Carleton University’s largest union said its members voted “overwhelmingly” against the university’s latest contract offer at a special membership meeting on Friday.
The meeting was not a ratification vote, said CUPE Local 4600, which represents about 3,000 teaching and research assistants and contract instructors. However, the results were “unequivocal” and showed that members supported a strike starting on Monday if they didn’t get what they wanted by the end of the weekend, the union said.
“The employer’s most recent offer does not even keep up with inflation. It doesn’t address workload or education quality,” CUPE 4600 president Noreen Cauley-Le Fevre said in a media release Friday evening. “Our members have spoken. Carleton needs to act now to avert a strike.”
Carleton has been in negotiations with two units of CUPE 4600 since last August. Unit 1 includes teaching assistants, some research assistants and service assistants. Unit 2 represents contract instructors. Each unit has its own collective agreement, which is bargained at the same time, but by a separate bargaining team.
As of Friday, Carleton had not provided a bargaining update on its website since Wednesday, when the university said it was “committed to negotiating fair compensation packages in a timely manner and has tabled significant, multi-year salary increases to both units. The parties have reached agreement on a number of issues and significant progress continues to be made.”
The university released a list of over 2,700 courses that were marked as either “proceeding” — going ahead as scheduled — or “disrupted” — not going ahead — in the event of a strike. Students were told they were expected to continue course work and to attend classes if they were being held.
One sticking point for the union is the wording of a proposed cost of living adjustment, which would ensure wages kept up with inflation. CUPE argues that teaching assistant wages have fallen behind the cost of living in Ottawa by more than 10 per cent over the past decade and that contract instructors teaching undergraduates are paid 15 per cent less than their counterparts at the University of Ottawa.
CUPE also argues that Carleton does not have a centralized process for providing accommodations to union members who need them, with a “piecemeal” system in place that “has left many members feeling vulnerable to discrimination.”
There is also no cap on how many students a teaching assistant may be responsible for, CUPE says, making the workload untenable.
Both units have given bargaining teams strong strike mandates. Unit 1 voted 93 per cent in favor of a strike if the university does not sweeten its offer, and Unit 2 voted 88 per cent in favor, CUPE said.
The strike threat looms as Carleton enters the crucial final several weeks before the final projects are due. Exams are to begin April 15.
According to a 2020 Carleton policy on disruption labours, individual faculty are in the best position to determine the extent to which courses, seminars and labs will be affected by a strike and what action may be taken if the disruption lasts 10 days or less, but it says academic standards should not be altered.
In the case of a strike longer than 10 days, an advisory committee of the university senate would determine what should be done, including the possibility of changing schedules or extending the term.
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