A mammoth strike of questionable proportions has derailed Ontario’s university student’s educational plans. The tempest that is the teapot caused headlines around the world to buzz and flash alarming pictures of thousands of teaching assistants from Toronto Ontario’s 2 largest universities marching in protest. The University of Toronto and its sister rival York University went on Global display as they marched in a united protest for a strike over wages. This money grinding strike tactic affected over 100,000 undergraduates across the GTA, throwing them into turmoil on the final stretch of the academic year.

A me think that they, the University protest too much attitude is prevalent in the many missives from the Universities regarding the need to strike. While Canadian students are mildly upset, International students from over 194 different countries with China, India, Korea, Saudi Arabia and France representing over 60% of total international student enrolled in Canada are becoming deeply concerned.

The standard verbiage comes from Janice Walls who is the Advisor & Deputy Spokesperson of York U, “The University is committed to enabling its students to complete their program requirements in a timely fashion, and is aware of the particular needs and concerns of students intending to graduate this spring. We will be providing further communications and will do our utmost to ensure that students are able to complete their degree requirements within the usual timeframe.” Walls continued with, “The University is very committed to reaching an agreement with CUPE 3903 as soon as possible, to minimize the disruption to students and get them back to class.”

 “This is a 6 way fight for funding, You have the University Toronto, Its TA’s and CUPE 3902  negotiating  and York University its TA’s and CUPE 3903  making this a Hexagonal dialogue and It’s harder to adjust to a six sided ring for anything , making cockups easier to occur. Even if they boiled down CUPE 3902/ 3903 as one entity and aligned the TA’s in tacit agreement, the university bodies are under separate leadership and a one for all solution is questionable.” Says a Chinese student who wishes to remain unidentified. He claimed he may not be authorised to respond. No harm no foul in anonymity. But note U of T is offering a $733.88 pay cut. Don’t ask don’t tell. Its guised to fool no one a larger wage but less hours. Interesting as the university is proffering pyrite instead of gold, as if we can’t read or write.

 A quick review of the events shows York’s 3,700 teaching assistants and contract professors voted and rejected on Monday March 2nd an offer the union executive urged them to decline. 71 per cent voted NO. The offer did not provide job security or wage increases. Over 1,100 members attended the meeting. York’s CUPE 3902 is a noted hold-out opponent dragging the battle to the nth degree. The same union waged the longest 6 year strike in Canadian history at an English-language university, cancelling classes for three months, pushing final exams into the summer and ending only on orders from Queen’s Park. This could be the reality for 2015.

 The preamble to the protest began as The University of Toronto 6,000 teaching assistants in CUPE 3902 already walked off the job Friday February 27th  on all three campuses, cancelling tutorials, labs and some classes and leaving unclear who will mark assignments. So the gauntlet is thrown down and the hue for the battle wage cry has begun until the cows come home.


That strike for wage parity is issuing forth sheaths of paper with familiar rhetoric. The scenes portrayed around the world were as vivid and poignant as the Parisian images of Les Miserable and the rationale was the same. All be it, Students were marching in the Toronto streets in boisterous solidarity, the bleak dastardly Canadian winter, tearing at their faces, causing a shudder of cold to pass through the crowd. The faces, if not pinched in cold or was it a reflection of damn I am poor- muscle cramp!  The minimum funding package a U of T grad student receives is $23,400, of which $15,000 is tied to work they may be asked to do for the university, explained Provost Cheryl Regehr, “and it is this part of the funding we negotiate with them in their role as employees.”

Regehr explains.” TAs carry different workloads depending on their department, but the university offer would raise the wage for this work to about $44 per hour from $42, and limit the hours a TA can be asked to work each week to six down from seven, or 180 hours a year, down from 205. But the $15,000 minimum would not change. Canada’s poverty line is 18,000.  Think Oliver, as in please Sir, can I have some more $ is uttered and refused. A tag team approach to the deal breaking has formed between the 2 locals CUPE 3902 and 3903. More “teams’ could form. The old university guard should sound defeat.

 Define the title teaching assistant and gain insight into individuals who are PhD’s in their own right, Masters of some discipline and earning less than the established poverty line value of $18,421 as reported by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. University professors earn roughly $71.00 per hour and have refused to do the jobs as fulfilled by their TA’s. Noblesse Oblige indeed.

 The average full-time professor earned $115,513 in 2010-11. The average full-time employee in Canada earns just $50,000. Since we must look at the sterling University of Toronto ($136,483) and the runner up, always the bridesmaid, York University ($126,664), well scratch you head no more. “It’s who zooming who, pay the TA’s their justly deserved salaries, it’s Edwardian bureaucratic tiddlywinks a famous tactic of the Orange built philosophies of Ontario’s yester year penny wise and pound foolish virtue. Shame on the universities for courting this limelight and it’s a tad jaundiced in hue. Rudimentary math allows for $71.08 being a professor’s hourly wage.” Says one outraged Canadian parent whose kids are at university. He says luckily, my kids did not choose either York or U of T.

 The bureaucracy of both universities were borrowing on the age old Edwardian themes of abject poverty and the world at large saw these hallowed halls of education forcibly crawl to a very slow pace this March. Wringing of Hands and what do we do can be seen as thousands of U of T students were left confused by the strike of 6,000 teaching and lab assistants. The TA’s do the bulk of undergraduate marking and will affect them as final assignments come due.

 “I’m pretty concerned. I have an essay due in two weeks and I’m not sure what to do,” said third-year human biology student Gurjot Chahal. In a sign of conflict of interest, U of T did cancel on Monday, Chahal’s evolutionary biology class as the instructor is a graduate student and member of CUPE 3902.

