Article: Essential service workers fight privatization and COVID-19 on leading university campuses

Universities have a long history of providing quality jobs to workers, with higher wages, benefits and pension plans, and a decent work-life balance.

“U of T has been cutting good caretaking jobs and contracting out their work to for-profit cleaning companies which pay roughly 30 per cent less in wages and benefits. They claim that they are performing COVID-related cleaning work in over 20 buildings now, but in reality, they are replacing jobs that are being cut indefinitely for penny-pinching savings. What is even worse, private industry is exploiting workers – and particularly racialized workers, who are over-represented in lower-paid and precarious positions. It’s unacceptable that our university supports that, while it says it cares about equity and social justice.”

Allan James, President CUPE 3261 

Bargaining Survey for full-time and part-time members

To all full-time and part-time members,  

You and your co-workers do important work to create a safe, healthy and accessible campus for the U of T community. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. During the pandemic, CUPE 3261 members have continued to serve the campus community through many challenges. Many of our co-workers were laid off, and our work was contracted out by the university. Though we managed to push for strong health and safety on campus, and secure some benefits for our laid off comrades, the threat of contracting out still affects our local’s bargaining power and your future at U of T.
This next round of negotiations is an opportunity to fight for important improvements for our future, and together, we can tackle the threat of contracting out.
Your Collective Agreement expired on June 30, 2021, but its terms are still in effect until we reach a new agreement with the university. Your Union Negotiating Committee is preparing to negotiate and wants your feedback through this short survey. All personal identifying information will be kept secure and will not be shared with the employer.
It is very important that you and your co-workers fill out this survey.

Please spread the word and share the link:
If you have any questions about the survey, or if you would like a copy of the survey in a language other than English, please contact Allan James at

We are also looking for members to join the Bargaining Support Team. The bargaining support team’s task is to help improve engagement with CUPE members and strengthen our bargaining campaign. If you are interested, simply fill out the form here
In solidarity,
Your negotiations committee:
Allan James
Christopher Tavares
Edwin Viteri
Nancy Tomas
Stef Kennedy
Wilson Franco

September Newsletter

Letter from the President

Dear CUPE 3261 members,

It has been an unprecedented and challenging last 18 months for all of us and each day brings even more major events and announcements, sometimes by the hour. Given this uncertain environment, I wanted to reach out directly to CUPE 3261 members.

As unions, it is our job to ensure the employer meets their obligations to maintain a safe working environment for all workers. Our Executive has been working very hard to bring you all the latest communications with your employer.

U of T’s new health and safety policy

We previously wrote to you with an update on this policy, which you can find here.

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to ensure the health and safety of workers. U of T has announced a mandatory vaccination as a condition for being on campus for workers and students. It is possible to apply for exemptions to vaccination on the basis of medical reasons or human rights reasons, namely creed or religious exemption. U of T has said that workers with approved exemptions from the university will be allowed to participate in rapid testing in place of being vaccinated.

Our collective safety is intertwined, and everyone’s safety should be U of T’s top priority

As COVID variants continue to challenge our health care system, we take the view that the health and safety of workers and students should be U of T’s top priority. If anyone is at risk of unsafe conditions at U of T, we are all at risk. We call on U of T to ensure proper risk assessments of all operating worksites and educational spaces and having a safety plan that accounts for airborne transmission of COVID, including transmission by people who do not have symptoms and people who have been vaccinated.

No single safety control is perfect – we need multiple controls

While immunization is important, other health and safety controls are still crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. These control measures include screening, good ventilation, physical distancing, and using PPE. We know that the best way to reduce transmission is to have multiple controls in place, because no single control provides 100% protection from transmission. Workplace safety plans must take into account that one or more safety controls could fail.

Your workplace rights include raising concerns about safety

Your union is working hard to protect all our members’ workplace rights and advocate for our members’ health and safety – as well as your economic stability and income security during this uncertain time. For any concerns and questions about COVID-19 in their own workplace, contact your workplace health and safety committee/representative.

