Sessional lecturers are teachers hired by U of T on single-course contracts, but are, more often than not, just as qualified and experienced as full-time permanent teachers.
CUPE 3902 and U of T have been at the bargaining table for three months. CUPE 3902's demands centre around wages, job security, and year-round academic support. According to CUPE 3902's Bargaining Team Spokeswoman Dr. Leslie Jermyn, it was U of T's second wage offer that brought about the decision to set a strike deadline.
"This [wage offer] would have our members [with a PhD.] making less than $2.25 more than somebody teaching a course without a PhD.," says Jermyn. CUPE 3902 thinks a PhD. is worth more than this.
Sessional lecturers at U of T earn $15, 000 per year on average. U of T's latest wage offer, according to CUPE 3902, was less than a 2% per year increase. This offer is particularly offensive to CUPE 3902 because they feel singled-out. Every other employee group has been offered at least a 3% per year increase.
"For some reason the university has decided to target us as the first group to break the trend," says Jermyn. "To ask the poorest paid academic staff on campus to take the biggest hit is unconscionable."
Also present at the press conference was MPP Rosario Marchese, the NDP Education critic. He expressed his support for CUPE and the sessional lecturers. "It's shameful," said Marchese. "We have people who do almost full-time work for part-time pay, without job security."
U of T Media Relations, as a matter of standard practice, refused to comment on the ongoing negotiations with CUPE 3902. However, at the Governing Council's Planning and Budget Committee meeting on October 28, Provost Cheryl Misak reassured members of the committee that they are prepared to deal with a possible strike. She explained that administration staff are already "working very hard" on a program continuity plan.
The UTOR Continuity Planning Tool is a piece of software available to faculty to help them plan for emergencies. According to the guidebook for the program, it is designed to enhance preparedness for incidents such as "fires, hazardous materials spills, ice storms, pandemic, utilities failures, and network failures." Lately this software has been put to use to plan for a possible H1N1 outbreak on campus. Misak was referring to similar procedures to mitigate any negative effects of a sessional lecturer strike.
Memories and horror stories from last year's York TA strike are still fresh in the minds of Ontario university students. Although courses taught by sessional lecturers would halt in the case of a strike, Jermyn says she does not believe U of T will shut down. She hopes it would be a short strike and insists that she does not want people to think that CUPE 3902 is using students as a bargaining chip.
"Most of us work for cheap wages because we love to teach," says Jermyn. "Our battle is not with the students."