Universities should create decent jobs, not eliminate them | What's Left

According to members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), several post-secondary education institutions in Ontario are putting their most vulnerable workers in the line of fire. These universities, including Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor, and the University of Toronto are engaged in an outsourcing campaign against their custodian workers in an attempt to cut their (already low) wages by up to 40%.

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Fundamentally, this type of campaign is about replacing valued members of the university community with cheaper labour who aren’t provided with any long-term benefits. These actions hurt both the learning environment and local communities. They reduce the tax base, create hostility between different groups, and lower health and safety standards on campus, negatively impacting the student experience and undermining the mandate and mission of the university. Researchers at these three universities are publishing papers exposing the negative health and safety effects of this outsourcing. Hypocrisy abounds as the university presidents continue to pretend they are concerned for the impacts of precarious employment.

Precarious work is an increasing problem in many cities in Ontario, but Windsor and Waterloo are especially vulnerable. Low wages and the deteriorating quality of jobs contribute to an outward migration of workers.

Windsor, for example, provides a compelling tale. The University of Windsor has 35,000 alumni living in the Windsor-Essex region. The university employs 6,500 people and is the largest employer in the city. For Windsor, there is a measurable impact when custodians making \$18.97 an hour plus benefits are replaced with outside workers being paid only slightly more than minimum wage and without benefits. These jobs are being transformed from long-term decently paying careers to jobs where workers can’t earn a living wage. Even the rather right-wing city council voted to reject the contracting out of the city’s custodians once they understood the broader economic impact on these workers and the community.

As has been seen elsewhere, this web of contracting and subcontracting is what is driving much of the (income) inequality in Western society while undermining functional and sustainable communities. Universities should be setting an example for progressive employment standards, not leading the charge to undermine them.

Web of subcontracting leaves low-wage cleaners exposed