Amidst a strike from teaching assistants and contract faculty at two Toronto universities, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations has launched a campaign focused on improving the working conditions of contract faculty.
The campaign features profiles of contract faculty from across Ontario that highlight the low wages, lack of benefits, and unstable job security that contract workers face.
The OCUFA’s claims that contract workers in the university system are treated poorly are demonstrated by the recent strikes at the two Toronto schools. On March 2, 3,700 teaching assistants and contract faculty at York University, and 6,000 teaching assistants at the University of Toronto voted to strike against the university’s offerings of marginally increased wages and health plans.
But University of Toronto and York University aren’t the only schools facing this issue. CBC estimates that over half of all undergraduate students are taught by contract faculty.
At McMaster, approximately 500 sessional faculty are represented by McMaster’s branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees each academic year.
“I think when students see a professor in front of the class they simply think – professor. They don’t realize that there are different degrees of professors, some who make a lot of money and some who make very little, some who have significant job security and some that have virtually none,” said Brad Walchuk, a staff representative at McMaster’s branch, CUPE 3906.
“So I think the campaign, for us and for students at McMaster, is important to raise the fact that not every professor standing in front of the classroom is making $120,000 [annually].”
In contrast, many contract faculty make around $28,000 annually, have unstable work, and do not receive benefits. Much of the job instability is a result of the fact that contract faculty are only hired on a term-by-term basis.
Students are also impacted by the rise of contract faculty. These professors are often only hired for a short period of time and cannot build relationships or provide resources to students outside of the classroom.
“Lots of times it’s not that our members don’t want to do more for students and provide resources, but the fact of the matter is they aren’t actually here on campus or they’re actually working some other place,” said Nancy MacBain, a staff representative at CUPE 3906.
At McMaster, there won’t be a strike on the horizon to resolve these issues. Bargaining for teaching assistants, research assistants in lieu, and postdoctoral students will begin in 2016, and in 2017 the negotiations will begin for sessional faculty.
“We’ve settled our collective agreement and then so it’s not until our next round of bargaining that those negotiations will begin again,” said Rebecca Collins-Nelsen, President of CUPE 3906. “[We are] following the campaigns very closely and what’s going on in terms of U of T and York because we are gearing up for our own rounds of bargaining.”