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University of Toronto contract workers demand living wage, decent benefits

February 13, 2024

TORONTO – Approximately 3,800 contract workers at the University of Toronto now have a strike mandate to bolster their demands for living wages and basic health benefits from the country’s wealthiest university.

The workers, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1998, work on contract at the University of Toronto and are classified by the university as “Casual employees.” The workers are in negotiations for a new collective agreement with the university, after their previous agreement expired in June 2023.

Union members voted last week by a 90% majority in favour of giving their bargaining committee a mandate to launch job action, including a strike, if the university fails to negotiate a fair contract. The union has set a deadline of 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 16 for the university to reach a deal.

“We’re encouraged by the level of engagement our members have shown throughout the bargaining process,” said Scott Eldridge, president of the USW Local 1998 bargaining unit representing the Casual employees.

“Our members are united in fighting for their rights to earn a living wage and to be treated better by the wealthiest university in Canada,” Eldridge said.

Many of the University of Toronto’s Casual employees work alongside full-time, continuing employees on the same projects, programs and services, but are treated quite differently, being paid lower wages and receiving a very limited health benefit. Some Casual workers are being paid only minimum wage.

The Casual employees work in administrative and technical roles ranging from research assistants and information technology, to student life officers, fitness centre employees and standardized patients working in the education and testing of medical professionals.

The Casual workers are on contracts ranging from a few weeks to a full year. Many of the workers have been employed with the university for many years, even decades, without access to permanent positions.

Negotiations resumed today, Feb. 12, with three days of bargaining scheduled for this week.

“Our members rightfully expect to see an offer from this employer that reflects the value of their work and skills, as well as the cost of living,” Eldridge said.

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