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The Varsity

Mon Feb 4 2013

Byline: Irina Vukosavic

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 announced last Thursday that members of Unit 3 had voted to ratify a new labour agreement with the University of Toronto administration, ending six months of negotiations made all the more difficult by troubles at Queen’s Park.

The contract provides improved benefits for academic staff (not including current students) with contracts of less than a year, a group that includes some lecturers, tutors, markers, lab assistants, and sessional instructors. These benefits include increased wages, as well as administrative streamlining of the hiring process, including standardized deadlines for posting positions. The agreement also increases the number of postings available across campuses, and establishes a commission to create an electronic job posting board by January 2014.

“We’re satisfied that in this climate this is a good contract,” said Dr. Ronda Ward, liaison officer at CUPE 3902. “Our members haven’t lost anything from before, and have made incremental improvements in recognizing their work and recognizing their expertise.”

The union emphasized their efforts to reward the experience of their members, who Ward noted are in many cases “coming from abroad or decades of teaching in other cities.”

Negotiations were affected by a request last summer from the McGuinty government, that public sector employees voluntarily agree to freeze their wages as part of a bid to rein in the province’s estimated $14.8 billion deficit; the provincial government threatened legislation compelling such action if they did not comply. It was under this cloud that negotiations between CUPE and Simcoe Hall began in August 2012.

Jesse Payne, a staff representative at CUPE 3902 said that provincial politics “made it difficult to negotiate.”

“It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the government involved itself in our negotiations,” he said. “The government sort of bullied employers into imposing these wage freezes and benefit freezes.” Ward agreed, saying that “because of the political situation at Queens Park, [the negotiation process was] less fluid than it had been in the past.”

Nonetheless, although talks took longer than usual, negotiations ran smoothly over the prolonged period and did not break down significantly at any point. “The goal was to have a more fair process for people to apply for work or to be given work,” said Payne. “We largely achieved at least gains in priority areas. Every contract brings some improvements.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees was founded in 1963 as a trade union serving the public sector. With 615,000 members, it is the largest union in Canada. Local 3902 division has represented contract academic staff at the University of Toronto since 1975. Unit 2 of CUPE 3902, representing non-student academic staff employed by Victoria University under contracts of less than one year, remains in negotiations with the university.

“CUPE 3902 Unit 3 represents highly-valued members of the University and we are very pleased that we have reached a comprehensive agreement,” said a statement released by Angela Hildyard, vice-president of human resources and equity at the University of Toronto.

Payne noted that “health benefits and job security” remain issues that will be important going forward in the relationship between the CUPE 3902 and the University.

The new agreement expires August 31, 2014.