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Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

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Published in International

School is in for winter at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto.

The college's 38 sessional lecturers, teaching assistants and continuing education instructors, who have been on strike the last week, reached a tentative agreement with university administrators at 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning, Nov. 22.

On the CUPE Local 3902 web site the union's bargaining team requested that the St. Michael's staff go back to work immediately.  

A ratification vote will be held by write-in ballot until the end of the day Friday.

Under the tentative agreement union members with a certain amount of experience will receive preference in awarding new teaching contracts, the union bargaining chief told The Catholic Register. Job security for contract employees was the major issue that sent the union out to the picket lines Nov. 15.

A day earlier, Celtic Mythology lecturer Daniel Brielmaier, speaking for CUPE Local 3902 Unit 4, said student papers weren't getting marked and some classes had been cancelled.

"Students are feeling an impact,"he said. "We don't like that they're feeling it."

St. Mike's administration claimed the strike hadn't been felt by very many students.

"The effect is relatively small at this point," said Robert Edgett, the executive director of alumni affairs and development who is acting as media liaison for the Catholic college at the University of Toronto. "But our concern continues to be for students. We want to be sure that their term and exams are held. That's why we're working so hard to come to some resolution."

Talks had been delayed a day while the administration worked out a new offer.

The union, which represents academic staff on contracts of less than 12 months, was pushing for a greater degree of job security. The mostly younger academics wanted a right of first refusal if their course is being offered again.

The system of repeat short-term contracts with no assurance of future work has been hardest on theology lecturers, many of whom have been teaching the same course for years but never know whether they will work again next year, said Brielmaier.

"We just want to get a contract and go back to teaching," said Local 3902 chair Abe Nasirzadeh.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

UPDATED 22/11/12

TORONTO - As University of St. Michael's College contract lecturers, teaching assistants and continuing education instructors prepare for their second week on strike, union leaders and university administration both say a deal is getting closer.

"Students are feeling an impact," said Celtic Mythology lecturer Daniel Brielmaier, speaking for CUPE Local 3902 Unit 4. "We don't like that they're feeling it."

Papers aren't getting marked, some classes have been cancelled and others are bogging down without the 38 sessional lecturers, teaching assistants and part-time instructors who teach at St. Michael's, said Brielmaier.

St. Mike's administration claims the strike hasn't been felt by very many students.

"Some courses are being taught; some are being rescheduled. The effect is relatively small at this point," said Robert Edgett, the executive director of alumni affairs and development who is acting as media liaison for the Catholic college at the University of Toronto. "But our concern continues to be for students. We want to be sure that their term and exams are held. That's why we're working so hard to come to some resolution."

A rally in front of the Kelly Library at noon Nov. 21 attracted about 60 students and union activists in support of the contract teachers.

Talks were scheduled to continue Thursday afternoon after being put off a day while the administration worked out a new offer.

The union, which represents academic staff on contracts of less than 12 months, has been pushing for a greater degree of job security. The mostly younger academics want a right of first refusal if their course is being offered again.

The system of repeat short-term contracts with no assurance of future work has been hardest on theology lecturers, many of whom have been teaching the same course for years but never know whether they will work again next year, said Brielmaier.

"We're not going to negotiate or talk about the terms of the negotiation in public," said Edgett. "We're going to leave that to the bargaining table."

The union members claim to have Pope Benedict XVI on their side, citing his thoughts in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate on the right to secure and meaningful work.

The administration is confident the two sides will quickly find a solution.

"I hope we'll beat the NHL," said Edgett.

"We just want to get a contract and go back to teaching," said Local 3902 chair Abe Nasirzadeh.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - University of St. Michael's College graduate theology courses, undergraduate classes, continuing education programs and help for students in writing labs will cease Nov. 15 unless the Catholic college at the University of Toronto can make a deal with the union representing academics who work under contract.

The Ontario Labour Board has issued a no board report and representatives of CUPE local 3902, Unit 4, claim negotiations have reached an impasse.

In a statement on its web site, St. Michael's College claims there is no impasse. Representatives of the college refused to speak with The Catholic Register about the situation.

Job security is the sticking point, said CUPE bargaining committee chair Daniel Bader. Teaching assistants and sessional lecturers work on contract of less than 12 months with no guarantee of future work, even though many have been teaching the same courses for years and the college has no plans to give those courses to higher cost full-time faculty.

"Really it's a matter of justice that when you have work that is continuous that you have employment that maps onto that," Bader said.

Academics like Bader, who teaches philosophy to graduate theology students, have trouble getting mortgages or even leases because they can't prove they will be employed beyond their contracts, he said.

The union is asking for right of first refusal if the course they are teaching is offered again.

St. Michael's College would not answer questions about how many students would be affected by a strike or lockout.

The college claims it has offered wage parity with University of Toronto for theology course instructors.

"There's a general situation in universities as a whole where an increasing amount of the work that's being done at universities is on short-term contract, even though the work is not short term," Bader said. "So you have employment that doesn't map onto the work. We're not saying that the courses need to continue. What we're saying is that if the courses continue we should continue in that work."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - The University of St. Michael's College is less than two weeks away from a strike or lockout with no further negotiations scheduled.

University administration negotiators walked away from the bargaining table Sept. 24. Faculty of theology professors and librarians will be in a legal strike position, or could be locked out by management, as of midnight Oct. 8.

The graduate theology school at St. Michael's, part of the Toronto School of Theology consortium at the University of Toronto, has been working toward a first contract since 18 theologians and librarians sought union certification in 2010. There have been 24 bargaining sessions since January.

Larry Bertuzzi, chief negotiator for the university administration, told The Catholic Register he has "no idea" whether there will be further negotiations.

"Nor do I have any intention of discussing it in public," said the labour lawyer for Miller Thomson LLP.

The sticking point is not money, said Michael Attridge, the unit chair for the University of Toronto Faculty Association — University of St. Michael's College, which is part of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"There's no monetary issue on the table that is a problem," said Attridge, a professor of systematic theology. "What it is, essentially, is job security."

St. Michael's has asked for the right to declare programs redundant and eliminate professors' positions without regard to tenure, Attridge said.

"For us as an academic institution, tenure is for us obviously an important thing," he said. "And its relationship to academic freedom. Tenure helps to ensure the integrity of academic freedom."

Attridge believes negotiations have bogged down because no management representatives in the negotiations have academic backgrounds.

"One of our problems has been to try to explain what we need as academic staff at the University of St. Michael's College to individuals who don't really understand what academics require on the one hand and the particular nature and culture of St. Michael's College and the distinctiveness of that institution," he said.

Since there's never been a strike or lockout before at any of the theological colleges in the Toronto School of Theology, there's no telling how a work stoppage would hit students, Attridge said. Given that students from any of the seven member colleges may be enrolled in St. Michael's courses, labour strife could frustrate more than St. Michael's students.

Some undergraduate courses are taught by members of the bargining unit at St. Michael's and would be affected.

The academic faculty at the theology school sought union certification when St. Michael's administration decided against matching a pay raise negotiated between the University of Toronto and similar faculty across the rest of the campus in 2010. For 25 years there had been a "good faith understanding" that St. Michael's faculty would be paid what professors and librarians in the rest of the university are paid, said Attridge.

"The unilateral decision on the part of administration not to give us the salary increases was a break," he said. "For us it exposed a whole bunch of other issues having to do with transparency and equity in the workplace... For our members these are core issues to what it means to be a university and what it means to be a Catholic university — transparency, fairness, equity — to me they are social justice issues."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA