About 1,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 attended a Friday afternoon meeting to decide whether or not the tentative deal would be sent to a unit-wide ratification vote, and 90 per cent of attendees voted against it.
Picket lines are expected to start on Monday. The strike will effectively shut down tutorials, labs, and some classes in their entirety for thousands of students at Canada’s largest university, in all three of its campuses — downtown, Scarborough and Mississauga.
“Tutorials, and lab demonstrations will cease running,” said Black. “A percentage of the membership are instructors in their own right, and those classes will cease running entirely — not just the tutorial component.”
“We also have invigilators who will no longer be invigilating exams,” she added.
Hundreds of the university’s 6,000 teaching assistants turned out Friday afternoon to hear details of a deal their union had reached early Friday morning — then voted against it, prompting a flurry of tweets “We’re on strike!” Notice of the rejection was immediately posted on the union’s Facebook page.
Presuming TAs do walk off the job starting Monday, it’s not clear whether other faculty members — tenured professors or contract professors — would honour the picket lines. The 1,000 contract professors also belong to CUPE 3902 but they reached a deal with the university last week.
Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news and media relations at the U of T, expressed her disappointment at news of the strike, saying the university believed its latest offer had met the criteria of being a “fair and reasonable” renewal collective agreement.
The last time the U of T’s teaching assistants walked off the job was in 2000 when they were on the picket lines for three and a half weeks.
CUPE 3902 was seeking a wage hike to bring the $ 15,000 stipend members receive closer to the $ 23,000 low-income cut-off amount that Statistics Canada sets as a living wage for single workers in big cities.
“(Members) were most dissatisfied (the tentative agreement) did not address what they perceived to be the core issue of increases to the graduate funding package model,” said Black, adding, “As a result, they would continue to exist quite below the poverty line, so they want to make their voice heard about how unacceptable that is on the picket line now.”
Yet “TAs, sessional lecturers and course instructors do 60 per cent of the teaching, but for only 3.5 per cent of the university’s budget . . . We are the ones who bridge the gap between teaching and understanding but the U of T is making it difficult for us to do our jobs.”
Many undergraduate students at U of T, especially those in upper years, are concerned about the impact the strike will have on their expected graduation dates.
“As a student it’s not an ideal situation, especially if you are in need of specific courses in order to graduate,” says Najiba Sardar, vice-president equity for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).
UTSU president Yolen Bollo-Kamara echoes this sentiment.
“It’s unfair that the people doing 60 per cent of the teaching at U of T are making less than poverty-level wages,” she says. “I implore the university to negotiate in good faith with CUPE 3902 and offer them decent compensation for the work they’re doing.”