How I feel about the UofT strike

Plot summary for anyone who doesn’t attend the University of Toronto: after lack of agreement over contract renewal, regarding wages in particular, the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3902, Unit 1, representing teaching assistants, laboratory assistants and graduate student instructors, is on strike, and have been since Friday. This pretty much means that all TA-lead tutorials, labs, and classes taught by grad students are cancelled, and said faculty have formed legal picket lines to protest the injustices they feel are being done to them. And, like anything, everyone and their dog has an opinion about it.

I don’t have any classes taught by TAs or grad students, so this strike doesn’t really effect me right now. But, as all members of society should do, I’ve tried to educate myself on this situation. From what I understand, CUPE 3902 Unit 1 have had their wages frozen at $15,000 since 2008. This wage covers their tuition as graduate students, but since cost of living has obviously increased in the seven years since the wage freeze, it is difficult to make ends meet (the GTA is hella expensive to live in, if that wasn’t obvious). Some departments don’t allow part-time work outside of the University, but even for those allowed to hold other jobs, they are still full-time students so having time for jobs outside of teaching isn’t really a thing. Unit 1 is therefor living 35% below the poverty line, and have asked for a wage increase to $23,000, if I’ve heard correctly. The proposed offer from the University involves an immediate wage increase of $65 to $15,065/year, and then a gradual increase in wage so that by 2018 their wage will be $17,045/year, $17,505 with health benefits. So in 3 years, their wage will increase only by $2,505 from a wage that hasn’t changed in the past 7 years. The union feels they are being treated unfairly and their concerns and demands are not being heard. They disagree with the bargainings of the University, so now they’re on strike, which they are legally allowed to do.

And I have just recently heard that Unit 3, which represents sessional instructors and non-student academic staff, will be voting to approve or reject the bargains made with their contract. Apparently their renewal is very fair, however Unit 3 still may go on strike in support Unit 1. The University would very likely shut down in that case, enacting a strong political education movement that would make UofT’s history books, and forcing the University to truly consider the injustices that are being done.

And honestly, I support them.

I don’t like sharing my opinion of current events on the internet because people tend to be vicious and disrespectful when hiding being the safe bunker of a facebook comment. But I’ve seen a number of ill-informed and selfish comments across social media over the past couple days, and I can’t sit idly by anymore. I am not a TA or graduate student, but from an outside perspective this bargain from the University is unfair and ridiculous, and I support their right to voice their disagreement and fight for what they believe in.

The main complaint I’ve heard from students is about the classes they have paid tuition for being cancelled. I paid money to be in that class, so TAs are taking away my right to attend and are wasting my money! I will avoid the argument that you have probably skipped class in your university career and have therefor shown that wasting your money can’t actually be that big of a concern for you. Because my bigger argument is that maybe you should be more conscious and caring of where your money is going. TAs and grad students work very hard to give you a positive and more personal educational experience. They have a heavy influence on the quality of your learning, so don’t they deserve a good educational experience as well? I can’t imagine that balancing grad school and teaching is a stress-free thing to accomplish. If I’m paying the university a whole bunch of dollars, it matters to me that the University uses that money responsibly. I would like a fair amount of it it to go to that super cool TA who was as passionate about my essay as I was and always worked their butt off to facilitate a discussion in an often awkwardly silent tutorial. Because that’s where I learned a lot, and I recognize the effort they put in.

The second and perhaps equally strong complaint is about busses. In an attempt to divert traffic away from campus to ensure student/picketer safety, the University has relocated all university bus stops to just off-campus. UTM probably didn’t make the wisest choice with Mississauga Road/The Collegeway for their alternative bus stops because that intersection is hella dangerous for pedestrians on a normal day, but this is NOT the fault of CUPE 3902. They are exercising their legal right the protest, and the University is accommodating for it. If anything, drivers need to be hyper cautious. So all you kids need to quit your complaining. But the busses are now all the way off campus! Sweetie, the intersection is a solid 3 minute walk from the regular bus stop. Yes, I do agree that is is an issue for individuals who require accessibility, and that should be looked at. However that does not mean you, an able bodied person, can advantage of that fact to complain about your own personal issue with the relocation, and it certainly does not mean it’s okay for you to lash out at protesters.

Because “I cannot support myself because I am living below the poverty line” and “I have to walk an extra 300 metres” are not within the same category of struggles.

I am not a TA. I am not a lab assistant. I am not a graduate student. I have not experienced what they are experiencing so I can not adequately form an opinion on the strike. And neither can most of the undergraduate population of UofT, if you ask me. I think that a lot of the negative feelings towards the strike are selfish. I’ve heard a lot of “me me me.” But my classes! It’ll take me longer to get home! This is so annoying and inconvenient to me! Have you considered that those protesting are fighting for something bigger than just themselves as individuals? They are standing up for the rights of the union as a whole, which represents over 8,000 educational workers. They are fighting for the financial needs of not only current employees, but also all employees in the future. They feel that they are being disrespected, and so they are doing something. You may think they’re being selfish, but if you ask me, their desire to enact change as a body of people and their driven passion is very admirable.

My whole point is that before you open your mouth to complain about anything, consider the situation from all sides. This goes for the strike, but also just being a decent human being in general. I don’t know what it’s like to live the life of anyone but myself, and I know that no one knows what it’s like to live my life. Offer to others the patience, respect, compassion, and understanding that you ask for yourself. Many things are a whole lot bigger than just you and me.

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