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U of T reopening plans not safe enough, say education worker unions

As the school year reopening approaches at campuses across the province, University of Toronto Education workers and a safety coalition continue to urge the University’s administration to pause in-person teaching and re-examine current reopening plans that include a high proportion of in-class teaching as well as new geoproximity stipulations.

Their concerns were outlined in the following media statement.

For several weeks, this campus coalition of CUPE 3902 (a trade union representing over 10,000 contract academic workers at the University of Toronto) and other unions and associations representing employee groups at the University of Toronto (USW Local 1998, UTFA, and CUPE Locals 1230, 3261, and 3907) have advocated for improved health and safety measures for the reopening of the University of Toronto campuses in September, asking for collaboration in a proactive manner.

This coalition has been pressuring U of T to listen to experts from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, including Ashleigh Tuite, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, James Scott, Division Head of Occupational and Environmental Health, Arjumand Siddiqi, Canada Research Chair in Population Health Equity and Division Head of Epidemiology, and Dr. David Fisman, Epidemiologist, Head of the Centre for Pandemic Readiness, and Member of the Provincial Coronavirus Modelling Group, as well as their own students who do not feel safe.

“We have been insistent about proactive action rather than reactive policies with little-to-no collaboration,” states CUPE 3902 Chair, Amy Conwell. “The time to be proactive is quickly elapsing.”

Current concerns are as follows:

  • The University Administration continues to refuse to meet jointly with the leadership of CUPE 3902 and other campus unions to address shared concerns.
  • Important decisions related to health and safety, which CUPE 3902 members, University staff, and students are expected to bear, are being made in a top-down fashion without shared or collegial governance or even meaningful consultation.
  • The campus reopening plan contains a wide range of gaps and deficiencies and leaves unanswered serious questions related to the four C’s of COVID contamination: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, close-contact settings, and continuous contact.
  • There is a U of T Mask Guideline but no information on how such a guideline will be enforced.
  • Geographic Proximity: Though the policy requiring TAs and course instructors to be in geographical proximity to the campus was rescinded, many have expressed concerns about its rushed implementation and continued effects on international student employment.

“As we see universities across the USA close due to outbreaks, we continue to ask why U of T hasn’t considered key questions on the matter of health and safety. Why is the University of Toronto out of step with other Ontario universities that are hosting their fall semesters online and how will instructors and TAs possibly be expected to avoid close contact with students?” asked Conwell.

A petition from a campus coalition of five U of T unions and the faculty association has been circulating, asking for the university to move courses online wherever possible due to concerns about safety from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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