You also have the right to raise any questions or concerns about health and safety with your manager or supervisor.

Further information from CUPE

Further information is available at the following links from our National Union with input from CUPE Legal and CUPE Health and Safety.

We are with you

Our Executive team is committed to providing regular updates to you on our efforts and any changes in the environment that could impact you.

My thoughts and prayers are with you in these times, stay safe and take care of your coworkers, family, friends and loved ones.

Being in a union is about solidarity – and solidarity means taking each of us taking some responsibility to care for one another.

If you have any concerns, feel free to contact me.


Allan James

President CUPE 3261

Bargaining update

As many of you know, our full-time/part-time and casual collective agreements expired in 2020. However, with the emergence of the pandemic, bargaining was put on hold and we negotiated instead a 1-year extension of both contracts. This extension has now expired, and your bargaining team (elected in 2020) has resumed the process of negotiating a new collective agreement. The bargaining team has had several meetings so far and are currently reviewing the agreements. A survey for all members has also been prepared and will be distributed to all members in the coming weeks. 

Currently, we expect direct negotiations with the employer to begin later in the Fall. In the meantime, CUPE 3261 will continue engaging with all of our members and keep everyone updated on the process. Unfortunately, due to the provincial government’s Bill 124, all monetary compensation is limited to an increase of 1% (which includes both wages and benefits). However, we will still continue fighting for important non-monetary gains, such as ending contracting out on campus, better health and safety rules, reducing workloads, increasing staffing, reducing workloads and more. 

Bargaining Support Team 

We are currently looking for volunteers who would like to join the Bargaining Support Team. As a member of this team, you will work closely with the bargaining committee and executive to support the mobilization of members. Your duties would include talking to your coworkers on issues that impact them and organizing efforts to get members more involved in the bargaining process, such as by helping with surveys or encouraging members to come out to events. All members of the Bargaining Support Team would be booked off from work and compensated for their time. If you are interested in joining this team, please sign up here. This is a great opportunity to get involved with the union and to gain some valuable experience!

June Membership Meeting Update

Thank you to everyone who attended our General Membership Meeting last June. During the meeting, we held elections for nine positions. The following members were elected to the executive for the term of 2021-2023. 

  • Edwin Viteri – Vice President
  • Tuan Vuong – Treasurer
  • Wilson Franco – Chief Steward
  • Nancy Tomas – Health and Safety Officer
  • Janny Tran – Faculty Club Representative
  • Anthony Pereira – Full-Time/Part-Time Representative
  • Fernando Ogorek – UofT Press Representative
  • Stanley Treivus – Casual Unit Representative

The 89 Chestnut Representative is currently vacant, however, the union will be working with members to elect a new representative. 

We also elected three new trustees: Stef Kennedy, Danny Tavares, and Reddy Rose. 

Upcoming GMM in October

Our next General Membership Meeting will be held on October 2nd, 2021 from 10 am – 12 pm. We have not yet decided if the meeting will be held in-person, online, or as a hybrid.  

Update on Layoffs

With the recent reopening of the economy, operations at the University are starting to return to normal. Most workers who were laid off during the pandemic, especially food service workers, are now back and working again. A small handful of food service workers at U of T and 89 Chestnut are still on extended layoff but will continue to receive the top-up and remain eligible for benefits until January 2022.

Members of the Faculty Club are still laid off, however, we are hopeful that they will be called back soon in the coming weeks. 

Contracting Out Campaign

Recently, we sent out an email regarding the contracting out of caretaking services on the St. George Campus. As many members already know, at the start of the pandemic, U of T began moving our caretaking staff to other buildings and by August 2020, had fully contracted out 18 buildings to two private companies. This was done to save costs on labour, especially as the pandemic increased the need for increased sanitation and cleaning services. However, instead of hiring more CUPE workers, U of T decided to save money by hiring private companies who pay their workers poverty-level wages with little to no benefits.