CUPE 3902 claims that hundreds of members are “course instructors” whose classes are cancelled, as well as most labs and tutorials, noted CUPE 3902 chair Erin Black. Abdullah Shihipar is president of the Arts and Science Student Union, whose 23,000 members are the largest group affected by the strike. Students have been “scrambling to find out what’s cancelled,” he said, adding it is frustrating and “there has been some panic, but there is also a lot of support for their TAs.”

 But according to the U Of T veteran TA’s striker It was the York U contingent that were experiencing stronger effects as they were newbies to this the week old veterans of the charge.  And as many in a war, by the 2nd week you start getting used to it.

  York rhetoric flows, as York University administration issued this statement, “ York was disappointed that a negotiated settlement couldn’t be reached without a labour disruption. The University’s bargaining team remained at the table until the mediator suspended mediation on Sunday night and the administration is anxious to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible. Banalities, uttered by Janice Walls Advisor & Deputy Spokesperson Comments such as this fuels the Les Miz theme.

 Hugo in his Les Miz novel  condemned the unjust class-based structure of nineteenth-century societies, showing society’s structures, insert university turns good, innocent people into beggars and offenders. Interestingly, Hugo three areas of reform were education, criminal justice, and the treatment of women. The students TA’s want, better pay, they claim poverty and wage increases so that they can perform better their jobs in education.  Ontario universities are now collectively overhauling their sex education programs and criminal justice is in the news with Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announcing criminal stricter laws. Time has stood still in Ontario this week and all eyes were occupied with poverty, criminality and sex.

 It may be much ado about something but as I reached out to the Chinese students to gain an insight into what delays in classes will mean to them personally? Or what a strike would mean for the morale of the students or if their exams would be delayed and if their graduation dates would be postponed? The Students responses were numbed as they did not know nor at this time care. Yes many events were being cancelled. Labs and tutorials were running at 50% attendance and the concerns were really to the long-term effects which no one knew. So indifference had set in.

Their disinterested responses were much in keeping with the university online decrees of “we are working on it” There is certain nonchalance about the strike and its effects. The university of Toronto Chinese students and scholars reiterated the poverty issues. Low wages that they hoped will be increased through the interaction with CUPE and the University. First-year student Camille Garcia said she takes two 50-minute tutorials in political science each week with only 15 to 20 students, “which is really helpful for a class where the lecture has 1,200 students in Convocation Hall. I do think it’s about time the TAs got a raise, but I really hope they reach an agreement with the university soon. The university may proclaim its noblest intention but the Rub is how and when and that’s a quality of a solution far away and not on the lips of the campus leaders”.  

 More from Janice Walls, ‘The University is focused on enabling students to complete their program requirements in a timely fashion, and is aware of the particular needs and concerns of students intending to graduate this spring. When a settlement is reached, the Senate Executive Committee will determine the accommodations for work that remains incomplete, how the term will be completed, and when examinations will take place.”Yes, Janice we hear you but fall is coming too. Human biology student Seyi Ajayi said some students have heard that if there is no one to mark midterm assignments, “the final exams could be weighted as high as 70 per cent. But I do hope the TAs get what they’re fighting for.”

One life sciences student with an “I ‘heart’ TAs” button did not want to give her name but said while she supports better pay for TAs, ‘We’re paying tuition and I just hope they get an agreement soon.”


Walls drones on, “The Ontario Labour Relations Act governs the process under which employers and unions do collective bargaining and try to reach collective agreements. There are a number of steps that are taken to encourage parties to reach a settlement without a work stoppage. As part of that reasonable effort to avoid a labour disruption, we did not seek concessions, roll-backs or net zero compensation increases and, instead, offered improvements that are competitive with recent settlements elsewhere. The University continues to meet with the mediator and is anxious to get back to negotiations shortly.”


What’s happening at U of T and York is symptomatic of a Canadian wide epidemic. Underpaid part-time staff teaches a majority ofundergraduates in Canada. At U of T contract faculty and teaching assistants do 60 per cent of the teaching but make up 3.5 per cent of the budget. The number of contract faculty in Ontario increased 87 per cent in between 2000 and 2014.  Contract faculty and teaching assistants are doing more of the teaching nationwide, but their salaries and job security have not changed. It’s not even in U of T’s best interest to pay so little. U of T is losing out on top talent every year to similarly-ranked schools in the United States U of T regularly boasts about being the top school in the country? But it’s now infamous Scrooge penny pinching ways persuade the best graduate students choose not to come here.

  CUPE Chair Erin Black has said 1,000 members rejected putting the tentative deal to a vote Friday because it failed to raise the overall $15,000 minimum.

 “There’s a large number of grad students teaching lecture classes of 200 to 300, so for the university to say the strike doesn’t directly affect classes is frankly disingenuous,” said Black, who is a contract professor in a part of the union that is not on strike, but who supervises five teaching assistants for an American history course who are on strike and will not be grading student work for Black.

 “Both parties thought we had found creative ways to improve the funding package — with funds for tuition rebates and other benefits — but in the end, our members wanted a change to the $15,000, and that didn’t change,” said Black.

So classes are running in a fashion and a usual The TTC has altered bus routes to the U of T’s Mississauga and Scarborough campuses during the strike, and public transit would do so at York as well. So even if you want to go to class you can’t get there. The universities need to be mature in their thinking! What we have learned is precisely nothing; there is no end in sight.  This is Machiavelli thinking at its best. And to end in a flourish David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers: “In some cases, when you send your kids off to school, there may be a very good chance, at least in the first two years of university, they may not even come in contact with a full-time professor.” Robinson said” the trend toward contract teachers has grown significantly in the last 20 years, to the point they represent a “permanent underclass” at many universities.” The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations estimates the number of courses taught by contract faculty in Ontario has jumped 90 per cent since 2000.

Written by- Cristoph De Caermichael



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