyj.
In a phone interview earlier this month, Culpepper told The Medium that Unit 1 members rejected U of T’s last offer because it failed to recognize the dual role played by Unit 1 members at the university.
“Members of Unit 1 are all student workers and it’s really hard to draw a divide between […] when you have your student hat on and your worker hat on,” he said.
“The contract that was recommended and then voted on as strictly an employment contract was a good offer […] but our members aren’t just workers, they’re student workers,” he said, adding that the rejected agreement did not increase the minimum funding or tuition relief for graduate students.
A source who attended the meeting reported that the union discussed strategies for escalating the strike, including by shutting down classes, targeting departments that have employed other labour or strike breakers, and becoming more aggressive with picketing.
The same source also said that the union spent $10,000 to host the meeting at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“BASIS” FOR BARGAINING
In a memo dated Wednesday, March 4, Angela Hildyard, the U of T VP human resources & equity, said that the administration was in contact with the provincial mediator “and are advised that as soon as he thinks there is a basis to return to the bargaining table he will invite the parties to do so”.
The negotiations between CUPE 3902 and U of T are currently being mediated by Peter Simpson, a representative of Ontario’s Ministry of Labour.
Although Simpson was unable to disclose details about the specific bargaining relationship between the two parties, he talked to The Medium about the “basis” of the negotiations.
“[In] every round of bargaining, the parties have conversations with one another […] they’re usually very open about the things they’re unable to do completely, or the things that they want the other side to consider,” Simpson said over the phone on Friday.
“As a mediator […] you’re always listening to both sides, [trying] to figure what can and can’t be part of a solution,” he said.
Asked whether there were any legal issues preventing the two parties from continuing their negotiations, he said, “There is no legal impediment […] to parties returning to a bargaining table.”
Last week, The Medium reported Provost Cheryl Regehr’s position that all 6,000 Unit 1 members should have a chance to vote on the rejected agreement.
Simpson could not comment on whether U of T had requested the ministry to direct a full membership vote on its last offer, but said that usually the ministry aims to hold the vote within five to six days of the request, notwithstanding “mitigating circumstances”.
STUDENTS DEMAND REFUNDS
Last week students began signing a petition asking U of T to refund tuition fees paid in the winter term. As of press time, the petition had over 1,800 supporters.
Hildyard did not directly respond to The Medium’s request for an interview; U of T news & media relations director Althea Blackburn-Evans only said a phone interview with Hildyard was “not possible” and that she could not give a timely response to questions later sent by e-mail.
On its online FAQ, U of T posted updates on Friday pertaining to the strike’s impact on the length of the term, the exam period and the summer session.
According to the webpage, “the great majority” of exams are expected to be held as scheduled and U of T aims to “adjust” courses affected by the strike “to stay on track for the normal exam period”.
The same day, there was an additional posting saying that summer courses are also expected to continue as planned.
Earlier this month, CUPE 3902 starting compiling reports of complaints against U of T for “unfair labour practice[s]”, including instances where striking members’ work was changed or eliminated due to changes to course syllabi or marking schemes, according to an e-mail sent by Culpepper to CUPE 3902 members.
Unit 1 is the only unit currently on strike. It was announced last Tuesday that Unit 3 had successfully ratified its agreement with U of T.