CUPE 3261 was told this action was a temporary measure in order to quickly improve cleaning services on campuses. We were also told that these low-wage, private contractors provided “specialized” cleaning services that our members are otherwise unable to do. However, we all know that U of T is more than capable of hiring and training CUPE 3261 members to do this work. Since they began contracting out, U of T has had more than a year to hire in-house workers and get them back into our buildings. However, as of September 2021, U of T informed us last minute that they were contracting out three more buildings on campus. Not only has U of T reneged on their assurance that contracting out was a ‘temporary’ measure, they have doubled down by further expanding it. 

The CUPE 3261 executive cannot fight contracting out on their own. We need all members to come together and tell U of T to put an end to contracting out once and for all. We cannot allow U of T to replace decent work with low-wage and no-benefit jobs. 

We have prepared a template that you can send to the U of T administration. Click here to send them an email. 

If you haven’t yet signed our petition, please do so, and share with your colleagues and anyone else you know in the U of T community. 

Contracting out is a core issue for the upcoming bargaining, and your bargaining team will need the full support of all members to ensure that we can negotiate language to prevent contracting out. You can help by joining our Bargaining Support Team. Sign up here

When we work together, we are stronger. We must demand U of T show real leadership and practice its stated principles of excellence and equity by upholding good jobs for all workers, decent working conditions, and quality health and safety.

U of T Vaccine Policy & Your Rights

Dear CUPE 3261 members,
Please read the notice below about U of T’s new policy and your rights at work. As always, please contact us if you have any questions. You can reach Local President Allan James at
In solidarity,
CUPE 3261 executive

U of T announces vaccine mandate

The University of Toronto has announced its vaccination requirement for those on its campuses or its premises. This notice states that “all members of the community must have received their first dose by Sept. 13 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15.” Please note that that proof of vaccination will be required via UCheck. This notice from the employer also states:
“Those who have applied for and received a permitted exemption to the vaccination requirement will also need to participate in the University’s rapid screening program and provide proof of negative tests before coming to campus. They will also receive public health guidance on how to modify their activities to protect themselves and others. Those who do not receive an approved exemption and who do not have their first vaccine dose cannot come to campus.”
Your Rights at Work
Workers have health and safety rights at the workplace, and employers are legally obligated under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure worker safety in their workplaces. The Ontario Government has deemed post-secondary institutions “high-risk settings” and will be requiring mandatory vaccination at universities.
Your union is committed to your health and safety and together with other labour allies on campus, we are calling on the employer to ensure the following:

  • Reduce risk of transmission by limiting campus presence to those workers whose essential duties require them to be present on campus
  • U of T vaccine policy must have stringent privacy protection for the handling of personal information
  • U of T must respect the Duty to Accommodate as it may apply to unvaccinated workers’ individual, unique circumstances and provide safe, alternative arrangements
  • Workers must not be disciplined, terminated, or subjected to harassment based on vaccination status
  • While immunization is an important element of health and safety, U of T must ensure comprehensive, site-specific health and safety protocols based on the precautionary principle that includes elements such as:
    • adequate ventilation and air filtration
    • safe spacing and clearly posted capacity limits depending on the location and its activities
    • safe personal protective equipment
    • relevant health and safety training
    • a plan for enforcement of safety policy that does not put workers in conflict with students and other members of our campus community
  • In addition, unions and labour associations must be proactively consulted on the implementation of all health and safety policies. U of T must ensure the transparent sharing of health and safety information with Joint Health and Safety Committees.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the union. 

