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CUPE 3902, Unit 1

If you have received an employment position as a TA, grader, or course instructor, you are a member of CUPE local 3902, the labour union representing contract academic positions at UofT. As members of a labour union, we stand together to fight for and protect our rights, protections, and benefits as workers. As graduate student education workers, we are specifically members of CUPE 3902 Unit 1, which includes graduate students, undergraduate students and post-doctoral fellows who work as teaching assistants, markers/graders, invigilators, and various other contract academic positions.

Because all workers receive the rights and benefits we fight for as part of a union, we are all considered members and we all have union dues deducted from our wages, even if you do not sign a union card. Signing a card allows you to become a political member, which means you are entitled to attend meetings, vote on referenda, strike votes, etc., as well as apply for financial assistance funds. You become a member of the union as soon as your contract begins, and assuming you remain a graduate student, you remain a member until a full year after the end of your most recent employment contract. (This is so that you remain a member even over summer break or while on leave.) When you are no longer a graduate student, you remain a member until the end of your current contract.

Stewards: your point of contact

Stewards are elected to serve as primary points of contact for members in our department. We elect two stewards for St. George, and one each for UTM and UTSC. In practice, the stewards work together as a team and you can communicate with whoever you feel the most comfortable with, regardless of which campus you are working at. It is recommended to contact stewards at a non-UofT email address, using your own non-UofT email address.

Our current stewards and their non-UofT email addresses are as follows:

St. George:

UTM:

UTSC:

  • (vacant)

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss any questions you have about TA work, funds and benefits, your rights as an employee, any issues with hiring/overwork/running out of hours, or any problems that you have with the way an instructor or student is treating you. Always speak to someone if it feels like a matter of personal safety. The stewards will be your contact people to resolve conflicts, either formally or informally, and will know the best method to take or be able to steer you to someone who can better advise you.

An issue may arise that our contract protects you against. You have the right to file a complaint or grievance if your rights as an employee have been violated. You have the right to steward representation or accompaniment in a meeting if you would like to bring a complaint to the department. The first step in any complaint or grievance is typically to take it up with the course instructor, then with the Undergraduate Advisor and Department Chair if you are comfortable doing so. If department-internal discussion does not resolve the problem to your satisfaction, a steward can help you escalate. (Stewards will never escalate an issue without your express permission.)

Structure of the local

CUPE 3902 is a large union representing over 8000 members across the university. The union is headed by a ten-person executive committee, and members in individual departments act as stewards/liaisons to better communicate the needs and interests of members to the executive on a regular basis. Meetings are held regularly over the term to discuss union-wide and unit-specific business.

The union is composed of the following six units:

  • Unit 1: Postdocs and students (graduate or undergraduate) who have teaching positions.
  • Unit 2: Academic workers at Victoria College.
  • Unit 3: (Non-student) sessional/contract instructors.
  • Unit 4: Academic workers at St. Michael’s College.
  • Unit 5: Postdoctoctoral fellows funded by UofT.
  • Unit 6: Contract instructors of non-credit courses in the International Programs at New College.

Decisions are made by member vote at meetings or at physical polling locations. There will be at least one vote every year to elect the executive committee; there may be more (e.g. referenda, pro-tem positions, strike votes, or contract ratification).

There are a number of caucuses and action groups to discuss particular issues (e.g. International Students’ Caucus, Women’s Caucus, Queer Caucus, Mental Health Action Committee). You are welcome (indeed, invited!) to participate in any of these. Follow the 3902 digest or contact a steward to find out how to get involved.

Unit 1 protections and benefits

The union bargains a contract that applies collectively to all Unit 1 employees. This collective agreement outlines procedures and protections against unreasonable requests and overwork, as well as defining things like our wages and benefits. Below is a summary of some relevant benefits.

