By Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – The Ontario government introduced back-to-work legislation Sunday to end a protracted strike at York University, but hopes for a quick end to the 11-week dispute vanished when the New Democrats voted against the bill.
As a result, it’s likely to be at least another several days before some 50,000 students, fearful they are close to losing their academic year, will be back in class.
Sunday’s rare sitting of the legislature was scheduled by Premier Dalton McGuinty after the province’s top labour mediator reported no reasonable prospect of a negotiated settlement between the university and the union representing contract faculty and other staff.
The government wanted unanimous consent for the bill, which would have ended the strike – about 3,300 workers have been off the job since Nov. 6. – and restored classes as early as Monday for students at Canada’s third-largest university.
That hope was dashed by the eight members of the NDP who voted against the legislation, including leader Howard Hampton, who wanted to make sure the bill was properly debated before being passed.
“There are real and important issues to raise,” Hampton said as he defended the party’s stalling of the legislation.
“(Striking workers) are doing virtually full-time work but are getting part-time pay. Many of them are surviving on salaries that are less than the poverty line, yet they’re doing the work of full-time professors.”
The New Democrats could potentially delay passage of the legislation for several days if they use all their time allotted for debate, but Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I respect fully the right and the opportunity he wants to take to state his views and put his objections to this on the record,” Tory said of Hampton’s position.
“I only hope having now delayed it one day, he decides tomorrow will be enough, he can say his peace … and they would then agree to pass this bill so this school can be open again on Tuesday.”
Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the legislature before the legislation was introduced, the din of their demonstration echoing inside the legislative chamber as the votes were being counted.
“I think it’s a dangerous precedent to the entire labour movement,” teaching assistant Sean Starrs said of the looming back-to-work legislation.
“And I’m a little disappointed we don’t have 100,000 to a million people out here right now.”
A spokesman for York University said classes will likely resume 24 hours after the legislation passes.
York has seen three of the country’s five longest faculty association strikes. Saturday marked Day 80 of the current strike, while in 2001 there was a 78-day strike and in 1997 a strike lasted 55 days.
The length of those strikes are surpassed only by strikes at the University of Quebec in 1976-77 and Laval University in 1976, which both lasted about four months.