U of T TAs to remain on the job as tentative deal reached

A strike by University of Toronto teaching assistants has been avoided for now.

After an eight-month-long negotiation battle, a tentative agreement between U of T and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3902 is now up for a ratification vote by TAs.

Turnout at a Friday meeting of affected TAs to discuss the tentative deal was much larger than anticipated by organizers. With more than 800 of the 4,000 CUPE members looking to get into the meeting at Hart House on U of T’s main campus downtown, a switch of venue to the much bigger Convocation Hall was made.

Inside the closed-door meeting, members debated whether the collective agreement should be rejected or be put to a ratification vote.

Among the main concerns TAs raised in this round of negotiations were increasing tutorial sizes and pay rates adjusted for inflation.

Though a strike has been avoided for now, a strike is still possible pending the result of the ratification vote.

A strike is something Nino Meese-Tamuri can’t afford, the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus TA said.

“My wife and I are both TAs,” said Meese-Tamuri, who is also a Toronto Observer reporter. “That is where most of our income comes from.

“If we were to strike, sure CUPE would pay for our striking, but it would be nowhere near [enough], and we would be in trouble.”

The Introduction to Physics labs Meese-Tamuri runs are comparatively small. Unlike his downtown counterparts, who have to deal with tutorials of 70-100 students, he said he has a modest 21 students in each of his two labs.

His issue, he said, is not the size of his classes but the time allotted for completion of tasks like marking, which can add up as unpaid extra work, especially in larger classes.

The tentative deal doesn’t set firm caps on lab and tutorial sizes, as requested by TAs, but does instead provide for a joint working group to monitor lab and tutorial sizes and to make recommendations for improvement.

Undergrads for 3902, a student group supporting the TAs in the negotiations, is most concerned about tutorial size, said Roxanne Cohen, a second-year student at the St. George campus.

“Tutorial sizes at U of T right now are unmanageable, with 24 per cent of tutorials exceeding 50 students,” said Cohen. “Undergrads for 3902 aims to support CUPE 3902 in their struggle for a better learning environment.”

Voting on the tentative deal began after the meeting Friday and is set to resume Feb. 29, and March 5 and 6 at all three U of T campuses.