As York University classes resume, union expresses serious safety concerns

Members of CUPE 3903 walk the picket line at Chimneystack Road.

Members of CUPE 3903 walk the picket line at Chimneystack Road.

Education workers on strike at York University are deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to resume all classes on Monday, March 23 will lead to escalating tensions on picket lines, posing severe safety risks for picketers, undergraduate students, and the broader university community.

Around 2,600 teaching and graduate assistants, represented by Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3903), have been on strike since March 3, and have yet to negotiate a deal with the university.

On Thursday, March 19, the York University Senate moved to resume all remaining classes, with the exception of those courses or programs that decide to opt out to maintain academic integrity. The CUPE 3903 Executive Committee has expressed serious concerns about the likely prospect of increased hostility and violence towards striking members on picket lines, as well as the dangerous climate created for returning undergraduate students and other members of the university community, as classes re-open prior to the settlement of the strike.

“By choosing to resume classes, York University bears responsibility for any potential safety issues that ensue,” says Faiz Ahmed, chair of CUPE 3903. “This move also reflects an attempt by the administration to return to business as usual and to sidestep the bargaining process.”

Megan Hillman, Executive Committee member and co-chair of the union’s Trans Feminist Action Caucus (TFAC) adds: “Safety on the picket lines is a pressing and serious matter. We have already witnessed an alarming number of incidents while exercising our legal right to picket, including death threats, hit-and-runs, physical clashes, and verbal abuse. It has also been extremely disturbing to see the threats and violence directed at women on the picket lines, in particular. With the volume of traffic increasing on campus as more classes open, the prospects for more hostility and violence will only grow.”

While York University has urged for calm, the union strongly believes that the resumption of classes will only escalate the already alarming safety issues.

“You cannot end the tensions on picket lines by simply increasing security and the police presence. The only way to ensure the safety of our members and the broader community is for the university to return to the bargaining table in good faith and to resume classes once the strike has been settled,” said Hillman.

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