In Challenge to the System, 10,000 Graduate Teachers Strike Against Toronto Schools

Taking a stand against a higher education labor system that perpetuates unfair and unstable work conditions, 10,000 teaching assistants and contract faculty at Canada’s two largest universities are entering their second week of strike.

At issue is what the union says is the “normalization of precarious contract teaching,” where little value is given to workers who are increasingly charged with more and more responsibility, though have little job security, benefits and are trapped by maximum wage laws.

The strike will impact roughly 100,000 university students.

Initially called on February 27, word that the strike would continue came Monday evening after union leaders announced that the 3,700 members of the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, or CUPE, representing teaching assistants and contract faculty at Toronto’s York University, voted to reject a tentative agreement between the union and the school. Meanwhile, negotiations between CUPE 3902, representing 6,000 Toronto University staff members, have reportedly stalled.

“[W]e refuse to accept that low-paid, insecure and precarious employment are increasingly the norm at York University,” said Faiz Ahmed, chair of CUPE 3903, in a statement announcing the strike. “We are striving to turn back a system that’s keeping contract faculty strung along on short-term, low-paid, precarious employment contracts—in some cases for a decade or longer—with no security or stability.”

It is estimated that more than half of all undergraduates in Canada are taught by contract, also known as adjunct, faculty while in the United States such employees compromise a full 70 percent of college educators, according to a recent report (pdf) from the Delphi Project.