On the afternoon of Dec. 15, members and supporters of U of T’s CUPE 3902, the union that represents teaching assistants, gathered at Simcoe Hall to protest, having recently filed a complaint against U of T with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. 3902 feels that U of T crossed legal lines and bargained in bad faith during their winter 2015 strike.

 

3902 bargaining team leader Ryan Culpepper explained that his union has successfully bargained with U of T 17 times over 42 years without either party feeling the need to take legal action. He elaborated on the relationship, calling out U of T for locking the union out, and this year: avoiding bargaining, misrepresenting union positions, and hiring undergraduate students as scab labourers. He added that U of T “dispensed with any semblance of academic integrity by cancelling our tutorials, cancelling our labs, handing out free A’s, in an attempt to crush the union at any cost, even their own core mission.”

 

“None of that was ‘bad faith,’ only horrible human behavior,” Culpepper continued.

 

He explained that one of the union’s non-negotiables in bargaining was getting a deal in which they would know how many of their members would be funded at or above the minimum required level. The union has since found that U of T’s data counted student awards, pay students receive for non-TA work (e.g., cafeteria jobs), and even travel reimbursement for a conference that pre-dated the agreements towards funding.

 

Culpepper denounced this as lying, noting the original information 3902 received stated “this data is funding commitments as distinct from net income.”

 

The rally was organized by CUPE 3902 executive Ellie Adekur. Adekur opened the event by reminding the crowd that during the strike, 3902 learned that U of T documentation refers to undergraduate students as basic income units. “Since then,” she noted, “we’ve learned masters students are two basic units, and PhD students a whopping six basic income units. We’ve come here today to bask in our basicness!”

IMG_2874.JPG Ellie Adekur (left) rallies the crowd for "CUPE's angriest member," "Tony," as he prepares to enter Convocation Hall.

Adekur also took jabs at U of T administrators, particularly U of T Chancellor Michael Wilson. Her task wasn’t a hard one. She began to introduce him, explaining, “Michael Wilson … is a former Conservative politician,” earning him an instant chorus of boos. She went on to add that at a previous protest, Wilson told a racialized demonstrator “he looked like the kind of person whose father would tailor his suits.” She also knocked U of T President Meric Gertler for previously introducing flat fees, and U of T Asset Manager William Moriarty for taking home a $900K salary, whose work she claims has cost U of T $1.2 billion (and also for having the same name as a famous literary villain).

 

While the rally was nominally focused on 3902’s struggles, it featured a number of speakers who spoke to the broader context of university underfunding. NDP MPP Peggy Sattler bemoaned that Canada ranks towards the bottom of OECD graduates in terms of students with university, and particularly graduate, degrees. A speaker from the Canadian Federation of Students noted that rather than taking responsibility for the cost of education, different governmental levels pass blame onto others—“the federal governments blames provinces for mismanagement, provinces blame institutions for deficits, and institutions blame governments for lack of funding.”

 

An Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee activist denounced the treatment of janitors at Laurier Guelph who’ve been given the choice of accepting two-tiered wages or having their jobs contracted out. An activist with York’s CUPE 3903 shamed her institution for reneging on its commitment to index tuition for international students (guaranteeing tuition increases don’t cut into funding), and encouraging donors to divert money from needs-based scholarships. And two students from U of T’s Transitional Year Program denounced the university’s underfunding and understaffing of their department.

 

After covering issues from the high salaries of university administrators to the inaccessibility of campuses, the rally ended with a performance by the percussion group Rhythms of Resistance.

 

 


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