Teaching assistants and other non-tenured staff at the University of Toronto rejected the tentative deal their union reached last Friday and will be on strike as of Monday.
The tentative deal, announced by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) on its website, was rejected by 90 per cent of the Local 3902 members during the ratification vote. Thousands of students will face disruptions in the midst of midterms.
About 300 non-tenured academic staff from York University and the University of Toronto braved the cold for the Rally For Better Education outside U of T’s King’s College Circle on Thursday Feb. 26, asking for job security, better working conditions and a pay raise.
CUPE argues low-paid contract workers perform about 60 per cent of undergraduate instruction, yet their salaries account for less than eight per cent of university budgets.
“I believe that teaching assistants play an important role in the learning process,” says Jessica Soedirgo, a TA at U of T. “We mark (students’) work, hear their ideas and we know their names. I genuinely enjoy teaching, but I would like to have a living wage and better working conditions. I plan on participating in the strike to help achieve those goals.”
Soedirgo says she is paid for 210 hours, but still has to work more unpaid hours due to the high workload.
The teaching assistant budget per academic year has been frozen at $15,000 since 2008, meaning TAs live 35 per cent below the poverty line while living costs continue to skyrocket.
At Ryerson, CUPE Unit 3, which represents TAs and graduate assistants just reached an agreement after two rounds of bargaining. The proposed agreement will be discussed at a Unit 3 meeting, with details to be released shortly.
Meanwhile, Ryerson’s CUPE Local 3904 Unit 1 that represents part-time and sessional instructors ratified an agreement in January. The agreement only gave 60 three-year contracts to the 700-person union. The union is still deciding which members will get those contracts. John Girardo, who was on the Unit 1 bargaining committee, said he hopes for more job security as he still has to to re-apply for work every semester.
“I have no idea whether or not I’m going to be teaching again one semester to the next,” he says. “There’s a precariousness to it — you can’t plan like when you have regular income and benefits.”
Girardo marched to U of T to support his fellow union members. “I think I’ve shown a commitment to the university; I was a graduate of this university, I’ve been (teaching) for 25 years,” Girardo said. “It would be nice to see the university turn back and make a commitment to me.”