CUPE local 233, a union of custodial, maintenance, and trades workers at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), are set to go on strike as of Monday, April 17. They are fighting for fair pensions and better wages to keep up with the rising cost of living.
One of the main issues for the workers stems from the TMU administration’s imposition of pension contribution increases of 0.4 percent for all TMU employees in 2020, despite not seeing an equivalent increase in benefits. As one TMU maintenance worker put it, “when you contribute more in a pension plan, you always think you’re going to get more when you retire. But that’s not the case right now.”
Another problem with the pension contributions is that TMU unilaterally imposed these increases without negotiating with the unions. Typically, changes in pension agreements must be decided between the union and employer in a fair negotiation. The TMU Faculty Association, the union which represents professors, filed a grievance about this imposition to which an independent arbitrator ruled it was a violation of their collective agreement. While this should have resulted in the university restoring pension rates to past amounts for all TMU employees, only the faculty’s rates were restored.
This resulted in the creation of a pension system in which custodial and maintenance workers are paying higher pension contribution rates than faculty, for the same benefits. Considering the average CUPE 233 worker salary is about $40,000 less than the average faculty worker, this is a deeply inequitable system. This is particularly hypocritical of the university considering its claims that one of its core values is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
The union is also fighting for wage increases to keep up with soaring inflation and cost of living. With the entry wage for caretakers being $23.41 in 2018, and $24.79 in 2021, this $1.38 increase over 3 years is nowhere close to matching inflation. When workers’ wages do not rise with inflation, this is the equivalent of a real-wage cut, as their purchasing power is less than it was the previous year. When we spoke to rank and file workers, some stated that they were living pay cheque to pay cheque or working second jobs.
One maintenance worker raised the important point that during the pandemic their jobs were unable to be done from home— by working in person, they risked their health to keep the university running smoothly. Here are his words:
“When there was the pandemic time, we were here working, making sure buildings were functional. There were other staff working from home. To take that into consideration we deserve a little bit of respect. The cost of living is going up, and our trades people are underpaid compared to other universities. We just need a little bit of respect.”
Sign the letter to show your support for TMU custodial and maintenance workers: https://cupe.on.ca/cupe233/
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