Unless the provincial government starts to ‘re-engage’ with the university sector, students at Ontario’s two largest universities could see their school years jeopardized in the coming weeks, labour leaders, representing academic staff at York University (York U) and the University of Toronto (U of T), warned today.
At a press conference held at Queen’s Park today, the Chairs of Local 3902 and 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) were joined by the Presidents of CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA).
“The work of CUPE members at both U of T and York U are critical to student success at those institutions. Our members, who are here with me today, are doing everything they can to avoid a work stoppage. The Wynne government has a real role in preventing these potential strikes. They must recommit to funding of post-secondary education,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario.
CUPE 3902 and 3903 represent non-tenured academic staff at the University of Toronto and York University, respectively. Both locals have been attempting to bargain fair collective agreements for months, and the deadlines for a labour stoppage are fast approaching. U of T will be in a legal strike or lockout position on February 26, while York U will be in a legal strike or lockout position on March 3.
“While our members deliver about 60 per cent of instruction to U of T students, we account for a mere three-and-a-half per cent of U of T’s operating budget…Most of our members earn poverty-level wages. They have minimal job security. And those poor working conditions translate into poor learning conditions for students,” said Erin Black, Chair of CUPE 3902.
Her comments were echoed by Faiz Ahmed, Chair of CUPE 3903.
“The province can no longer sit idly while our universities devalue our members’ work. This government must recommit to both adequately funding universities and to providing the appropriate level of oversight to these institutions,” said Ahmed.
Kate Lawson, President of OCUFA, noted that Ontario has the lowest per-student funding for universities in Canada. “This underfunding has had a direct impact on the rise of contracts, precarious employment and increased fees for students. We urge the Government of Ontario to re-invest in higher education, ensuring good working conditions for all faculty and great learning environments for our students,” she said.