By Stefanie Phillips
Contract academic workers at Ryerson University voted this month to “authorize a strike,” union president Joseph Zboralski said.
Zboralski, a politics professor at Ryerson who has been with the department for 20 years, said union representatives are expecting the majority to vote in favour of a strike, but they will not know until a final count of votes is done on Friday.
A “yes” vote to authorize a strike does not necessarily mean there will be strike action, but it does mean the union is prepared to strike if further bargaining efforts are unsuccessful.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3904 represents over 2,500 contract academics at Ryerson, including contract lecturers, continuing education contract lecturers and graduate and teaching assistants.
“You have to have teachers that are adequately compensated, have a decent work environment and some job security”
The union’s contract with the university ended in August. The two parties are currently in bargaining talks to negotiate a new contract.
Zboralski said the union is concerned with Ryerson’s use of “precarious labour,” which subjects CUPE instructors to “endlessly” renewable contracts and inadequate wages.
“We have to make sure that students get the best quality of education possible, and in order to do that you have to have teachers that are adequately compensated, have a decent work environment and some job security,” he said.
The last Ontario university strike lasted three weeks in 2015 and involved the local CUPE unions for York University and the University of Toronto. Both unions cited job security for contract faculty as a bargaining issue.
The last Ontario university strike lasted three weeks in 2015
The issue of precarious work for contract academics has plagued post-secondary institutions in recent years, contributing to the growing trend of non-standard, insecure, unprotected and poorly paid employment in the Canadian economy.
Last semester, the union representing college faculty in Ontario, took strike action after they failed to reach an agreement with the College Employer Council. The union fought for increased job security for its part-time faculty and staff, among other things.
College faculty were on strike for five weeks, putting most classes on hold during that time, including classes for students part of the collaborative nursing program at Ryerson.
Last week, the union that represents contract academic workers at York University voted 85 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. In a press release posted on their website, the union cited job security as an issue going forward.
Similarly, in November 2017, the union representing contract academics at the University of Toronto voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. The union told the CBC their key issue is with the university relying on precarious labour by sessional lecturers who deliver a portion of undergraduate teaching.