March 24, 2020
Dear OCADFA members,
I hope this message finds you safe.
The single most important piece of workplace advice I can give you right now is to stay home.
As the world changes, our own work lives have too. We are monitoring changes that might violate our MoA. Also we are anticipating changes that might not be addressed in the MoA. Thus far Administration has been communicating with us to anticipate and respond to changes related to COVID-19.
OCAD U announced the campus will be closed until April 24th, but on March 24th, President Sara Diamond posted the following: “We are developing contingency plans in the event of a prolonged closure beyond April 24”. Given the reality of the rapidly changing situation, we should be prepared for this eventuality.
We are currently in conversation with Admin to secure a basic Letter of Understanding (LOU) that establishes the exceptional circumstances we are all working amidst and the temporary nature of adjustments we are all making. We feel an LOU will be an important tool to build goodwill between Admin and our members during these difficult times. The Canadian Association of University Teachers recommends Faculty Associations try to secure an LOU with Admin and we will work hard to have some form of an agreement worked out in the coming weeks.
We have advocated for extensions to the Merit Pay deadline. The current deadline is March 25, 2020. We have been assured the deadline will be extended by two weeks, possibly three. We have also discussed stopping the tenure clock.
Grading: The message from Admin has been consistent: try to finish the term with the grades you have if you’ve marked or are ready to mark at least 60% of your course. If not, there have been supports provided from academic leads on how to assess grades. As flexible and accommodating as you are, there will no doubt be students you cannot assign a grade to. They may be incommunicado or simply in too dire a situation (job loss, poorly housed, personal/medical issues). Pass/Fail is to be considered in case by case situations in consultation with your Dean. Please contact us if you are finding your Chair or AD is not providing the support needed on this.
Bargaining: Our MoA expires June 30, 2020. As you know, our Negotiations Committee received a unanimous mandate from members to take into bargaining. We had one meeting with Administration in February in which we shared our value statement and received a general position statement from Admin. Our next meeting in which we scheduled a discussion of non-monetary issues was cancelled due to the pandemic. At this point, we are in discussions to continue moving forward, despite the communication challenges. Arguably, it is in our best interest to continue with the process as the longer we work under the old MoA rules/rates, the more we lose in terms of remuneration and progressive change in our labour rights. However, we will continue to assess merits and challenges of moving forward as the situation develops.
Workload issues: Transitioning our courses for remote delivery to finish the winter term has been a lot of unplanned work and added to our workload. For now, we are asking members to track their hours so we have a gauge of the amount of extra time required. Thus far no university has compensated faculty or members for the additional workload we are all taking on, but documentation should be created for discussion on possible compensatory actions.
TAs: TAs can refuse work above their original contract hours and if work is performed it must be compensated. If you have been asked to do work that would put you over your assigned hours you should let your Faculty Director/Supervisor know that you will go over hours. We recommend you not perform the work until a written guarantee of additional payment is made. You cannot be disciplined for refusing the over-work. You may want to contact us for support.
Working From Home : Working from home has many challenges. With daycares and schools closed, it is difficult for members to teach online courses at home. Human rights code across the country establish legal duty to accommodate for family reasons up to the point of undue hardship. If you have young children at home, it may be challenging or next to impossible to be professional from home.
Members are incurring extra expenses. Begin tracking your expenses (printing, paper, online costs). If we can negotiate some reimbursement of expenses related to working from home and online teaching, we need to know what the incurred expenses have been.
At the very least you can claim these with CRA for the next taxation period (2021). Request a T2200 form from Admin so you can claim expenses. Admin completes the T2200 form to certify your eligibility for certain deductions you can claim against your employment income. Info on T2200 forms is here.
Spring/Summer Term: The spring/summer term is scheduled to start on May 11th. Right now we have no information on the circumstances under which these courses will be delivered. However, given the reality of the global public health crisis underway, it is possible face-to-face classes will be compromised. OCADFA’s position is that the mode of delivery of a course is a matter of academic freedom for each faculty member to determine and that no one should be required to teach online. Required online teaching is a violation of MoA. We are a studio-based art and design university. OCADFA does not support the transition to online classes as a long-term pedagogical policy. While we recognise that emergency measures must be taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, we vehemently oppose any attempt to use this situation as a precedent for phasing out physical classes.
If you have a contract or are scheduled to teach a course in the spring/summer term can you please contact us. We would like to be in communication with our members who are directly affected to support you as things develop.
Workplace Health and Safety (Adapted from CUPE Local 3903/York U site)
COVID-19 is a workplace health and safety issue. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, OCADFA has a proactive responsibility to ensure a safe work environment and that includes safety from infectious disease. There is the possibility that members were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace before the cancellation of classes, and that members who must still come to campus will be exposed in the workplace.
