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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 reached a tentative agreement with its 6,000 teaching assistants, that if approved, comes just in time for the rush of essays and exams at the end of term.

The announcement follows just two days after the university rejected an offer from the union that would have made funding for graduate students part of labour negotiations. Terms of the University of Toronto agreement will not be released until union members have seen and voted on its details.

"We are very pleased that we have reached a tentative agreement," said Cheryl Regehr, the University's vice-president and provost.

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A meeting by union members to review and vote on the agreement will be held Friday. Graduate and undergraduate teaching staff went on strike on Feb. 27 "in an effort to secure improvements to poverty-level funding and precarious working conditions," said a statement from CUPE 3902.

This will be the second deal the union's bargaining committee has recommended its members accept. The first deal's rejection led to the strike, a labour disruption that has looked increasingly difficult to resolve. Teaching assistants asked that the university raise their minimum funding package above $15,000 (not including tuition fees which are covered by the university in the first few years of a PhD program), while the university produced numbers arguing that most students already received above that amount. Graduate students' funding has been a topic of discussion between students, the union and the administration for years without a solution being agreed upon.

Teaching assistants at York University remain on strike even as the university has reopened classes in many departments and plans to restart almost all classes next Monday.

The labour disruptions at Ontario's largest universities have focused attention on the increasing number of faculty who are part-time or contract workers and unlikely to find a tenure-track, permanent position. It has also raised questions about poor job prospects for graduate students who are being trained to become professors and researchers at universities.

In the short-term, the strikes have been testing the climate between students, professors and teaching assistants on both campuses. As the term winds down and essays and exams are due, the work of teaching assistants would have to be assumed by professors, or cancelled. Neither option would be acceptable to most of the universities' professors or the institutions' faculty associations.

On Tuesday, there were violent confrontations at York University between picketers and those hoping to enter the campus. And faculty members at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus warned in a letter to the administration that morale was suffering.

"[Many] of our faculty are feeling demoralized, and collegiality between faculty and students … is beginning to crumble," the letter said. It added that the university needed to come up with a way to fund graduate students that would maintain its attractiveness as a destination for top future academics.

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