With 3 Days Until Job Stability Weekend, Equity Still a Major Concern

As we look forward to the upcoming weekend negotiations of the Job Stability Joint Committee, it is the perfect time to revisit why addressing precarity is a sizable concern for equity and fairness.

Universities relying on large amounts of precarious labour to meet their employment needs is not new. Nonetheless, there has been a growing awareness of the human impacts of these choices. One of many examples of ongoing discussions about precarity is this Academic Aunties podcast, hosted by a York University faculty member. The episode, “Say No to Precarious Employment,” discusses the very real human costs of university administrators refusing to recognize the value of the labour of precariously employed academic staff. As they say in the podcast, we need to recognize that this is a labour issue. Precarity and inequity are the result of decisions taken by university administrations to create budgets that entrench the need for so-called “flexibility” over dignity, fairness, and equity.

Real-Life Consequences

What may look like an abstract financial decision from an administrator’s perspective has concrete consequences on workers’ lives. Contract faculty have to create and deliver courses year upon year with zero idea of how much – if any – work they will have in the following years. Our survey shows that 31% of respondents rely on Employment Insurance or other governmental assistance to make ends meet.

Beyond the purely financial consequences, this level of uncertainty has grave impacts for well-being and mental health, as well as for work-life balance. When future access to work is uncertain, members can feel pressure to take as many contracts as they can get, forcing them to make an impossible choice between the quality of their classes and their ability to attend to life outside of work.

Our survey also shows that this level of uncertainty is an obstacle to a clear and dignified path to retirement. Sixteen percent of members who responded said that they were “unsure” of when they would be able to retire. Of those, 62% were 55 or older.

Representation Matters

It is essential to highlight that precarity, while fundamentally unfair across the board, impacts people differently. The university has a demonstrable problem with representation of Black, Indigenous, and racialized faculty; this is also true for contract faculty represented by Unit 2.

The results of our survey highlight that racialized members are more likely to be teaching at lower intensities, i.e. to be getting fewer contracts and making less money. They are also less likely to access existing job security programs. This points to a need to address underrepresentation not as a quota to be filled to say there are “enough” BIPOC members, but also by improving retention, professional development and otherwise actively dismantling systemic racism. Addressing precarity is one important step among many in confronting systemic racism. As long as there is an “underclass” of faculty who are less respected, underpaid, and more vulnerable to dismissal and abuse, systemic inequities will persist, despite the university’s stated commitment to the contrary.

This coming weekend is an opportunity for the employer to meaningfully act on its commitment to equity and inclusion by providing concrete solutions to precarity that will help all contract faculty, and in particular the most marginalized.

There will be a Unit 2 Townhall on Job Stability on October 28, 11:00am to 1:00pm, to discuss the results of this weekend’s sessions. Here is the link to register in advance for this Townhall. Any proposal would require the Unit 2 membership’s ratification before going into effect. The ratification process would be faithful to the process outlined in the bylaws–a secret ballot vote opened at a GMM and for five days thereafter.

Keep an eye out for more JSJC information on the website this week! If you have any comments, questions, or concerns for the union-side members of the JSJC, they can be reached at cupe3903jsc@gmail.com.