CUPE 3902: Unit I strike vote


in Economics, Politics, Teaching, Toronto

The union that represents me as a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto is holding a strike vote.

They are calling for more generous funding packages for TAs, increased health and childcare benefits, and a few other things. U of T is especially stingy when it comes to graduate funding packages. The standard package of $23,000 minus about $8,000 tuition (and assuming 210 hours of work as a TA) doesn’t cover the cost of living in Toronto, requiring most TAs to either borrow or do additional outside work.

I don’t know how I feel about the strike vote. I am pretty wary about unions in general (especially when it comes to public sector unions). That is because of how they often seem to defend particular interests as opposed to the general welfare, and often establish and perpetuate inequalities between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. I also don’t know what the prospects are for a strike actually improving TA pay at U of T.

Voting goes on until November 18th, so I will need to do some more thinking and decide before then.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah P November 18, 2014 at 8:44 am

am pretty wary about unions in general (especially when it comes to public sector unions). That is because of how they often seem to defend particular interests as opposed to the general welfare I’m curious that you single out public sector unions as a problem here. Is there any organization with meaningful political influence that does not defend particular interests? That’s what business organizations do, and organizations for retired people, and organizations for gun owners, and professional organizations (e.g. doctors or lawyers), and faith-based organizations, and (if we are realistic) political parties and their members. Is it a problem when unions do it and not when other organizations do it? Moreover, how do you plan to identify the general welfare and persuade people who disagree?

As far as I can see, claims about the general interest nearly always prove more beneficial to some groups than others and there is invariably disagreement about whether the proposed measure is in the ‘general’ interest (what does that mean anyway? majority interest? universal interest? interest of greater equality or freedom or justice?). I’m reminded here of Connolly’s remark that the desire to expunge contestability in political discourse is the desire to escape politics entirely.

Milan November 18, 2014 at 10:16 pm

My objection to public sector unions is that they are usually the sole providers of something quite essential. It seems ethically problematic for them to be able to withdraw that in order to improve their bargaining position.

This doesn’t apply to the TA union, as there are plenty of alternative educational institutions around. Admittedly, though, it’s bad for students who are already locked into getting a degree from U of T.

. November 19, 2014 at 11:45 am


Here are the official results of the strike vote in our unit:

1723 Unit 1 members voted; 90.3% voted in favor of authorizing strike action if we cannot negotiate a fair Collective Agreement.

These are astounding numbers! We not only broke our own record for voter turn-out but also delivered the biggest strike-vote turn-out in the history of TA unionization in Canada. I know our Bargaining Team and the CUPE 3902 Executive are pleased and humbled by these results, and we take seriously the message of this vote: Unit 1 members deserve a fair deal. We are part-time and precarious workers who keep the wheels of this University turning. We cannot afford and we will not accept zeroes for that work!

Phil from Linguistics was the first person to cast a ballot in this strike vote, just seconds after the box was opened at our membership meeting last week. Mackenzie from Exercise Science was the last, getting to the poll *just* as the box was about to be sealed. To Phil, Mackenzie and every voter in between: thank you for coming out and participating. These and other acts of solidarity are essential to our collective strength in bargaining, and they are much appreciated.

Many members volunteered their time as poll clerks, phone bankers, envelope-stuffers and door-knockers. Many more did the crucial work of spreading the word in their own departments as Stewards and activists. To each of you: thank you.

For a year leading up to this vote, we have had campaigns and information sessions coordinated by Megan Harris and Amy Barlow. That early work paid off. Thank you.

Far above and beyond the call of duty during this vote were Erin Black, Alex Ivovic and Abe Nasirzadeh, coordinating the campaign from the CUPE office and barely making it home most nights for a bit of sleep. Their work has been commendable, and on behalf of the Unit 1 membership I want to thank them.

Onward and upward, friends. And, hey, let’s celebrate!

In Solidarity,

. November 19, 2014 at 11:46 am

Hi everyone,

I want to express gratitude to everyone who voted in CUPE 3902 Unit 1 strike vote.

We had a record turnout of 1723 with 90.3% Yes vote in the strike vote.

This is also a record turnout for all university locals in Canada.

We also had record turnout of members from Division 3 (Engineering and Sciences) and Division 4 (Life Sciences) in the strike vote.

This would not have been possible without the participation of so many people and the dedication of so many volunteers and stewards. Everyone who participated should feel truly proud of this truly unprecedented strike vote in the history of CUPE 3902.

