By Souzan Mirza and Jared Ong
On January 1, 2018 the University of Toronto raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the majority of their non-union casual employees. This comes in the wake of CUPE and USW locals at UofT bargaining and winning $15 minimum for all unionized employees. This is a tangible example of how when unions push up the minimum standards, it helps raise the floor for all workers. We spoke to Colleen Burke, President of USW 1998, and Leanne MacMillan, CUPE Servicing Representative to understand how they fought and won the fight for all workers at UofT.
Food service workers at York University won a $15 minimum wage and fairer working conditions in March 2017 against Aramark. How did the victory at York influence CUPE/USW’s bargaining at UofT?
Leanne: Members of UNITE HERE Local 75 have a collective agreement with Aramark at the Scarborough Campus of University of Toronto as part of contracted out food services. These employees of Aramark were also on strike in March 2017 with their colleagues at York. This had a profound influence on workers and students at UTSC. It was troubling to see workers walking a picket line for a $15 minimum wage at Canada’s largest and wealthiest post-secondary institution.
The contrast between a for-profit company like Aramark and the University of Toronto employees is stark. When the University “contracted in” food services on St George Campus after its contract with Aramark ended, they became employees of UofT and were covered by the collective agreement of CUPE Local 3261. Their wages and benefits went up dramatically. For example, a full time cashier at Aramark was paid $12 an hour but moved to $19.69 when directly employed by UofT.
However, casual members of CUPE 3261 did not have a wage increase since 2010 and the starting wage for food service workers was $11.35, moving to $15.06 after 2 years. When they were performance substantially similar to work to full time workers, it was even more important to achieve a $15 minimum wage. If even Aramark was committed to reaching this rate by May 2018, the University of Toronto could do better.
CUPE and USW locals at UofT along with the $15 and Fairness campaign launched the Vision 2020 campaign in May 2017. What is the Vision 2020 campaign and how did you strategize and collaborate to help each other bargain in 2017?
Leanne: Most of the collective agreements at University of Toronto expired on June 30, 2017. We typically have 3 year collective agreements so we started to imagine what a good employer might look like by 2020. We worked together to develop a platform with 9 key issues:
1) No worker makes less than $15/hour
2) No worker teaches a half-course for less than $10,000
3) Every worker has a reasonable path to permanent employment
4) Every worker has paid sick days for themselves & their dependents
5) All facilities are kept clean & safe by UofT employees
6) Healthy, affordable food is prepared & served by UofT employees
7) These employees have benefits & the ability to retire with dignity
8) Graduate students have a minimum funding guarantee of $20,000/year
9) Work and study are safe, hazard free, barrier-free, accessible & affordable for all employees
To win these, we coordinated our bargaining dates and the proposals for collective agreement amendments; we coordinated our strike dates and our applications for conciliation, we worked together to improve working conditions for full time, part time and casual unionized employees at U of T. And we are continuing to support academic workers who are members of CUPE 3902 as they continue to bargain for a collective agreement for their largest bargaining unit.
We also wanted to make common cause with non-unionized workers who would also benefit by an increase in the minimum wage. So we advertised in each of the student union handbooks, organized solidarity BBQs on each of the 3 campuses and spoke to students and non-unionized workers to sign petitions.
We had to bargain the $15 immediately. The Provincial law allowed employers with existing collective agreements to delay the increases. We couldn’t sign a collective agreement without it. We made it clear to the Employer no collective agreement would be signed for the full time and part time workers, without a $15 minimum wage for casual workers. We also put in place a provision for the equal pay for substantially similar work to come into effect in May 2019 – before the date for workers with collective agreements in the legislation of January 2020.
Colleen: When CUPE 3261 bargained first, their strength at the table and ability to win an immediate raise to $15 gave the USW 1998 casual unit a huge boost at the table. The CUPE and USW solidarity through the Vision 2020 campaign helped both unions make significant gains.
How did winning a $15 minimum wage for union members push the university to raise the wage to $15 for their non-unionized casual and temp employees on January 1st 2018?
Leanne: Well, the Employer didn’t ask us. However, we are sure they simply couldn’t have non-unionized workers making substantially less than unionized workers. It just doesn’t sit right. They did the right thing. And unlike Tim Horton’s, U of T did not require any concessions from any of the unionized or non-unionized workers. Our hats go off to them. They did it because it was the right thing to do, but more importantly they did it because unionized workers at U of T made it happen.