On May Day, custodial and maintenance workers at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) begin the third week of their historic strike. Their union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 233 is marking the day with an unprecedented call for workers across the province to begin a full “donor boycott” against their employer until a fair contract is settled.
“Because of TMU’s reckless hard line in bargaining, we have to question the university’s fundamental values. Clearly, they are behaving in a way that is anti-worker and anti-equality, and the people and organizations tying themselves to this institution as donors need to take a hard look in the mirror. How is TMU’s terrible treatment of workers reflecting on them and their brands?” asked CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. “We are calling on all donors, alumni, and other sponsors of TMU and its programs to suspend all current or future financial support until such time as this strike is resolved.”
CUPE is making a direct appeal to all current and prospective donors to the University to suspend their financial support.
About 110 custodians, maintenance workers, and groundskeepers on the TMU campus are members of CUPE Local 233. Just a year ago, these workers were celebrated by the university with a “President’s Blue and Gold Award of Excellence” for their extraordinary efforts to keep the campus running through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. A year later, they walk picket lines after contract negotiations ended with a dispute over wages and pensions.
“TMU talks a lot in public about their support for ‘equity’ issues. But here they are, refusing to recognize our basic right to bargain on pensions while fully recognizing it for faculty. It’s unfair and demonstrates a real disrespect for our members and the importance of our work,” said CUPE 233 Vice-President Jason Vigilante.
He adds that for many of his members, wages are so low that they can no longer afford to live in the city. While many CUPE 233 members are seeing significant wage increases for their counterparts in the private sector, the university has refused to offer a wage increase that comes anywhere near keeping up with the cost of living. In addition, the employer recently made amendments to his members’ pension contributions without any negotiation, while allowing higher wage faculty members to contribute less.
TMU has numerous prominent donors, including a number of progressive foundations and individuals who will be very concerned to learn about the details behind their strike. These include the Atkinson and McConnell Foundations, philanthropic groups, and several trade unions.
“Many donors choose TMU because of its stated commitments to social rights and equity issues. Some donors and alumni have already expressed alarm at TMU’s betrayal of those values in their dealings with us. We think every TMU donor has a right to know what is going on here and to make informed decisions about where their dollars are going,” says Vigilante.