On Thursday, March 17, only one day after the membership expressed a desire to keep negotiating with the employer about a possible tuition offset settlement, the union has received news that the employer is rolling out a fellowship system that violates our collective agreements and severely undermines any good faith with which negotiations were occurring. The response of Jen Cypher, Chairperson of our local, to Barry Miller, Executive Director of Faculty Relations, is reproduced below. We will share further information on these developments as soon as possible.
I had a really good sense of where things stood yesterday in terms of when we were getting back to you. Staff and exec members had met and drafted something new, including a long and detailed report constructed by our staff that outlined some important clarifications around the GFA. I was just reviewing all of these documents when I received a phone call from Sonja. She’d had just attended the presentation about funding in FES and wanted to share her concerns about what Barbara Crow was saying about how student funding will begin to work with me.
What she told me was astonishing in light of the negotiations that have been taking place between the two parties. Dean Crow unveiled the new funding model, which will apparently be implemented starting in May. The new model, no longer exploratory it seems, contains provisions that would violate the current CA, gut one of our units, and change the course of undergraduate education at York. The new model presented by Dean Crow shows the following: further opportunities for grievances to be brought against you for illegally interpreting and violating our CA by trying to roll the GFA into fellowships; that you are actively union-busting by gutting one of our units and arbitrarily de-certifying our members; and a potential pedagogical move that will undermine the efficacy of undergraduate education at York, and be of serious interest to YUSA. These revelations seem to contradict the conversations that we have been having, and have seriously eroded our confidence in these negotiations.
Let me provide some details. The presentation given by Dean Crow made reference at several points (both in text and orally) to rolling the GFA into the fellowships, and even gave voice to the idea that the GFA would be effectively gone. This is a lie. We have never agreed to have the GFA be a part of fellowships, and as you can tell from the negotiations we have been carrying on with you we are firmly committed to the GFA. The GFA is a current, legal instrument in our CA that you cannot redistribute or reclassify at will. We will defend it.
Dean Crow also made it clear that you are committed to eliminating the majority of GAs over the next few years. She used the phrases “drastic reduction” and “a general tapering out.” This is clearly union-busting on a rather large scale. Not only would this deny members access to decent healthcare (the plan presented by Dean Crow is laughable and students are already rising up in fear about losing the very good benefits 3903 has fought for), it would deny them access to childcare subsidies, funds for emergencies, extended healthcare, conference costs, and external training. These are not insignificant reductions to the funding available to them. It would also remove them from the protections in our CA around disability and equity issues. It is unconscionable that York would a) attempt to decimate an entire unit of an existing unionized workforce, and b) deny their students access to things like healthcare, childcare, and protection from discrimination.
When people in FES asked who would do this work they were told that GAs would “be replaced with work-study positions, student volunteers, credit-based work, or other” done by undergraduates. Undergraduates. Not only are you proposing to dismantle a unit of 3903, you are doing it on the backs of potentially free labour done by undergraduates. Worse than free, you are proposing that they work for credit, effectively turning undergraduate education into an intern-for-tuition mill. This is not sound pedagogy and will do much to enhance York’s reputation as not providing a serious option for high quality undergraduate education. Furthermore, I think YUSA might have a policy grievance here, as you’d be taking work from their bargaining unit and having it done by volunteers or people working for course credits. Do you really want to fight with two unions about what work is and who does it?
I guess what I’m saying here, Barry, is that it is difficult for us to know what to do in light of the fact that we seem to be negotiating with you in apparently good faith to agree to an interpretation of our current contract that includes the GFA, and yet Dean Crow is openly discussing the fact that the GFA will effectively no longer exist. It is difficult to know how to proceed when on the one hand your MOS states that your fellowship model is “exploratory”, but on the other Dean Crow is presenting it to faculties and departments as a fait accompli that will be introduced in six months, which is within the timeline of the current contract. It actually beggar’s belief that we could continue to have these talks with you in a climate in which the head of FGS is presenting firm plans to engage in a mass de-certification of our members that will deny them well-established and crucially important benefits and legitimate work experience. The ease with which you are willing to shift that work to undergraduates is shocking to me as an educator and a unionist, and I am not sure how it can be justified as good pedagogy or anything related to decent working conditions.
Barry, you seemed eager to continue with these negotiations. Our membership indicated to us at our AGM on Wednesday that it was also willing to continue to engage with you. The content of Dean Crow’s presentation is of great concern to us and troubles this process to a large degree. Among other things, but at the very least, you must show concrete evidence that you know and acknowledge that the GFA exists and will continue to exist, and that it has a mutually agreed upon interpretation that sets it apart from any fellowship as in indicated in the current CA. We can only continue on that basis.
The ball is in your court.