Important Alert: Contracting Out of Caretaking Work at U of T

Last week the University of Toronto provided CUPE 3261 with notice that caretaking work will be contracted out in the following three buildings at the St. George campus as of Labour Day, 2021:

Bahen Centre of Information Technology
University of Toronto School
703 Spadina Avenue

U of T claims that this is because private, for-profit contractors will be performing COVID-related cleaning work in these buildings. CUPE 3261 members working as caretakers will be reassigned to other work and existing bargaining unit employers will not face negative impact because of the Collective Agreement language we have won over the years. However, we are disappointed that approximately 18 CUPE 3261 positions will be lost to attrition.

It is unacceptable that U of T is reducing its labour costs at the expense of primarily racialized workers. For-profit cleaning companies save labour costs because workers are paid at least $7/hour LESS than CUPE 3261 workers. They also do not receive the benefits that CUPE 3261 members get as workers employed directly by the University.

The solution to funding shortfalls within the University is to increase government funding into post secondary education. The University also has the ability to make fair and equitable resource allocation decisions. CUPE 3261 is disappointed to see U of T go further down the path of privatizing cleaning work, eroding decent work, and increasing inequality on our campus.

CUPE 3261 will continue to campaign against privatization. As part of a union, you and your coworkers are stronger than one worker, and together we can defend high quality, fairly compensated work at U of T. At a time when so many of us are facing income insecurity, U of T’s plan to hire low-paid workers serves to only worsen our collective situation. Instead, U of T has an opportunity to offer high-quality employment to both our members and the broader community. U of T must hold itself to the principles of equity it claims to uphold good working conditions, quality health and safety, and an equitable campus environment. Please stay tuned for more details about our campaign.

If you have any questions about how this affects you, please contact Allan James, President of CUPE 3261.

General Membership Meeting – June 26th

Our next General Membership Meeting (GMM) is happening this Saturday from 10AM-12PM. We encourage all CUPE members to join! If you are interested in getting involved with the union, coming to a GMM is the best way to start. 

During this meeting, we will be giving an update on the union’s activities, a financial report,  nominations for nine positions, and will discuss any other concerns or issues members may have. The following positions are up for election: 

  • Vice President
  • Treasurer
  • Chief Steward
  • Health and Safety Officer
  • 89 Chestnut Representative
  • Faculty Club Representative
  • Full-Time/Part-Time Representative
  • UofT Press Representative
  • Casual Unit Representative

Nominations will be held at the meeting. If a position is contested (more than two people), a formal election will be held at the next GMM in October. To learn more about the positions, please consult our bylaws here

Here is the final agenda for the meeting: 

  1. Roll call of officers
  2. Reading of the Equality Statement
  3. Reading and approval of minutes of the previous meeting
  4. Treasurer’s report and approving expenditures
  5. Executive Board report
  6. Nominations for: 9 Positions Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, 89 Chestnut Rep, Faculty Club Rep, Health and safety officer, Full Time/ Part Time Rep, UofT press Unit Rep, Casual Unit Rep, Chief Steward 
  7. Unfinished business 
  8. New Business


The meeting will be held virtually via Zoom. The link can be found here at the bottom of the email. 

Hope to see you there! Let us know if you have any questions. 

Correction for 1% Retroactive Wage Increase

Main Unit Full-Time/Part-Time,

This is an update regarding our 1% wage increase retroactively starting from July 1st, 2020. The employer has informed us that they have processed the retro-pay on the 1st of June; however, this payment will be applied to the members on the next pay cycle within June 2021.

The Union apologizes for this mistake and any inconvenience this may have caused.

CUPE 3261 Executive

1% Retroactive Wage Increase

To all Full-Time/Part-Time members of the main bargaining unit and 89 Chestnut members,

The Union has negotiated with the University a 1% wage increase, retroactive to July 1st, 2020, for all members of your two units. This retroactive pay, which applies to any hours worked from July 1st, 2020 to the present, will be received as a lump sum added to your first paycheque in June.

If you would like to read the Memorandum of Agreement that was signed by the Union and University in full, you can find it here. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Local using any of the methods listed below.

CUPE 3261 Executive