Tuesday, September 01, 2009

U of T Students: Support Workers for a Dignified Contract!

Contract Faculty at CUPE 3902 Fighting for Basic Job Security

by Farshad Azadian
BASICS #15 (Sep / Oct 2009)

Contract faculty and various other instructor staff at the University of Toronto (UofT), represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3902, have been bargaining with their employer since July 15, 2009. These academic workers are pushing for a better contract, with proposals that include demands for basic job security, funded research and decent wages. Thus far, bargaining with the UofT administration has not gotten very far. With the university’s bargaining team dragging its feet and slowing the process, their inaction has given way to the possibility of a strike by as early as October 2009.

What is different about this labour dispute at UofT is the role that class-conscious students are playing in supporting these workers. A student-worker solidarity campaign called Students in Support of CUPE 3902 was initiated during the last round of bargaining where teaching assistants had entered a similar dispute with their employer. This campaign continues in the spirit of supporting working class struggles and with an understanding that, as students, most of us will enter a workforce where employers enjoy a huge amount of power over workers. 

A good example of the power dynamics between workers and bosses can be seen in the precarious working conditions of the contract faculty at UofT. For example, a contract course instructor may have been teaching a particular course for a decade. This teacher must re-apply each year to instruct that course in the upcoming semester. There is no certainty that they will get the job, leaving these academic workers with very little job security, even after having put years or even decades into the workplace.

You might be tempted to think that these academic workers are a very insignificant part of the workforce. In reality, these lecturers instruct about 30% of undergraduate courses, often teaching the larger classrooms with as many as over a thousand students. The trend of Canadian universities to depend more and more on vulnerable, underpaid contract academic labour is a reflection of an overall tendency of capitalism in Canada over the last thirty years towards precarious temporary and contract jobs. This is, in part, a reflection of a weakened labour movement that has been unable to organize a fightback to these attacks by the bosses.

In response to the reality of their work conditions, one of the central demands of CUPE 3902 is for rolling job commitments from year to year, which represents a starting point to getting basic job security for these workers. One of the important realizations of progressive students at the University of Toronto is that their quality of education is directly linked to the working conditions and job security of the teaching staff. Furthermore, in the case of a strike, class-conscious students realize that the only way to reach an end to the dispute quickly is to give full support to the workers and to put pressure on the administration to give contract faculty dignified terms of employment.

It is in this spirit that Students in Support of CUPE 3902 call on all UofT students to join in pressuring the administration to give a decent contract, and should a strike occur, to defend the picket lines in a show of working class solidarity. Those interested in working with the Students in Support of CUPE 3902 campaign can contact them at StudentSupport3902@gmail.com.∗