On Campus

CUPE 3902 ups the rhetoric

U of T sessionals still set to strike on Nov. 9

The union representing part-time instructors at U of T has just taken the next step in a complicated dance that may result in yet another major university work disruption. If you’d like to follow all the news as it develops, you can watch for updates at the official strike website. It currently bears the following message:

Monday November 9
Day 1

In the event of a strike, the picket lines will be at the following locations:
-King’s College Entrance, College Street (just west of McCaul)
-Simcoe Hall, Galbraith Entrance (on St. George Street)
-Wellesley underpass, Hart House Circle
-UTSC, Military Trail entrance
-UTM, Mississauga Road entrance

In direct messaging to instructors who may be on strike, the union has some immediate tips, such as clearing out one’s office and making alternative e-mail arrangements in the event that U of T shuts down accounts.

Additionally, if you’d like the university’s own updates on the strike, you can access those here.

We are so many steps into this dance that it’s hard to remember where it started, but at the time 3902 was quick to reassure members that voting for a strike is a strategic consideration and that the union has traditionally not taken a strike mandate as far as an actual work stoppage. It’s entirely true that a strike vote has rarely resulted in a real strike, and that a strong “yes” vote gives the union clout at the bargaining table. But something about the tone of things this time around just makes me feel it in my gut.

So far it’s too early to assign any blame, and if we get as far as an actual strike there will be blame all around. It isn’t my intention to go around pointing fingers. But as someone who does believe in the power and value of organized labour, I’ve got to say that something is fundamentally broken in the post-secondary sector. Rhetoric and posturing seems to have replaced any kind of functional and respectful relationship between employer and union. This is true across the board.

As I wrote in the aftermath of the York strike, labour actions in a post-secondary context must be understood as unique. This isn’t the same thing as garbage collectors or drivetest workers going on strike. There are crossover issues, certainly, but the massive pressures on the rapidly evolving post-secondary system create a special situation. This isn’t simply jockeying over how much of the pie employees will receive. The entire sector is changing, and locating a reasonable benchmark for compensation, benefits, and job security in this context may be all but impossible. In such an unsettled environment, labour strife is all but inevitable.

I wish I had cheerier thoughts. And I hope my sense of the situation is wrong and it resolves quickly and without disruption to classes. But I suspect otherwise. Whether in this instance or in others, there will continue to be nasty and bitter labour disputes in the post-secondary sector for some time to come.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.

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