Some lessons from the strike


in Economics, Politics, Toronto

I wrote this before seeing the result of the latest CUPE 3902 ratification vote.

One element of the strike for which I am grateful was being able to meet so many fellow students and teachers on the picket lines. I have often likened U of T to an amoeba with no centre – just a collection of loosely bound parts which are considered in some rough sense to be a single organism. Being out on the pickets has exposed me to a wider variety of fellow U of T people than anything that has happened before during my three years here. I have dozens of new people to follow on Twitter.

The strike has also been another example of a political struggle against difficult odds, and the way in which the strength of a moral argument is often overwhelmed by the relative power of those involved in it. The strike has also been a demonstration of how difficult it is to even bring people to the fight. Only a small subset of CUPE members ever showed up on the picket lines and an impossible-to-fully-know but at least moderate proportion just kept working.

The strike also demonstrated tensions between hierarchy, democracy, and strategic success. All the picket line chants were about democracy and universal involvement, but the union administration is inevitably an entity with interests of its own. It’s certainly hard for 6,000 people to make any kind of coherent decision – especially when those who are best informed tend to favour secrecy the most, and when there is a militant band full of enthusiasm for shutting down any public discussion aside from pep and slogans in the name of tactics and strategy.

For the big fights confronting us – climate change, most notably – we need to deal with both of those problems: find ways for the moral demands of the many to win over the entrenched power structures of the few, and find ways to make people active, political, and part of movements that can win.

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. May 12, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Arts & Science doctoral-stream students on all three University of Toronto campuses to receive funding boost

The Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto is planning significant improvements to graduate funding that will see students in the funded cohort receive at least $2,000 more in 2018-19 than they do today.

. May 19, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Resolution to Graduate Student Bursary Fund Dispute!

We are pleased to announce that the University of Toronto has offered a financial settlement to resolve our Unfair Labour Practice Complaint (i.e. the allegation that they failed to bargain in good faith). The Union has accepted the settlement. In addition to substantial new money toward the Graduate Student Bursary Fund (GSBF) which allows it to achieve close to its intended goal, this settlement also finally includes clear, complete, accurate and thoroughly inspected data about the funding packages our members receive.

With the data and the new money from the settlement, the Union can confidently guarantee that eligible Unit 1 members will receive top-ups to their funding packages from 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 to $17,000 per year (exclusive of tuition and reimbursable awards). We will be working to make these payments as expeditiously as possible and will broadly communicate within the coming weeks the process for claiming the top-up payments.

During the strike and in conversations since, members consistently told us that they wanted the GSBF to be distributed directly to eligible members rather than by application. The data we get as part of this settlement is the only way we can see to reach all eligible members with the fund. We did not believe the data we achieved with this settlement would have been obtainable from a decision of the Labour Board.

This settlement brings to a conclusion a dispute between the Employer and the Union that has been active since the beginning of the Unit 1 strike in February, 2015. The outcome is not perfect, and it is not the one we would have chosen when we started the strike. We need and deserve more than $17,500 per year, and we certainly deserve at least the $17,500 per year we were led by U of T to believe we could expect as a result of the strike.

Likewise, there are fairer and more straightforward ways for U of T to honour its commitments to fund graduate students adequately. But it’s not news to Unit 1 members that U of T is seldom willing to do things the fair or straightforward way.

The Collective Agreement Implementation Committee (CAIC), which was elected by Unit 1 members to represent them in the mediation process, is unanimous in the belief that this settlement offers the best plausible conclusion to the dispute, given all the circumstances and the risks (to both Parties) of a hearing at the Labour Board. The Executive Committee of the Local, at the CAIC’s recommendation, also voted unanimously to accept the settlement of new data and new money offered by U of T.

As many of you know from reading the Union’s formal complaint, the evidence is clear that U of T knowingly bargained in bad faith, and we have no doubts that the Ontario Labour Relations Board would find against them. However, all of the information available, including our legal advice and the legal precedent, tells us that the financial damages U of T would be ordered to pay, if any, would not likely reach the amount offered in the current settlement.

We are also eager to provide to members the payments they fought for on strike and for which they’ve been waiting for over a year.

At every stage of this process, we have been impressed by the resolve and comportment of our members. Members of this Union have always had to band together to fight for every gain we’ve made, and this is no exception. And while we all wish for a better Employer that gives us even the minimum of respect we deserve, we are always stronger after we get through a fight together. And this is no exception.

On the final night of Unit 1 bargaining, Provost Cheryl Regehr sat across the table from our Bargaining Team and coldly stated that there was no way the University was prepared to raise graduate funding, then or in the foreseeable future. The strike changed that equation, as we saw last week in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and as we anticipate other Faculties will soon see.

The Employer then tried to get away with bargaining in bad faith. Whether deliberately or recklessly, they were misleading and deceptive in their efforts to end the strike on the cheap. While we have done our best to extricate ourselves from the awful situation they have created, and to achieve the best possible financial outcome for our members, we will all enter our next round of bargaining cognizant of what we’ve learned about this Employer. Their actions are not forgiven and will not be forgotten.

For now, we thank all our members for their patience and their shows of support and solidarity. We also need to thank our Unit 1 Bargaining Team, whose diligence at documenting everything last year, even during the tensest moments of the strike, is what allowed the problem to be identified, the Complaint to be filed and the settlement to be reached. And thanks to the Unit 1 Collective Agreement Implementation Committee who, with support from our Staff, have worked very hard to push U of T to settle this dispute.

We will send out a message in the next couple weeks with full details of the next steps for the disbursement of the 2014-2015 payment that was due last September. The 2015-2016 payment will be disbursed this coming fall, and details of the process for that payment will be broadly communicated as well.

In solidarity,

Alex Ivovic

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