U of T to provide one per cent increase for employees affected by pandemic-related compensation freeze

(photo by David Lee)

The University of Toronto will provide a retroactive one per cent increase in compensation – the maximum allowed by the province – to those unionized employees covered by one-year collective agreement extensions that had their terms and conditions frozen due to COVID-19.

The one-year extensions were jointly negotiated in the summer and fall of 2020 with the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1998, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 3261 and 1230, and Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Locals 519 and 578 – some of the university’s largest bargaining partners.

At the time, the potential impact of the pandemic on student enrolment and budgets was unknown, while on-campus services were especially hard hit and resulted in ongoing temporary layoffs. USW, CUPE and OPSEU recognized the uncertainty and risk and worked together with the university to jointly negotiate one-year extensions to collective agreements, which contained no improvements to compensation or benefits.

“The global pandemic is unprecedented,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity. “There were no past experiences, case studies or guidelines to draw from, and we knew as an institution that we needed to be prepared for any eventuality.

“As part of this thinking, we called on our labour partners to work with us and they answered the call.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the university’s shift to a remote work environment a year ago, employees have worked diligently to keep U of T operating as optimally as possible. Despite the unprecedented circumstances and challenges, employees demonstrated their commitment and dedication. 

“We are extremely grateful to our employees for their ability and willingness to adapt during the global pandemic, and for working with us to address the challenges,” said Hannah-Moffat.

The latest budget and enrolment data indicate that the university has not been as negatively impacted by the pandemic as had been feared last year. In particular, enrolment, which drives the majority of staff budgets and salaries, has remained relatively stable. In these circumstances, U of T has determined that it will be able to provide a one per cent increase in compensation, retroactive to July 1, 2020, which is the effective date of the one-year collective agreement extensions and the freeze for non-union employees. “We’re extremely pleased that we can offer this increase,” Hannah-Moffat said.

“USW is proud of our members who have worked above and beyond to keep the University running,” said Colleen Burke, president, USW Local 1998. “This increase is welcome news. At the same time, the pandemic has shone a light on serious problems with provincial funding for universities, which we continue to work on with our union and student partners.”

Allan James, president, CUPE Local 3261, similarly praised the work of CUPE members during a difficult time.

“We are proud of the quality, in-person services our members have delivered throughout the pandemic,” James said. “Although we are disappointed in the policies of the Ontario Government, we are pleased that the University has negotiated a compensation increase. We call on provincial and federal governments to support students and staff with stable public funding for universities as an essential part of COVID-19 recovery.”

Trish Tavares, president, OPSEU Local 519, said U of T and the union worked together at the bargaining table.

“OPSEU and the Employer have always had an amicable relationship through the bargaining process,” Tavares said.  “We realize that we are in extraordinary times and we will continue to work with the University for the betterment of our members and the other members of the University community.

“We appreciate that the University was able to provide this compensation to our members at this time. OPSEU is aware of the challenges that the parties will face, given the directives of the Ontario government, but our relationship has been strong and we look forward to our future discussions at the bargaining table.”

A one per cent increase is the maximum allowed under Bill 124, the province’s compensation restraint legislation. The university will work with USW, CUPE and OPSEU to determine the details for the affected unionized employees, and will seek approval for an increase for non-union employees through the university’s governance process as soon as possible.

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