University ‘Dons’ Achieve Historic First Contract

U of T dons

University of Toronto residence dons have achieved a historic collective agreement – the first of its kind at the university.

“The collective agreement brings fairness, equity and a real voice in the workplace that were long overdue for a unique group of workers,” says Colleen Burke, president of USW Local 1998, which represents the residence dons as well as thousands of other University of Toronto employees.

The residence dons act as a resource for students in university residences and are responsible for community development, social/educational programming, crisis intervention, referrals, policy enforcement and residents’ overall well-being. The dons also are university students who live in the same residences as the students they serve.

“I’ve learned so much about your work and the challenges you face – health and safety issues, arbitrary rules from managers and the very serious issue of mental health on campus. You are an amazing, hard-working group of workers committed to serving the residence community,” Burke said in a message to residence dons after they negotiated their first union contract.

The three-year agreement, which runs until the end of 2024, covers dozens of dons at four University of Toronto Colleges – Innis, New College, University College and Woodsworth.

The dons voted to join the USW in 2020, and then persevered through a challenging bargaining process that was prolonged and complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Burke noted.

“I would like to commend your bargaining committee. When they were elected in spring of 2020, they had no idea that COVID issues would delay bargaining for so long. What would normally be a four-month commitment turned into an 18-month one! Your committee: Khaleel Grant, Stephanie Kroone, Ben Swadron and Sterlin Vaillancourt were dedicated, hard-working and truly committed to improving rights for dons,” she added.

The new contract codifies and improves existing working conditions and standards, including the compensation system, and introduces language and clauses addressing new issues, such as ensuring assistants will have access to the University Employment and Family Assistance Plan for additional mental health and other support.

Residence dons from two other University of Toronto residences who also recently joined USW Local 1998 will be negotiating their first collective agreements in the near future.

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