QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU
York University contract professor Dhruv Jain came to the Legislature yesterday to watch the Ontario government introduce back-to-work legislation that will force him to return to the classroom.
But when he might return to the classroom was up in the air last night, after the legislation was denied speedy passage when the New Democrats voted against it. Without unanimous all-party support, MPPs now must hold a debate.
Jain, 25, teaches one full course, the introduction of African studies, and makes $14,000 a year. He struggles from month to month and lives under the poverty line.
“My parents throw in a little bit but they don’t have a lot of money. Their store is not doing very well,” Jain said after the NDP refused to support the bill yesterday in a rare Sunday sitting of the Legislature.
Jain feels as though the “academic integrity” of York is shot because the administration failed to work with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3903, to end the strike. The strike shut down the York campus on Nov. 6, when 3,300 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants walked off the job. Conciliation and a last-ditch attempt at mediation failed.
“You are basically forcing 3,300 people to go back into a classroom they do not want to be in, not because they don’t want to teach their students but because of the way this labour conflict has been resolved,” he told the Toronto Star.
Outside on the front lawn of Queen’s Park, hundreds of protesters braved the cold weather yesterday, waving signs and loudly jeering as Premier Dalton McGuinty and MPPs listened to the introduction of the bill. “Mr. McGuinty, you messed with the wrong union,” one protester yelled so loudly that it was heard clearly inside the Legislature.
The return of 50,000 York University students to school is on hold for days because of the NDP’s refusal to support the legislation. If the debate were to end tomorrow, students could be back at school on Thursday. If it ends Wednesday, classes could start Friday or Monday, a York University spokesperson said.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton told reporters his party insists on a full debate because it refuses to be part of what he called a “manipulative process” led by McGuinty’s government.
Both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives accused the NDP of standing in the way of a rapid end to the 11-week strike.
“It is up to the NDP to decide if they are going to use 1970s ideology to stand in the way of getting these students back in their learning environment,” Deputy Premier George Smitherman said. Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory also called on Hampton to let students get back to school.
Tory said his party will only take a minimal amount of time to debate the bill. Hampton denied that his party was responsible for blocking a quick return to classes.
“If York University got back to the bargaining table today and bargained in good faith, students could be back at school tomorrow,” Hampton said.
“The people in the driver’s seat are York University, who have refused to negotiate.” Hampton said he expects the Liberals to shut down the debate after two days. Students should “demand a rebate” from York, the NDP leader said.
Tory said the province should provide financial aid to students and parents who have paid tuition to York. “The government should think about providing some help to these students because this is not any fault of theirs,” he said. “If the year goes on beyond the scheduled end, they’ll be forced to pay rent or give up their summer job time.”
York students welcome the idea of tuition relief. Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, called for a tuition refund of at least 12 per cent “because the administration has cut down the school year to 23 weeks.”
CUPE spokesperson Tyler Shipley said the central issue in the dispute is job security for contract professors. “These are people who have been teaching for 15, sometimes 20, years at York and they have to reapply for every course they teach. That means come September, you don’t know if you have one course to teach or five.”
York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said the university “tried its hardest to get a deal” and called the legislation a “light at the end of the tunnel.”