  • A maximum of $8,043* of CUPE 3902 work can be included in funding package amounts. Additional work must grant you additional pay.
  • Entitlement to guaranteed work after receiving work in PhD year 1 (“subsequent appointments”). You should receive information about this in May. You can defer one subsequent appointment in the case of e.g. a research trip. Your first five subsequent appointments must be at least equal in size to the appointment you had in year 1 or 2 (whichever is larger). The sixth and later subsequent appointments must be at least 70 hours per year.
  • Financial assistance funds (funding top-ups, tuition assistance post-funding, childcare assistance, UHIP fee assistance). Expect to apply for these in the winter/spring.
  • Paid training time (first time TA, first time instructor, new course/tutorial category).
  • Leaves: academic conferences, thesis defense, union service, pregnancy/childbirth, new parental status, serious illness or injury, gender affirming surgery, bereavement.
  • Supplementary health insurance (see the Health page).
  • Protection from harassment by any party in your workplace (the university).
  • No requirement to work on the weekend except in limited circumstances such as final exam grading

(* This amount will decrease over the life of the current agreement.)

You are also entitled to rights laid out in the Employment Standards Act. Relevant documents, including the full collective agreement, members’ manual, DDAH forms, training request forms, and workload review forms, can be found at the Unit 1 documents page on the CUPE 3902 website.

Our current agreement expires on December 31, 2023. When bargaining for a new contract, our most important tool is the ability to strike, or withhold our labour, which is essential to the academic functioning of the university. Without the threat of a strike, the employer has no reason to take our demands seriously. Unit 1 strikes have resulted in vital changes to the collective agreement that many of us may take for granted today, including guaranteed funding for all graduate students and provisions against harassment and overwork.

Preventing overwork for hourly contracts

Our collective agreement requires instructors to provide you with an initial Description of Duties and Allocation of Hours (DDAH) form that lays out your expected TA duties for the course and how many hours you might expect to use for each task, as well as turnaround times for grading. It also requires instructors and TAs to do a review of these estimates in the middle of the course (a mid-term review of hours). This review is meant to allow the instructor and TA to revise the initial estimated allocation of hours for each duty in light of how long it actually took the TA to perform the work, so that you have a better idea of how to use your time for the rest of the course. It is not meant to be a reflection of your performance as a TA.

For this to function as a system which prevents overwork, it is important that you keep an accurate record of how long it takes you to complete tasks in the purview of your TA contract. Be honest; do not round your grading time down from how long it actually took you. If you report fewer hours than you actually worked, you are working for free, and your time is much more valuable than that. Moreover, reporting fewer hours than you worked gives your supervisor a false understanding of how much time they should expect tasks to take and may lead them to develop harmful and incorrect expectations that will be applied to future TAs/graders.

If students keep you for 15 minutes after tutorial with questions, keep track of the time you spend talking to them and record it in your total. (If this becomes problematic, direct students to office hours for those questions and/or inform your instructor). Use the DDAH form as a semi-flexible guide for how to spend your time, but treat your hours limitation as a law. Don’t work more hours than you have been asked to. If you feel you will run out of hours before finishing the expected work, inform your instructor. There may be another TA in the course who has more hours available, or sometimes the department can fund additional TA hours. Do not do work beyond your assigned contract unless you reach an agreement with the department to assign you more paid hours.

If you find it difficult to communicate with your instructor about overwork and/or you feel you have been asked to accomplish an impossible amount of work in the allotted time, get in touch with one of the linguistics department stewards.

Non-CUPE 3902 work

CUPE 3902 does not cover research or administrative work; it only covers teaching work. If you are a research assistant, for example, or you have some other kind of casual contract with the department/university, you are likely a member of United Steelworkers local 1998. (You can be a member of multiple unions at the same time.) This union represents a variety of administrative positions across the university. A link to the collective agreement for the casual unit can be found on the USW 1998 collective agreements page; it covers some basic protections such as a minimum wage threshold, some acceptable leaves of absence, and harassment protection/workplace safety.