January 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 56  

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U of T sessional instructors to unionize, despite opposition

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

According to sessional teachers at the University of Toronto, they will no longer be getting the short end of the stick — now that they have voted in favour of unionizing.

“We have a clear majority of all of the ballots,” said Mikael Swayze, staff representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 3902.

According to Swayze, of the 180 ballots submitted 102 were counted and 56 per cent came back in favour of joining the union, though the rest of the votes still need to be counted and finer details needed to be worked out.

The union vote has met with disapproval from the University of Toronto Faculty Association, Swayze noted, adding UTFA felt only teachers with a one-course load could join the union. “They’ve taken a strong position against some people joining the union — it’s too bad [UTFA] decided to do that. I find it sad.”

George Luste, president of the UTFA, pointed out sessionals with terms of 12 months were targeted for union membership and many part-time professors were members of the UTFA.
“You’ve got to be careful with the term part-time — it varies from person to person,” he said.
The definition between sessional teachers and part-time professors is often overlooked, Luste explained; sessional teachers are hired on a short-term basis to teach a course, while part-time professors often have long-term commitments and teaching positions.

According to Luste, many schools have both sessional and full-time professors under the same umbrella. “In general, if everyone was under the same tent, then we’d all be better.”

Swayze noted the UTFA is not a trade union, therefore CUPE is better suited to representing their interests, such as pensions, dental and drug benefits, and perhaps a system of transition to full-time status. “Now that we have a union, we can ask ‘what do you want?’”

Luste is quick to cite UTFA, while not having sessional members, has done a lot for part-time professors, such as benefits, but he laments the lack of sessional membership. “This is a reflection of the underfunding of higher education in Ontario.”

Talk for sessionals joining a union has been going for the last four years, Swayze said. The efforts began early last year with cards being signed throughout the spring, and a vote was held in the summer, he added.

One issue Swayze said he hopes will arise is job security, as most sessionals have to fill out applications every year.



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