Many thanks,

PS: Unit 5 of CUPE 3902 (Postdoctoral Fellows) also voted 81% yes in their strike vote.

. November 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Dear Members,

After one week at the polls, and following unanimous decisions at membership meetings to commence strike votes, members of both Unit 1 and Unit 5 have afforded strong strike mandates to CUPE 3902, which represents more than 8,000 education workers at the University of Toronto.

Unit 1: Representing students/postdocs employed as TAs, Course Instructors and in other academic capacities by UofT

Voting in record numbers, members of Unit 1 produced the largest number of “Yes” votes in the history of Canadian unionization of student/postdoc instructors. Unit 1 members have been working without a renewed contract for more than 6 months. After 16 weeks of negotiations with the employer (the University administration), agreement has been reached on a total of one union proposal. Proposals developed by members for improved working conditions, fair and transparent hiring provisions, improved funding and benefits, and additional support for unfunded and equity-seeking members have not begun to be seriously addressed by the employer in this round of negotiations. Adding a significant challenge this year, the employer continues to insist that the provincial Liberal government has imposed on them a “net-zero compensation increase” mandate, limiting their ability to provide routine funding, wage and benefit increases. The results of the Unit 1 strike vote are as follows:

Ballots cast: 1723

Yes: 1556

No: 166

Spoiled: 1

Percentage: 90.3% voted yes

Unit 5: Representing internally funded Postdocs employed as researchers by the University of Toronto

In their first-ever strike vote, after approximately a year of negotiations for a fair first collective agreement, members of Unit 5 have provided a very strong mandate to their union representatives. Last May, Postdocs voted overwhelmingly to not send a tentative agreement to a ratification vote, on the basis that it failed to address their core concerns. Postdocs continue to seek a first collective agreement that is reflective of other unionized Postdoc contracts across Canada, and that respects the contributions made by Postdocs to the research mandate of the University of Toronto. The results of the Unit 5 strike vote are as follows:

Ballots cast: 179

Yes: 145

No: 34

Spoiled: 0

Percentage: 81% voted yes

What’s next?

The Unit 1 Bargaining Team will resume talks with the employer on November 28. The Unit 5 Bargaining Team will resume conciliation at the Ontario Labour Relations Board offices on December 10 and 15. With the strong mandates provided by the members of both units, the Executive Committee and Bargaining Teams are hopeful that the employer will return to negotiations prepared to hear the Union as equals in achieving fair agreements. We urge the employer to work with us to find solutions to the concerns raised by members, through their elected Bargaining Teams, over the past many months.

CUPE 3902 representatives take the mandates provided by union members very seriously. Elected Bargaining Teams will continue to make all efforts to reach fair collective agreements through negotiations at the bargaining table. We will provide the membership with updates every step of the way. And if the Union Executive believes that some form of job action is necessary to achieve a contract acceptable to members, such actions will be discussed and voted on at a future meeting of your bargaining unit.

This year represents the moment at which this union is at its strongest. For the first time in our history, all 8000 members are negotiating new (or first) collective agreements. Unit 3 (representing non-student contract academic staff) is currently in active negotiations, and Unit 2 (Victoria University contract academic staff) and Unit 4 (St. Mike’s contract academic staff) are currently developing proposals and will commence negotiations with their employers early in the new year. All of our members perform work across U of T which is vital to the fulfillment of the university’s mandate. We are the largest union local on the campus, and the largest academic local in Canada. As part of CUPE National, we are members of the largest union in Canada. And, at this moment, thanks to our members, CUPE 3902 is the strongest it has ever been.

Thank you to everyone who voted this past week. Thank you to those who are working to reach out to the membership across the university. And thank you to the union representatives who are ensuring that the concerns of members are known by the employer. Only together can we achieve fair contracts for all members.

In solidarity,

Your CUPE 3902 Executive Committee

BuddyRich November 21, 2014 at 8:26 am

Essential services are defined and those members can’t strike so nothing of terrible importance can be halted by labour unrest. Though one of the recent omnibus bills slanted the definition of those to the governments favour, and those members can’t strike but are forced to use binding arbitration. Though once again the arbitrator and parameters of arbitration were recently changed to favour the government position automatically.

Personally Im all for binding arbitration, no one wants to strike, but in an open and transparent manner, not slanted to one side or the other. In that same bill, they actually removed the arbitration route for non-essential services, the only dispute mechanism is strike, unless both sides agree to arbitration.

