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Labour action looming for part-time instructors at Trent University in Peterborough

CUPE says bargaining talks have broke off between part-time teachers and Trent University in Peterborough.
CUPE says bargaining talks have broke off between part-time teachers and Trent University in Peterborough. File

Hundreds of part-time instructors at Trent University in Peterborough could face labour action in early March, after their union said contract talks broke off on Friday night.

According to the bargaining committee for Unit 1 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3908, hours of negotiations over improved job security with Trent University “proved fruitless.”

The union says it represents 537 part-time instructors who are contract workers, who the union claims are laid off every four months and must re-apply for their positions.

Positions range from teachers and laboratory assistants to grade markers, academic counsellors and workshop leaders.

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In a statement Monday, Grant Darling, CUPE national representative, claimed the university has “refused” to negotiate “meaningful employment security” for their part-time instructors.

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The union’s contract expired on Aug. 31, 2019, and in late January, members voted in favour of the bargaining committee to take whatever action they deemed necessary — including strike action.

Darling says the local “cannot negotiate with ourselves” and has requested a no-board report, a notice that the government not appoint a conciliation to settle the bargaining dispute.

If the notice is issued by the Ministry of Labour, the university can, after a 17-day period, lock out the employees or the union can take strike action, Darling said, meaning labour action could occur on or around March 2.

“We still believe that a negotiated settlement is possible, but there needs to be two parties at the table willing to negotiate,” said Darling.

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In a statement to Global News Peterborough late Tuesday night, Trent University says it remains committed to bargaining with Unit 1. However, the university refuted some of Darling’s statements, claiming the unit represents 312 instructors who are hired for contracts that can extend to three years.

“These instructors teach approximately 30 per cent of the undergraduate classes at the university,” the statement reads. 

The university says both parties will reconvene for bargaining on Feb. 19.

“The university is prepared to bargain as often as is necessary to reach an agreement,” the university stated. “We remain optimistic that the parties will be able to bargain a resolution of their differences.”

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Trent named 66th most sustainable university in the world
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In a press release last month, Mitch Champagne, CUPE 3908 president, said precarious employment and “poverty-level wages” are “bad” for post-secondary education and for our community.

“It’s time for Trent to recognize that our members are deeply committed to quality post-secondary education and negotiate a fair contract that addresses the our members’ very reasonable expectations,” he stated.

Darling says he’s urging Trent University president Dr. Leo Groarke to ensure the university’s negotiators have the flexibility to bargain a fair settlement that respects the needs of all parties.

“We cannot be expected to deliver the world-class education students expect and deserve while our members are forced to accept precarious work,” said Darling.

Trent University stated it values of CUPE teaching staff and is “committed to a mutually-satisfactory agreement that addresses CUPE concerns in a way that respects Trent’s financial pressures and meets the needs of our students.”