On Thursday, February 16, over 1,000 members of the University of Toronto (U of T) community rallied in front of the office of the Governing Council to support the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, which represents 4,200 education workers. In bargaining since June 2011, the union and university administration have been unable to come to an agreement. A strike date has been set for Friday, February 24.
The most important bargaining issue is the declining quality of education at U of T. The size of tutorials and labs has ballooned in recent years, making it difficult for CUPE 3902 members to provide the educational support undergraduates need. Since 2008, the size of tutorials has grown dramatically, with 24 per cent of tutorials now holding more than 50 students, and 42 per cent, more than 35 students.
“CUPE 3902’s bargaining issues resonate with undergraduate students; in particular, the demand for smaller class sizes,” said Hebba Fahmy of Undergrads for 3902. “Oversized tutorials and labs undermine the quality of our education. There’s too little time for interaction among students, and between students and instructors.”
Alongside increasing workloads, members are seeing their real incomes decline against the expensive cost of living in Toronto. These pressures have many graduate students worried about their ability to complete their degrees on time.
“Graduate students make critical contributions to research at U of T, but doing so becomes more and more difficult as financial uncertainty rises,” said Wayne Dealy, chair of CUPE 3902. “Stable and adequate financial support would make a significant difference in the ability of graduate students to make ends meet and achieve their academic goals.”
U of T administration has used a loophole in the CUPE 3902 collective agreement to begin deducting up to $3,200 from the already meager compensation that graduate students receive for conducting their thesis research.
“We’ve been trying to negotiate a fair contract for eight months,” said James Nugent, the bargaining team’s chief spokesperson. “Our goal, shared by all the education workers, students and faculty who have come out here today, is simply to improve the learning and teaching conditions here at the University of Toronto.”
The union and administration will return to the bargaining table early next week.