Sarah P November 21, 2014 at 9:23 am

My objection to public sector unions is that they are usually the sole providers of something quite essential. It seems ethically problematic for them to be able to withdraw that in order to improve their bargaining position. Surely the employer is the sole provider of the service? The union is a representative of the employees, and has far control than the employer does over how that service functions. To hold the employees responsible for providing the service and not the employer seems very peculiar to me.
As you acknowledge, the public sector is not the sole provider of many services, but there are lots of other examples of sole providers of things that seem at least as ‘essential’ as higher education, e.g. drug companies who are the only manufacturer of a given medication, water companies who are the sole provider of water in an area, and telecom firms who are the sole provider of internet in an area. Those drug companies, water companies, and telecom firms all reserve the right to set their prices at whatever levels they choose and deny services to anyone who won’t or can’t pay that. So directing your sole provider concern at the public sector and not the private sector doesn’t make a lot of sense. It looks to me as though (consciously or not) you’re applying your principles selectively in a manner that is leading you to make arguments against public sector employees but not their employer or firms with monopolies.

Milan November 22, 2014 at 2:58 am

It seems possible that these questions will seem trivial in retrospect, and we will bemoan how little students agitated for controlling climate change.

Milan January 26, 2015 at 9:48 pm

CUPE 3902 voted tonight to set a strike deadline for February 26th at 11:59pm.

The union has produced materials to help explain the potential strike to undergraduate students and their support networks, available at:

There will also be an undergraduate town hall hosted by the union on Wednesday January 28th, from 11:00am – 12:30pm, in Galbraith Building (GB) Room 119.

After paying tuition, the U of T funding package for PhD students provides $15,000. Subtract $12,150 for resident Massey fees and you have $2,850 ($7.80 per day) for summer accommodation, expenses, and food on Sundays. I can’t speak about all other schools, but of the nine where I applied for my PhD, U of T is the least generous and is also located in one of the places with the highest cost of living.

It would be desirable if those of us who are union members can put in some thought about winning the support of undergraduate students and the media, and about effectively pressuring the university to give up their current position of refusing to negotiate on any pay increases.

. February 6, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Find attached our Bargaining Team’s most recent communication regarding the status of collective bargaining. Please forward this message on to your departmental listservs in case some members are not received messages from the Union.

In Solidarity,

Ryan Culpepper
Vice-Chair, Unit 1 and Unit 2
CUPE 3902
(416) 452-6562

. February 21, 2015 at 11:13 pm

**Please forward this message to your departmental listservs in case some Unit 1 members do not receive it via CUPE listservs**


1) Please note: As per previous notice, there may be a Unit 1 Members’ Meeting on Friday, Feb. 27, 3:30-6:30 p.m. in Convocation Hall. This meeting will occur if our Bargaining Team reaches a tentative agreement with the Employer before our strike deadline of Feb. 26 at 11:59 p.m. If an agreement is reached, members will see the agreement, debate it and vote on whether or not to send it to ratification on Friday afternoon. ALL MEMBERS SHOULD PLAN TO ATTEND THIS MEETING. In anticipation of a very large turn-out, we will begin sign-in for the meeting at 2:30 p.m. in the Convocation Hall foyer. PLEASE PLAN TO ARRIVE EARLY IF POSSIBLE.

2) If an agreement is not reached before the strike deadline, all members should cease bargaining-unit work immediately beginning Friday morning. An e-mail communication will be sent out to Unit 1 members after the deadline, and information will be posted to our web site ( You can check those sources on Friday morning to determine whether or not you should go to work. PICKET LINES WILL NOT COMMENCE ON FRIDAY; however, WE MAY BE ON STRIKE THAT DAY.

3) If we are on strike and there is no agreement, we will NOT meet in Convocation Hall. It is the Employer’s property, and we will not be conducting any business on the Employer’s property (let alone paying to use their space) while we are striking against the Employer. However, members are invited to a Strike Kick-off Social Friday, Feb. 27, at the Polish Combatants Hall at 206 Beverley Street, 7:00 p.m. There will be food, drinks, music and an update on bargaining, even if no agreement has been reached.

4) Our Bargaining Team will be meeting around the clock with the Employer on Wed., Feb. 25, and Thurs., Feb. 26, in a final effort to achieve an agreement without the need to strike. WE BELIEVE THIS IS POSSIBLE. You can expect a fully up-to-date Bargaining Bulletin by this Monday. In all reality, it will likely not be possible to communicate with members during the final bargaining push before the deadline. Therefore, it is imperative that members plan to attend the meeting and/or social if they want to be apprised.

