(Unsafe) Return to Campus

Toronto Inter-University Coalition Town Hall and CFS/OUWCC joint response to reopening  plans.

Your executive committee has been actively advocating for a safe return to campus through meetings with allied organizations including UTEAU, OUWCC, and the Toronto Inter-University Coalition.

Last week, Alissa (President) and Justin (Vice President) attended the panel discussion, “Is It Safe Enough To Return To Campus? What Do Public Health Experts Say?” organized by the Toronto Inter-University Coalition, representing students, faculty, and staff across four Toronto universities. The interactive panel discussion included public health experts such as Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, Dr. Arjumand Siddiqui (Ontario Science Table members), as well as Dr. David Fisman (Canadian Academy of Health Sciences member) and others who tackled this question by focusing on three areas: Epidemiology, Ethics, and Mitigation Strategies.

The entire panel of public health experts agreed that interventions against infectious diseases must take a layered approach that includes: masking, physical distancing, improving ventilation, vaccines, quarantine & isolation, and several other measures.
This image, “swiss cheese” Respiratory Virus Pandemic Defence, illustrates how different interventions work together to prevent spread, and highlights why over-reliance on any single measure of defense against COVID-19 such as vaccines will not work well.

Against the advice of Ontario Science Table, university presidents (including UofT) persuaded the Ford government to circumvent public health measures and allow universities to greatly exceed Stage 3 capacity limits in classrooms and not require any physical distancing. Scientists on the panel explained that relaxing preventative measures does not “scientifically make sense” and “there is real concern that doing this will expand wave four in ways that we cannot imagine.”
With the start of the new academic year, many UofT students, faculty, and staff are also concerned about the university’s insistence on not listening to their own public health experts by foregoing capacity limits and physical distancing guidelines in classrooms.

Students and workers have expressed their concerns about unsafe reopening plans including a joint statement from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which represents over 350,000 college and university students, and the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC), which represents over 30,000 contract university workers. In the statement, David Simao, University sector Chair for OUWCC stated that,

“the plans to return to campus have been recklessly determined without worker or student input. Workers have been left behind especially during previous outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus, and workers fear the semester ahead without proper health and safety actions being taken before students return to campus”

As representatives of graduate student workers, we are particularly concerned about the exclusion of student voices from institution and government reopening plans. You can actively participate in these conversations by becoming a Health and Safety representative or Departamental Steward.

If you have any questions or concern about your rights under the collective agreement, reach out us at cupe3907@gmail.com.

Check out our previous post with important resources from UofT, CUPE and other labour unions.

Fall 2021 COVID-19 Update

Dear CUPE 3907 members,

We are writing to you today because this deadly pandemic isn’t over. Ontario has now entered the 4th wave of COVID-19 and its variants. As efforts continue to increase overall vaccine coverage and lower community transmission, public health measures must remain the foundation of the pandemic response to ensure that we have safe shared air and safe shared space so that research and teaching may resume safely.

Some of the recommendations made by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table include:

  • Reducing indoor density, maintaining physical distancing, limiting large gatherings;
  • Continuing indoor mask policies and working from home; and
  • Implementing policies that accelerate vaccination (e.g. certificates, mandates, outreach).

This is called a layered approach and it helps protect everyone.

The University’s reopening plan, or more accurately, what plan? 

The University’s current plan for the Fall is critically flawed and unsafe. Employers have a legal obligation under the Occupational Health & Safety Act to ensure a safe workplace and are obligated by law to follow Public Health and provincial policies and guidelines.

After swift action by students, staff, and faculty, the University of Toronto administration announced that as part of its strategy for the Fall–it will require all those intending to be physically present at the University to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 13th for first doses and by October 15th for second doses. Proof of partial or full vaccination will be required by these respective dates via UCheck. We recognize that, in these circumstances, employers have a right to implement a vaccine policy (CUPE National).

We strongly recommend that CUPE members get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so. The World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have indicated that the risks of transmission of COVID-19 include inhaling COVID-19 in droplets and aerosolized particles from a person who is breathing, talking, sneezing, coughing, singing and shouting.

Vaccination offers substantial protection against severe health outcomes, including hospitalization and death. However, current vaccine formulations may have reduced efficacy against the variants of concerns. This is why it’s even more important to adhere to the precautionary principle by consistently using multiple preventive practices at once, beyond over relying on increasing vaccination rates.

