A flurry of weekend mediation between the University of Toronto and its striking teaching and graduate assistants has failed to end the strike that has cancelled tutorials, labs and some courses at Canada’s largest University for more than two weeks.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902, which represents about 6,000 teaching assistants, graduate assistants, markers and some course instructors, has been on strike since March 2 over its push for a raise to the average financial package of $ 15,000 its members get for working for the university, which has not increased since 2008. The package includes a rebate for their tuition.
The union proposed a new offer late last week, said spokesperson Craig Smith, that would have reallocated funds to allow the minimum funding package to rise to $ 17,500, but the university rejected it Monday, he said. The administration, Smith said, “came back to us with an offer that would cost them $ 22,500 less than their original offer. The bargaining team voted unanimously to reject that offer, and our offer to negotiate stands, but we have no choice but to escalate our pickets.”
However U of T Provost Cheryl Regehr said the university countered with an offer that “responded to the changes offered by the union — and which had more money than their offer had — but they rejected it without taking it to their members for a vote.”
With just three weeks left of class this term, Regehr said the university is “committed to ensuring our students have the opportunity to finish their courses, so we’re actively working with faculties to identify concrete options” for completing their work.
However, CUPE 3902 has accused the U of T of hiring some undergraduates to do marking and other work normally done by striking CUPE members, and pressuring departments to continue to run courses without instructors — which Regehr denied.
“Members on the picket line have reported close attention from private investigators when formulating picket strategies,” said a statement released Monday night by the union. “Picket leaders have been specifically targeted. Videotaping in itself is a form of intimidation which reshapes what happens on a picket line,” says Zachary Levinsky, a union member, PhD candidate at the Centre of Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies and expert on surveillance.
“The very fact security is here affects how picketers may perform in public space and their willingness to engage in a legal strike. It intimidates some members and fosters feelings of mistrust.”
The union also accused the administration of threatening to sanction the U of T Student Union for sending out pro-strike information to students using its list-serve, but Regehr said “absolutely not; we have not threatened to sanction the student union, although we have had complaints from students (about the emailed bulletins) but when we get these complaints we steer them back to the student union.”
Both sides said they remain open to further negotiation.