Medical service providers, and some others are required to report COVID-19 under Ontario’s public health legislation. It is not clear if OCAD U would be notified immediately if a student or other community member tests positive. We would consider it a violation of OCAD U’s duty to provide a safe work environment if OCAD U failed to alert our members to a potential COVID exposure once they were made aware.
If you have been contacted by a public health authority or OCAD U about a potential exposure while on the job, please contact OCADFA immediately. We will be available to provide you with advice and support. Workplace exposure to COVID may be considered a workplace injury and be reportable to WSIB.
Tenure & Promotions :With universities closing labs and field research halted, junior faculty need an additional year to complete projects before they go up for tenure. We think having language in our LOU to stop the tenure clock and adjustments to promotions is necessary, such as a one-year extension of the probationary period to all applicable tenure-track faculty. Existing long term appointments can be automatically extended for additional year or by period emergency measures are in place. Members should have the option to extend their current appointments and postpone their promotion reviews by up to a year in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tenure-track faculty whose promotion reviews are scheduled for the fall of 2020 or later may opt to extend their contract and postpone their promotion review by one year.
Research: For faculty undertaking funded research with deadlines or pending deliverables that may be interrupted, please connect with the Research Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the funder directly to request an extension. There are questions of SSHRC grants and getting those timelines extended. Travel grants – will the cancellation fees be covered? For now granting agencies are saying yes. Some grants were contingent on presentation at a conference, working with Tri-council to make sure there are allowances.
EMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Employment Insurance (EI) benefits provide income to individuals who are unemployed or who cannot work because of illness or disability. EI is available to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and individuals with a valid work permit. The Federal Government has announced changes to EI in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new monthly payment of $2,000 over four months to help Canadians whose income has been impacted by COVID-19.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) replaces two previously-announced federal programs, the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Response Benefit, which paid out in different amounts, applied to different groups and were met with considerable public confusion. CERB is supposed to be simpler and more accessible. The benefit covers the following groups:
• Workers who have lost their job
• People who are sick with COVID-19
• Parents who must stay home to watch their children due to school and daycare closures
• Wage earners, contract workers and self-employed workers not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance
• Workers who are still employed but not receiving income because of disruptions to their place of employment
The online portal for applications will open on April 6, and cheques or direct deposit will be available within 10 days of applying. The government has advised that those already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits will still receive those benefits, and should not apply to the CERB.
Other expanded measures included a waiving of the usual one-week waiting period for employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits (for those eligible) and expanded work share opportunities.
Other benefits and changes
- Lower-income families who receive GST credits will see a boost “averaging close to $400 for single adults and $600 for couples” by early May.
- Those receiving Canada Child Benefits will see a $300-per-child top-up in May.
- A six-month interest free moratorium will be applied to Canada student loan payments.
- Canadians will have until June 1 to file their income taxes and until August 31 to pay any balance.
- A three-month wage subsidy has been announced for small businesses, non-profits and charities representing 10 per cent of payroll, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. No word yet on how businesses will distribute those funds.
- $305 million will go toward an Indigenous Community Support Fund
- Women and children fleeing violence will be supported with up to $50 million, which will go to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with capacity to manage/prevent an outbreak in their facilities.
This is a comprehensive site on EI Benefits
And this is the most accessible plain-language site offering info on accessing EI
If you don’t already, you’ll need to set up an account with CRA, this is how emergency funds will be released and it takes 5 days to get password, etc.
Long term Future: The public health forecast is unknown right now. All universities have set budgetary futures on foreign students. The likely drop in international student enrolment will impact the fiscal reality Admin faces. The post-secondary sector will need to look at transitions and entrance requirements. There might be a decline in domestic students, who will question if it is safe to go back to university and colleges. In the fall, who will even be able to afford tuition? The messaging and lobbying for the federal governments: we need to include funding to support post-secondary institutions. Stimulus packages should include bridge funding for institutions, potentially initiatives to increase student enrolment, eg; direct subsidies, grants. Large swaths of unemployed Canadians could be supported to access educational pathways to rebuild our society.
As always, please keep in touch, but especially now. We need to hear from you in order to best make choices on how we can effectively advocate for you, no matter your labour category, whether you are a TA, Technician, working in IT, a sessional instructor on a TIS, Continuing Faculty, Tenure-Track or Tenured. We are affected differently by the fallout from COVID-19 but we’re all working flat out to ensure students make it through this supported by the faculty and staff at OCAD U.
Min Sook Lee
Below are useful links for our sector:
Fund for Performing Artists: Canada Council Relief fund for creatives and contract artists. Keep track of your lost incomes due to cancelled projects, gigs, performances, etc.
Toronto Arts Council has a good list of emergency funds for artists.