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(2011-2012 HR#30) TA Bargaining Update – The University’s Offer to a Highly Valued Group of Employees and Students

Date: February 1, 2012
To: PDAD&C; Professional and Managerial Staff
From: Angela Hildyard, Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity
Re: TA Bargaining Update – The University’s Offer to a Highly Valued Group of Employees and Students

A Progressive and Fair Offer to A Highly Valued Group of Employees and Students

At the end of last week, with the assistance of one of the Ministry of Labour’s most experienced conciliation/mediation officers, the University tabled an offer which the Union negotiating committee agreed to recommend for ratification. The offer addressed every one of the Union’s key issues and placed significant new financial resources on the table. I and my colleagues are therefore extremely disappointed that the 250 or so members who attended the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 membership meeting on Monday on the St. George campus decided that the offer should not go to all employees in the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 bargaining unit for a ratification vote. Instead, those present at the meeting directed the Union to seek a No Board report from the Ministry of Labour, which will start the clock ticking towards a legal strike date. At this time, there is no confirmation from the Ministry as to what that strike date will be.

I think it is important that members of our community are made aware of the University’s offer and I will focus on those areas which I understand to be of the greatest importance to CUPE members.

Salaries and Benefits

The University has offered an increase to the hourly rates (from the current $39.92 per hour, to $42.05 per hour by May 1, 2013) that is comparable to the increases we have negotiated with each of our unions at U of T – including USW and other CUPE locals. In addition, we have offered to add significantly to the Union’s Financial Assistance Fund (it will reach $852,000 by 2013) and the Health Care Fund, increasing it to $2.8m.

Tutorials

The University believes that tutorials are a key component of the undergraduate student experience and that teaching in tutorials should be based on sound pedagogy and best practice. In contrast to our CUPE colleagues, however, we do not accept that the focus of our attention should be simply on the size of the tutorial group. Within U of T, the term “tutorial” includes a vast range of activities: small group discussion and interaction, large group demonstrations, review of course materials, re-clarification of concepts and difficult questions, and so on. Each of these activities requires specialized teaching skills, different models of interacting with students, and varying preparation. We are committed to ensuring that TAs have the appropriate skills and time to deliver high quality teaching in the full range of activities in which they are engaged.

Therefore, the University’s proposal is to establish a Working Group that will develop a categorization scheme that captures the range of activities that fall under the heading of “tutorial”. We have further proposed that for each of those categories, the Working Group will recommend best practice based on current research, some sense of the time that a TA will need to deliver the various educational components, and recommendations on training for TAs – both required training (which will be built into TA contracts) and optional training.

The University thinks this is a more appropriate way to address a complex set of inter-relating issues than a formulaic approach based simply on numbers.

Graduate Student Financial Support

Financial support for graduate students comes from a variety of internal and external sources. Approximately 50% of graduate students receive some form of support through work as a TA – and the University has agreed that effective 2013, only 205 hours of TA work will be counted towards the funding packages for students in the funded cohort. This is a reduction from the current level of 210 and represents a real gain to many TAs.

CUPE however, wishes to negotiate other aspects of financial support, including the minimum level of the funding provided to students in the funded cohort, and the elimination of work as a Research Assistant (which is covered under the USW collective agreement) from the funding packages. CUPE represents approximately half of our graduate students in their Teaching Assistant employment relationship with the University. CUPE does not represent all graduate students and the broad range of interests that they have as they pursue their graduate studies. The issue of funding packages is a matter that affects the graduate student population at large and the University as a whole. Therefore the University has proposed a Committee on Graduate Student funding that will include representatives of the GSU (the Graduate Student Union) as well as CUPE, to discuss broad issues related to the financial support of graduate students. Such issues could include sources of funding, advocacy for federal and provincial graduate student support, the needs of international students and advancement (fundraising) strategies in support of graduate students. The University has already committed significant resources to be used as matching funds for advancement strategies, including enhancing the funds for Doctoral completion awards/grants. These rare matching funds have been eagerly leveraged by our departments, with some of our humanities departments are showing the earliest results. One important goal of the Boundless Campaign is that there will be $16 Million in new endowments to support our Ph.D. students.

Senior Students

The Current collective agreement provides up to four guaranteed TA appointments to CUPE members. The Union has expressed concern, however, about those graduate students who continue with their research work beyond these four years. The University has agreed to extend the guarantee by a half appointment in 2012 and a full appointment in 2013. This means that in September 2013, CUPE members will be eligible to receive up to five guaranteed appointments.

Next Steps

The University bargaining team worked hard to develop a comprehensive and responsive offer for settlement. I worked extensively with a number of Deans and with the Provost and the President to make sure I left no stone unturned in an effort to address each of the Union’s key issues. This is a very good offer and one that allows for meaningful future dialogue on issues that are of importance to TAs. It is certainly an offer that warranted full consideration by all employees in the bargaining unit.

Notwithstanding this, since the mediator has indicated that he will be inviting the University and the Union back to the table, we have indicated our willingness to accept that invitation.