University of Toronto

UofT Faces Its Own Labour Dispute

While the strike up at York University continues to grab all the headlines, there's another dispute taking place at the University of Toronto. Before Christmas break, members from CUPE 3902, representing TAs and Course Instructors, voted in favour of a strike mandate--authorizing the union's officials to call for a strike should talks with the University break down. Conciliation talks between officials from U of T and union leaders began this week and are expected to last until the end of the month.

What They Want

The union is asking the university to cover University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP). premiums for international students. UHIP is a private for-profit healthcare plan that currently charges about $3000 per year to cover international students and their families. The union is also looking for better childcare assistance and improved maternity/parental leave provisions to members with children. It's asking for smaller tutorial and lab sizes, while ensuring experienced TAs aren't forced out of the classroom. And the union wants to defend tuition assistance for unfunded students, which the university is trying to eliminate.

A spokesperson from the CUPE 3902 says that after months of deadlock, U of T is showing movement on maternity/parental leave, tutorial and lab sizes and a number of smaller issues. She also said that although U of T and the union have yet to come to any agreement, talk of a strike is premature, as the two sides have the next couple of weeks to work through their disagreements.

Plus, the relationship between U of T and the union is far more functional than the situation up at York--as both sides are closer on a number of key issues and the dynamics between the parties is far more functional.

The labour disagreement at U of T comes at an interesting time for university officials. In the wake of the ongoing strike at York, an increasing number of students are looking to looking to get their education elsewhere. A recent report from the province's application centre says the number of students selecting York at their first choice has fallen by 15 percent this year. York has fallen to fourth place in the number of first-year applications in Ontario--down from the second place it traditionally claims.

Officials from universities across the province and the country are likely to take note. If tensions between faculty and the university are so distraught that strikes become a common occurrence, students might just ply their trade elsewhere. But on the other hand, the unions need to ensure they don't exploit the opportunity and ask for outrageous demands. Because, in the end, a strike hurts the students the most.

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