May 8, 2020
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
The Honourable Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
The Honourable Ross Romano
Ministry of Colleges and Universities
438 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M7A 2A5
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Ford and Minister Romano:
We understand from media reports that Ontario’s universities are in talks with government for financial assistance. We would like to lend our voice to the call for financial support for our post-secondary institutions.
OPSEU is proud to represent thousands of hard-working members who work in administrative and professional services, special constable services, food services, custodial services and faculty positions at university campuses.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, these members quickly adapted to universities moving to remote learning.
However more than half of our members are in contract or part-time positions with no job security. Unfortunately, some universities are reducing their workforce through a combination of temporary layoffs, non-renewal of contracts, or shortening the terms of contracts.
We urge the federal and provincial governments to work together to provide a wage subsidy to public bodies such as universities, and we urge universities to work with our union to transition and redeploy their workforce into the jobs that will be needed to support remote learning and the health and well-being of students.
Universities were struggling with financial pressures before the pandemic. Years of underfunding and an ever-growing reliance on revenues from tuition fees, have resulted in a majority of the workforce being precarious. We must not allow these workers to be abandoned.
We believe it is vital to ensure the institutions themselves are in stable condition, and that their workers are there to provide the learning environment Ontario’s 500,000 university students expect and need.
We applaud the federal government for the $9-billion relief package for post-secondary students. We know that in part the relief package is intended to ensure students can afford to resume their studies in the fall.
A relief package needs to also consider government-funded tuition for all students, including mature students who require retraining and workers displaced by the effects of this pandemic. This crisis has altered the employment landscape and caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs entirely. We need to ensure that our current and future workforce is equipped with the skills to keep our economy growing.
Our post-secondary institutions must not only be preserved, but strengthened. Anything less would put our economic recovery at serious risk, and a lagging economy in this era will leave us behind other jurisdictions for a generation. The time to act is now.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)