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The Globe and Mail

University of Toronto wins arbitration against teaching-assistant union

Striking members of CUPE 3902, including University of Toronto teaching assistants, lab assistants, and graduate student instructors, march on a picket line on the U of T campus on Monday, March 2, 2015.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

The University of Toronto has won a labour-arbitration case against its teaching-assistant union, in a decision that centred on the issue that was at the heart of this spring's month-long strike by 6,000 TAs at the university.

Arbitrator William Kaplan ruled that the university does not have to guarantee each of its graduate students a set amount of new funding as the union had argued throughout. Instead, graduate students who are members of the union are now eligible to apply to two new bursary funds totalling approximately $1-million.

The decision sets the stage for the amount in the bursaries to be renegotiated in the next round of talks in two years. If the funds run short of money, "it is open to the parties to change them in the next round," arbitrator William Kaplan said in his ruling.

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"We are very committed to graduate-student funding and are engaged in conversations across the university. It's an academic issue and needs to be addressed through an academic process," said Cheryl Regehr, vice-president and provost of the university.

A set guarantee for each graduate student would have meant that the university's control over how it distributes money to its graduate students would be negotiated in collective bargaining.

Throughout the strike, the union had argued that graduate students who take on teaching duties are employees, not students, and should be paid a wage beyond the $15,000 annual funding guarantee.

Still, the two new bursaries leave graduate students in their senior years measurably better off, CUPE 3902 said.

"This was not a strike about beating back concessions. Historic gains were made. We are very proud of the agreement," said Ryan Culpepper, the union chair.

Mr. Culpepper added that the union, the faculty association and undergraduate students have struck a committee to discuss how graduate students should be funded in the future.

CUPE 3902 had been concerned that while the money in the funds is enough for now to increase each student's funding, an increase in enrolment could lead to declines in the value of the funds. As well, tuition-fee increases could lead to erosion in their value.

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The agreement to settle the remaining issues in binding arbitration was made at the end of March after a strike that had lasted almost a month. Classes continued at the university throughout the dispute but some course marking was adjusted to give students a pass or a fail rather than a mark.

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