Members who have questions or concerns about getting an approved vaccine should consult with their health care professional. For members who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons (as determined by a professional), as well as religious reasons, the employer is required to find alternative work assignments. As a union, we are committed to defending the labour rights of any member regardless of vaccination status.

Unfortunately, lobbying from University of Toronto and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which represents university presidents, has resulted in the Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ announcing last week that post-secondary institutions are exempted from capacity limits that are meant to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We join the Ontario Colleges and University Faculty Association’s alarm at these last-minute guidelines for postsecondary education that blatantly ignore science and public health experts and irresponsibly compromise health and safety for all.

In our conversations with allied unions representing students, faculty and staff (CUPE 3902, UTFA, and USW 1998) it has become clear that only in solidarity will you be able to fight the university’s irresponsible back to campus plan. CUPE 3907 has been and will continue to be an active voice in these conversations.  Following our Joint Health and Safety meeting on August 31st, we are not confident that the OISE senior administration has taken enough precautions in the areas of ventilation, filtration, building and classroom capacity limits and enforcement, Legionella, and other areas of protection to ensure safety and to address and mitigate the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19.

We urge you to participate in these conversations and make your voice heard. Below you will find a list of resources to learn more about the university’s unsafe reopening plan. As the school year begins CUPE 3907 is actively looking for stewards in each department to act as your departmental liaison to your union exec. This could be a great step towards ensuring your safety and the safety of your colleagues.

Reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns or would like to participate more actively in the solidarity actions taking place across campus. Our first General Membership Meeting will be held on September 30th at 5pm on Zoom. This will be a great chance to learn more, ask questions, and fight back.

– CUPE 3907 executive committee

Resources

EVENT Sep 9, 2021 07:00 PM: Is it safe enough to return to campus? What do public health scientists say?

Vaccines & Worker’s rights

Workplace safety

UofT Updates

Statements from other faculty associations, labour and student unions

Health & Wellness Programming at UofT

Featured: 

  • Subscribe to the Health & Wellness Newsletter: Bringing student-centric St. George campus Health & Wellness news, information, and updates to students on a bi-weekly basis. All campus members are encouraged to subscribe to stay informed. 
  • Health & Wellness Peer Support Program: The H&W Peer Support has launched for the new year! Need real-time support from a peer? Want a safe space to chat? Now you can get it. University of Toronto St. George students can access drop-in support from a trained Peer Supporter online on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • LivingWorks START is a 90-minute, e-learning program that teaches learners to recognize when someone is thinking about suicide and steps to connect them to help. START is currently available to student leaders at a reduced cost.

 Asynchronous Offering:  

  • COVID-19 & Your Mental Health Video Series: Watch 20-minute videos to learn quick coping strategies that you can apply to day-to-day life for managing feelings of anxiety & uncertaintylow mood & sadness, and frustration & irritability. The Companion Guide attached to this email can be used for your reference.  
  • 5 Ways to Wellbeing: Get access to a 20-minute video to learn how to apply five simple, evidence-based actions in a variety of ways to promote positive mental health and wellbeing while practicing physical distancing and managing new stressors related to COVID-19. Accompanying handouts are also available upon registration. 

Wellness Workshops: 

  • Breathe Well: Learn about the benefits of restorative breath, try new techniques for relaxation such as muscle tension reduction and learn new tips for taking time to pause and recharge. Tuesday, January 11, 1PM-2:30PM
  • Sleep Well:Learn about what you can do to improve your sleep and feel more rested and refreshed. Monday January 18, 1PM-2:30PM. 
  • Overcoming Impostor Syndrome:Learn about impostor syndrome and strategies to manage and overcome these beliefs and feelingsOpen to GRADUATE STUDENTS ONLY.Monday, January 18, 1PM-3:00PM.
  • Coping Skills Series:If you’re having trouble coping with the demands of university life—or even regular everyday situations—this workshop series is right for you. 
  • Grief Support Sharing Circle: An informal mutual support group for students who have experienced a death, as well as students experiencing anticipatory grief. Tuesday, January 26, 3:00PM-5PM. 

Please note all workshop times listed above are in EST (Eastern Standard Time) and will be taking place online on the Blackboard Collaborate platform (Exception: Grief Support Sharing Circle). Spaces are limited, so please register early to secure a spot. 

If you have any questions about these workshop sessions, please reach out to health.promotion@utoronto.ca.