After the 5 week Ontario college strike that took place during the fall semester, York contract faculty holding a strike mandate vote is causing students to grow anxious over the semester. The vote was held between January 22nd and the 26th, with a result of 85% in favour. 52% of members went out to vote which is a “record high turnout” as stated in their website. Bargaining took place once a week, but this month that increased to twice a week since CUPE 3903 felt the negotiations were not productive. But what exactly are the faculty fighting for, what is York’s side, and how would a potential strike affect students?
What Does the Union Want?
There are four main issues that CUPE 3903 are trying to negotiate with York about. The first issue is job security. The union wants faculty to have greater job security considering that many of the contracted staff are required to apply for the position every year, and collect unemployment during the summer. On top of that, staff usually does not receive their contracts until right before classes start, and as a result, do not have much time to plan lectures which effects students directly. Secondly, they are looking to protect funding for teaching assistants. Currently, students are given 6 years of funding in order to complete their Phd, but York wants to cut that down to only 4 years, giving them 2 years less. Phd students already do not get enough money for comfortable living, and it is very difficult to finish the program in only 4 years. CUPE 3903 wants to prevent that from happening. York has also been accused of attempting what is known as “Union Busting.” The university cut over 700 graduate assistant jobs back in 2016, and made it more expensive for faculty to hire those students, and if they did, the school would deny them grants. By doing this, the employer is cutting those masters students from multiple benefits, funding opportunities, and experience. There has already been an “unfair labour practices” suit filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The last issue is regarding equality and accessibility. They wish for there to be more job opportunities available for women, indigenous peoples, and people of colour, since they are under represented in the workplace.
York Admin’s Position
According to media relations director, Barb Joy, York is looking to “reach a renewed agreement without any disruption to our students’ academic year” and “in the event we aren’t able to reach a negotiated settlement, that we would be willing to go to binding arbitration.” Further, she states that binding arbitration “would be a last resort to ensure a fair and binding agreement without the need for any disruption to students’ school year”. Both sides however, would have to be in agreement in order for that to go through.
“We have the best overall pay and benefits package for TAa, GAs and Contract Faculty in Ontario,” says Joy, and has also stated that the administration has already put forward 8 proposals for the new contract, all of which have been rejected by CUPE. All of the information regarding those can be found at http://labour.yorku.ca/bargaining-positions/.
How does this affect students?
About 60% of York University faculty are contract workers and have been without a contract since August 31 2017. They have been negotiating a new contract since then but they have not gotten any results that they deemed satisfactory. Neither side is hoping for a strike, and a strong vote in favour does not mean that there will be one.
If a strike were to take place, it would most likely be after the reading week because pay day for these workers falls on the 25th of February. There is no certainty in telling whether classes would be fully cancelled or not considering there is still the other 40% of faculty that are full time, and therefore not affected by these negotiations.
As a student, you have the right to not cross the picket lines, and therefore you cannot be penalized for missing classes. Also, the semester would be extended into the exam period, so students would not lose out on any class time.
Stay tuned for updates as this is a developing story.