CUPE3908: With Unit 2 bargaining officially over, what are our next steps?

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Life after bargaining

Our Local wrapped up a busy and productive start to spring in March with the conclusion of Unit 2 bargaining and the ratification of a new collective agreement last month.

Concluding in the early hours of February 27, the drawn-out bargaining process, which began in late November of last year, resulted in a deal consisting of modest annual wage increases and no concessions.

In addition to nominal wage gains and improved language surrounding GTA work hours and health benefits, members of the bargaining unit will also receive a series of lump-sum payments, starting with a new, $150 ‘Student Recognition Amount’ for GTAs.

Beyond these measures, the deal marks the perseverance of the bargaining team in resisting the employer’s imposition of a wage freeze. By opposing Trent’s efforts to hold our wages to the floor, we demonstrated that we are capable of mobilizing our members and standing up for our rights at work.

Not frozen, but a chill remains

Although a deal was finally reached, averting a strike and preventing further job action, many members will no doubt look at the final agreement and find certain aspects of it wanting.

In a context where tuition fees are rising faster than wages, it is difficult to see the relatively meagre financial components of the deal as a resounding sign of success. And, on the whole, the search for a silver lining is far less decisive when one considers that tuition fees are likely to surpass growth in wages by time the contract expires.

Others still might look to the outcomes achieved by neighbouring CUPE locals at York and U of T—whose members engaged in well-publicized strikes in a bid to win better deals—and wonder whether similar actions here might have shifted the balance more in our favour.

Throughout formal bargaining, Trent’s negotiators consistently cited the University’s financial problems as justification for a wage freeze. At the same time, figures from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations suggest that full-time salaries in post-secondary institutions increased by an estimated 78% between 2000 and 2014, with much of this increase attributable to rising administrative compensation.

Such statistics confirm an alarming trend: while funding to Ontario post-secondary is clearly inadequate, contributing to sector wide cost-cutting measures, the frenetic search for balanced budgets increasingly falls on those clinging to the bottom rungs of the income ladder.

Mapping next steps

Given these observations, it would be wrong to see the end of the latest bargaining process as a done deal. That reservations remain is a clear indication that we must redouble our efforts in demanding fair compensation for contract workers throughout the academic sector.

Towards this end, our Local will use the months of summer to engage members in the planning and organization of a broader campaign to redress the issues of contract academic workers at Trent. We hope to have this campaign prepared and ready to roll-out in Fall 2015.

In the meantime, next time we are presented with a wage freeze, a demand that will no doubt resurface when Unit 1 heads back to the table after their contract expires August 2016, we should always counter back: for whom?

Last modified: 10-Apr-15

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