Well, it is coming up to that spooky time of year again for part-time employees at Trent.

No, not Halloween or mid-terms. CUPE 3908 Unit 1 will be heading back to the bargaining table with Trent on October 20th to discuss the issues, and fighting for faculty’s rights surrounding wages, benefits, and the precarious positions available to our part-time instructors.

Arthur got a jump on the issue by meeting with the President and Vice President of CUPE 3908 Unit 1 which represents contract faculty part-time workers. To get more of a precise idea of what the CUPE representatives do for these workers, Arthur asked Diane Therrein, President of CUPE 3908 and Ward 3 City Counselor, what this branch of CUPE is all about.

“CUPE 3908 takes on the task of bargaining for units one and two in order to ensure that our members have fair wages, hopefully job security, benefits ideally, and a variety of other things. We negotiate with the employer on their behalf, file grievances if need be, if collective agreements aren’t followed. This happens more with unit one than it does with unit two. We also try and be active in the community, we have a donations fund that local groups can apply to if they have events they want to put on and that type of thing. We also organize social events for our members and just try to keep an ongoing relationship with our members.”
Last year, unit two went to the bargaining table in February, and it was at this time that Trent students heard the horror stories of York University faculty going on strike and students being hung out to dry, which in some cases threatened employment and travel opportunities for the students who were in their final year.

Then, students at Trent held their breath as bargaining went back and forth between Trent and CUPE. Thankfully, the looming dark clouds that threatened a similar strike at Trent lifted, and an agreement was met between the two entities.

One of the larger hurdles that CUPE negotiators will be trying to push past this year is the issue of year-to-year contract work for part time instructors teaching 1.5 credits or less. Troy Bordun, Vice President of CUPE Unit 1, spoke to this concern.

“That’s our number one issue we’ll be going after this year. In negotiation with the university, we’re hoping to come to an agreement to enforce a contract-by-contract system. So right now, instructors are hired for one eight-month period, then have to reapply for that position each fall for the following year. So we’d like some sort of job security, so we will be negotiating with the university to turn these into permanent part-time positions that would carry over either a few years of indefinitely.”

Bordun goes on to point out that these contract instructors are paid significantly less than tenure track instructors, and make do with insufficient benefit packages while also dealing with the burden of travelling from institution to institution, as most are employed by more than one and must travel weekly throughout southern Ontario in the university belt.

To this point, CUPE leaders note here that there have been a number of tenure instructors that have retired from Trent, but instead of moving some part time professors who have “paid their dues”, Trent administration, in line with a theme that has been adopted by many other Ontario universities, has taken the cost cut and simply hired on more part time instructors on eight month contracts each so to save a significant amount of money on their payroll. This leaves CUPE Unit 1 members in a very precarious situation year after year.

Arthur then went on to ask what Trent students have on their minds after last years’ near miss. What are the chances of a strike and how will this impact the students?

“It won’t affect the students unless there is some type of job action that happens, and that is never something that we strive for. Nobody really wants to have a strike, that’s sort of the worst case scenario.”

Therrein says that she encourages the members of CUPE 3908 to feel free to communicate with them if there is something that they would like to see accomplished in this round of bargaining and to just follow the process along as they go. She urges members to attend the Annual General Meeting, open to all members, which will be held on October 18th at 7pm at the CUPE office on Sherbrooke Street in downtown Peterborough.

Now it’s time for unit one to head to the table and fight for the rights of their members. At the end of the meeting with the CUPE leaders Arthur asked if they had anything to say to the opposition before bargaining commences later this month.

Dr. Bordun replied simply and coolly, “we wish for a successful bargaining season for them as well.”

Any members with questions or concerns can contact the CUPE 3908 representatives by e-mail at: [email protected]