Ryerson contract lecturers doubtful of changes to Bill 148

Colman Hogan has been a contract lecturer at Ryerson University for over 20 years, but his salary is almost a third of a full-time staffer.

His case is emblematic of an issue that new provincial legislation is trying to solve: employees being paid less and going without benefits because of their contract status. But not all professors are convinced that the bill goes far enough.

Post-secondary institutions have been hiring contract lecturers to fill teaching positions without any proportional compensations to the salaries and benefits they are paid.

Aaron Tucker has been a sessional instructor at Ryerson for 10 years. He says he gets paid 40 per cent less than a full-time staffer despite teaching the same number of students. (Photo by Devika Desai)

A full-time staffer just starting at the university would earn a salary of $83,360.32 for teaching four courses. But this year marks Hogan’s 21st working at Ryerson and he will earn a gross salary of $28,863 for the same number of courses.

As a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 1), Hogan has access to $3,964 of benefits if he teaches a minimum of three courses per semester. One course less and his total drops down to $250 per semester.

An assistant professor at Ryerson receives a yearly benefit of $14,280 and is not mandated to teach more than four courses a semester. Contract lecturers typically teach larger classes with little-to-no help from teaching assistants.

“The conventional wisdom is that the sessional pool (number of contract lecturers) in the 1990s accounted for 20 per cent of teaching, and now it’s over 50 per cent,” Hogan said.

Hogan says these contract lecturers are overworked.

According to him, a significant number of contract lecturers teach 10 or more courses a year, sometimes at multiple universities, with larger classes and two and a half times the course load of a full-time Ryerson faculty member.

Between 2000 and 2012, there has been an 87 per cent increase in the number of courses taught by contract faculty, according to the Council of Ontario Universities.

Aaron Tucker, who has taught writing courses as a Ryerson sessional instructor for 10 years, said that class sizes at the university have increased exponentially.

“I teach the same number of students, but I get paid 40 per cent less,” Tucker said.

He explained that while he would once teach a total of 150 students by teaching five courses of 30 students each, he now teaches the same number of students but in three courses of 50 each.

Both Tucker and Hogan agree that this is not a Ryerson-specific problem, but one found in all Canadian universities. Tucker believes there should be infrastructure in place to help the increasing population of workers who are contracted and in precarious positions.

The prospective changes to the bill include equal pay for casual, part-time, contract and temporary workers, better scheduling and more reasonable rules for joining certain work sector unions. It also includes a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by January 2019.

“Bill 148 is already being watered down as we speak, and I think by the time it passes, it would be watered down even more,” Hogan said. “One can easily imagine that a lot of people think they will not benefit from the strong version of the bill.”

Jacquie Chic, who teaches politics, said that if the government was serious about stopping the use of temporary workers, they should introduce a cap on how much of the workforce could be employed as part-time.

“Employers would still be entitled to employ as many contract workers as they wish, and then dump them when they are no longer needed,” Chic said. “It’s not just about pay, it’s about pension and entitlement – when you’re a contract worker, that doesn’t happen.”

According to Hogan, one way to fix the low wages issue is to find a way to compensate contract workers for their research. While contract workers are paid for hours spent teaching, full-time faculty are paid not only for teaching, but also for time spent in service, like committees, and for their research and published work.

The university has taken steps to reduce the inequality gap between the two CUPE units, but more action needs to be taken to address the overall “wealth inequality” as Hogan labeled it.

“Ryerson needs to think more about the precarity of (the) lowest paid and a fair ‘living-wage’ for them.”

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