ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR
Johannes Zeidler, an assistant professor at McMaster University, joins a Queen’s Park rally in support of striking York University CUPE members. (Jan. 25, 2009)
Back-to-work bill set to be approved as union withdraws threat of court battle
Jan 29, 2009 04:30 AM
QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU
It’s all over but the voting.
The provincial government will force an end this morning to the three-month strike at York University and allow 45,000 students to resume classes Monday with the expected passage of legislation ordering 3,340 contract professors back to work.
Today’s vote on Bill 145 comes on the fifth day of an emergency session of the Ontario legislature to introduce back-to-work legislation. The NDP opposes the bill, but with only 10 seats it will be unable to prevent its passage.
The striking workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, withdrew late yesterday their threat of a court challenge to the legislation, removing a potential obstacle to the resumption of classes.
“We have reached a point that the only way they can get back to class is if we simply allow this to go ahead,” said York graduate student and CUPE media spokesperson Tyler Shipley. “I’m sure the students are pretty sick of being used as a pawn of a larger game.”
The strike was the longest ever at an English-speaking university in Canada and will mark the third time in 12 years that labour strife has forced York to extend classes into the summer.
The strike shut down the campus on Nov. 6, when the 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants walked off the job. Job security for professors on short-term contracts, full-time openings for part-time faculty, length of contracts and more funding for graduate students are key issues on which the two sides have been unable to agree.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has faced criticism for his reluctance to introduce back-to-work legislation earlier in the strike.
Mediator Reg Pearson was brought in last week to bring a quick settlement to the dispute but informed the premier Saturday that negotiation was not possible, forcing McGuinty to move ahead with legislation, despite concerns it could be challenged in court.
Union members, contract professors and teaching assistants, are concerned about their students and want the strike to end, Shipley said.
“If York’s administration won’t take responsibility, perhaps it is up to us to take the high road and ensure these students’ classes will resume,” Shipley said.
Even though the strike is ending, students should not expect a tuition refund. John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities, said the government is examining ways to extend student loans to those who now face a longer school year.
“Right now we are working out the details with the university of how we can extend OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program),” Milloy told reporters.
York graduate student Vanessa Lehan thinks financial compensation should flow to students. “Of course we should get a tuition rebate,” she said. “It is ridiculous.”
Extending OSAP is no answer, Lehan said.
“Oh, that is great. Fantastic. That helps them not at all,” said Lehan. Lehan does not have student loans, she added. Instead, she said she “just starves.”
McGuinty said in the Legislature yesterday he understands York students are going to have additional costs for food, transportation and rent because of an extended school year due to the prolonged strike.
“I think our responsibility is to ensure that OSAP is sufficiently flexible to meet those additional needs. I’ve made that commitment and we will find a way to make that happen,” McGuinty said.
OSAP offers loans, grants, bursaries and scholarships to pay for post-secondary education for those who qualify.
Tory MPP Jim Wilson (Simcoe-Grey) said he wants to see the students get financial help for the damage a labour dispute has caused to their year – and an extension to student loans is not good enough.
“That’s just a promise for more student debt under OSAP, and that’s not good enough,” he said in the Legislature.
Students don’t deserve to be financially penalized because of a strike beyond their control, Wilson said.
“These students will likely lose the month of May for summer employment, meaning the estimated loss of summer earnings for these students will be at least $1,400 if they work full time for four weeks at minimum wage,” he added.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton has also called on the government to compensate the students.
Hampton questioned McGuinty about the phone call the premier made to York president Mamdouh Shoukri early Tuesday morning.
McGuinty encouraged the York president to get back to the bargaining table while the legislation is debated.
McGuinty said he did speak with the York president and made it clear to him “that there was still the option open to him to sit down and continue to negotiate.”
There was no collective bargaining yesterday. “I think the response from the president of York University was pretty clear – it’s `Screw you,’” Hampton said.
He added this is proof York and the university’s administration never intended to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
Shipley said there were only 11 days of negotiation during the strike.