York on Strike
Will there be school after November 6?
By Adrian Camara
As many of you must be aware of now York University teaching assistants and non contract staff are about to go on strike. The Union is CUPE 3903 that represents about 3,200 employees at York University and about 500,000 nation wide. Unfortunately, at Glendon we tend to be left out of the loop of what exactly is going on and what are the potential consequences are for undergraduate students. I recently had an interview with a CUPE 3903 union representative Alban Bargain to get the story straight from the source.
About two weeks ago the union voted 85.9% to endow the bargaining team with a strike mandate and last week, after a week of negotiations, decided to set a strike mandate for November 6th. The union is demanding increased pay; they started demanding a 70% hike over two years, then dropped to 30% and now have dropped to 15.6% (symbolically the pay raise for the Dean of Arts, Robert Drummond for 2008 was 15.6%). Further, they are demanding a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) in their contract that will be adjusted to inflation annually. Another significant demand is contract length. The union is demanding a contract term of two years (currently it is 3 years) that would expire in 2010 so that they could join other Ontario Universities at the provincial bargaining table during a provincial election year. The third major issue is job security. Many professors at York University have been teaching for ten to fifteen years and have still not received guaranteed positions and must renew their contracts yearly. They are demanding that any faculty who has been teaching for five or more years be guaranteed work.
According to Mr. Bargain York Administration is not being very proactive in reaching an agreement with the union. York has offered a three year deal with an annual salary increase of 2%, 2% and 2.25% over the term. The union refused the offer saying that considering the rise of Canadian inflation of 3.4% and the rise of cost of living in Toronto by 3.7% in 2008 the proposed increase in simply a token offer. Mr. Bargain said that many of the CUPE members are living under the poverty line, which in Toronto, is anyone earning $22,653 or less and that is unacceptable. The third demand of job security has been completely evaded by university administration.
Many of you are probably wondering what all of this means. Well a strike is quite possible as of now and the CUPE union website is distributing picket schedules and generally preparing for a strike this coming week. The last time negotiations had failed this long was in 2000-2001 where the strike lasted about 12 weeks from October 26 to January 10 in reaction to the horrible Harris years in Ontario.
The big question facing all of you is how long will this strike last if it happens? What happens to fall courses that you are in now? Fall exam schedules? And the big one: will class schedules be extended into May to make up for lost time? These are all very serious questions and can put a dent into our education and career plans.
In York University laws state that any time there is a strike by teaching faculty there is academic amnesty. This means that we are not responsible to attend any lectures, hand in assignments or write exams during those times and all classes must be made up. So if a strike goes right through the remainder of the fall semester, as it did in 2000, then classes and exams will be continued in January and Winter classes will go into the normal summer months.
When I asked Mr. Bargain if the union will go off strike if it risks severely disrupting the academic semester or year, he replied that there will be one last union meeting on the night of November 5th where members will vote to accept or reject York’s offer. He offered that “an agreement might be reached, but don’t expect anything until last minute.”
The Union’s demands that most affect undergraduate students are class sizes and job security. Smaller class sizes are preferable to the massive 1000 student lectures all too common at the Keele campus and maintaining a consistent set of professors who have taught the same classes is better than having professors annually recycled to keep their pay down.
You can put pressure on the York administration to reach an agreement by contacting University President, Mamdouh Shoukri (firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-736-5200) or Dean of Arts, Robert Drummond (email@example.com, 416-736-5329).