5) On the day of our deadline (Thurs., Feb. 26), we are holding a rally in front of the Governing Council (Simcoe Hall) at 3 p.m. This is a great opportunity to show the Employer our resolve. Members need to turn up in big numbers to this rally, so please make plans to be there, and bring your friends and colleagues. Members of other Locals and of student groups are planning to be there to support us. See you there!

6) Finally, if you have not already filled out the Strike Questionnaire, which makes you eligible for strike pay and helps the Union assign you to strike duty, PLEASE FILL IT OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE:

Big week ahead!

In Solidarity,

Ryan Culpepper
Vice-Chair, Unit 1 and Unit 2
CUPE 3902
(416) 452-6562

. February 23, 2015 at 2:52 am

Dear Members,

Please find below updates on both Unit 1 and Unit 3:

UNIT 1: Movement at the Bargaining Table, but Distance Still to Go

As of Friday, February 20, the Bargaining Team has started to see some movement at the bargaining table, some of which reflects gains already made by Unit 3 as a result of our combined bargaining timelines and strike deadlines. We find this hopeful, but remain wary of the distance still to cover, as the critical concerns outlined in our Bargaining Commitments have not been fully addressed by the Employer yet. To learn more about our campaign visit:

We hope you will join us for a joint rally with CUPE 3903 outside of Simcoe Hall on Thursday, February 26 at 3 pm, to coincide with the final day of conciliation with the employer before our strike deadline of midnight that day. Together we are all the strength of our bargaining position!

The Bargaining Team and the Employer will meet again on Wednesday, February 25, and Thursday, February 26. While the Bargaining Team believes that a tentative agreement respectful of members’ needs might still be reached before the deadline, we are advising that all members continue to prepare for a strike, because the likelihood of a tentative agreement is still marginal.

Many of the main tenets of our Bargaining Commitments remain outstanding. They include the value and composition of the funding package, tuition relief for senior students, and more benefits like childcare and healthcare.

We anticipate that the Employer will soon communicate to members the protocols they will follow in the event of a labour action. We ask all members to contact the Union if they have questions or concerns or if they are feeling pressured, coerced or harassed in any way by anyone representing the Employer. The Union can be reached at or (416) 593-7057.

The Bargaining Team remains steadfast in its commitment to the interests of members and will continue to work tirelessly for a tentative agreement. As we’ve said all along: we don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to!

On behalf of:

Tom Laughlin, Chief Spokesperson

Kate Brennan, Chair Unit 1 Bargaining Team

UNIT 3: Tentative Agreement Reached

Unit 3 reached a tentative agreement early this past Wednesday morning. The agreement contains significant gains in the area of job security, which was members’ key priority. This includes, to name a few examples, provisions that retired faculty can no longer take a course after it’s been posted to Unit 3, greater remuneration if a course is cancelled after one is hired, and a vastly improved severance package in the event all bargaining unit work is lost. Of greatest note, however, is the achievement that the rank of Sessional Lecturer III, with is job commitment of four half courses a year, will become permanent rather than being tied to the life of individual collective agreements. As part of this, the job security commitment will also be expanded to all faculties; until now it only covered FAS, OISE, Music, UTM, UTSC.

We were also able to win the ability to count one additional half course of work done as a Unit 1 Course Instructor towards advancement within Unit 3; previously only two half courses could be used, but now members will be able to use three half courses as a CI towards advancement to Sessional Lecturer II and the hiring preference within Unit 3 that goes with that rank.

Outside of job security, the tentative agreement sees the first increase to the Unit 3 HCSA in ten years, while also lowering the eligibility threshold for hourly paid workers to the same 50 hours that Unit 1 members now enjoy (it was one hundred hours). This will bring coverage to at least 100 members who previously had no access to HCSA. Additionally, unit 3 members will see an across the board wage increase, plus one time only payments in each year that, together, equal a 3% increase in money in members’ hands.

The agreement also contains gains in other areas, such as improved parental leave provisions and the creation of a new leave for surgery, serious illness or hospitalization; members utilizing this leave are entitled to up to two month’s leave with pay. The Employer recently also agreed to these provisions for Unit 1 (these are examples of what Tom and Kate were referring to in their bargaining update.)

Members will decide on whether or not to send the agreement to a unit-wide ratification vote at a Unit 3 meeting to be held March 2.

Dr. Erin Black | Chair | CUPE 3902

803-180 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ON, M5S 2V6 | 416-806-3902

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: