What’s a Concession? A Guide to York’s Proposals

After the exchange of proposals on October 16, we released a report that states that the employer’s proposals are concessionary in nature. In the name of clarity, this post seeks to provide more information on what concessions are, as well as why CUPE 3903 considers the employer’s proposals to be concessionary.

In the context of collective bargaining, granting a concession means accepting a contract in which important elements that were won in previous rounds of bargaining are lost. CUPE 3903 does not accept concessions; this is why our contracts are so strong. From round to round, we build on what was won before.

To say that proposals are only concessionary if they involve a decrease in wages or a loss of benefits, as York has, implies that wages and benefits are the only proposals that truly matter. This is clearly not true. A fair contract involves many non-monetary issues, such as equity, class sizes, protections from harassment and discrimination, job security, and the overall quality of employment. Concessions can mean a significant loss even if wages and benefits remain untouched.

The next sections explain why we consider some of York’s key proposals to be concessionary. In sum, it is clear that York is in fact asking CUPE 3903 for concessions. We commit to providing facts and well-reasoned arguments to justify our position. It would behoove York’s commitment to transparency and good faith bargaining to do the same.


The Conversion program is meant to provide a measure of job security to some contract faculty (Unit 2). Being “converted” means that a long-serving member of Unit 2 gets a tenure-track position. The program has been very successful in securing qualified candidates for tenure since it began in 1988.

In the last contract, we bargained and won eight conversions a year for three years. This round, York is proposing one conversion a year. This is a clear loss from the previous contract, and is therefore concessionary.

York has claimed that their proposal is meant to “create new opportunities to provide access to longer term faculty positions, which will replace the expired language between the union and York”. This is so dishonest that it is insulting. Claiming to create these three positions by eliminating the previous language that guaranteed 24 positions is pure double-speak. While we renegotiate our collective agreements every three years, an existing program, especially one that has been very successful for 29 years, should not be deemed “expired”.

Unit 1 Funding

The employer has yet to provide clarification regarding their Unit 1 (full-time graduate students with teaching positions) funding proposal. Their stated intent is to simplify funding. As the proposal stands now, however, it appears to be concessionary because it limits the union’s power to control and negotiate funding, confirms the elimination of summer funding, and could result in a loss of work for Unit 1 in future.

First, for the Grant-in-Aid (GIA), Graduate Financial Assistance (GFA), International Tuition Offset (ITO) and minimum guarantee (MG) to be rolled into a single fund paid out once a semester weakens the union’s power to negotiate these funds towards particular goals. Each of these funds has a history and a purpose: to supplement our paycheques (GIA), to offset the cost of tuition and provide a type of post-residency fee for upper-year students (GFA), to offset the gargantuan tuition increase applied to international students (ITO), and to ensure minimum and year-round funding (MG). We have negotiated these sources of funding separately to address different problems. For example, in the last round the GFA and ITO were negotiated separately from the across-the-board increase to wages and other funds in order to address increases in international tuition fees. By rolling these sources of funding into one single payment, we lose the flexibility to use these funds as they were meant to be used. This proposal also grants York much more power over when and how we get paid, and how much of our funding gets clawed back.

Second, rolling the minimum guarantee language into this proposal enshrines the loss of summer funding. While York does not agree that summer funding is guaranteed in our collective agreement, language currently exists (and has existed since 2001!) to defend it. This language is strong enough that York has been sitting on the summer funding policy grievance since last December in order to prevent us from bringing it to arbitration. The Unit 1 bargaining team has proposed language that would succeed in both protecting our guarantee of year-round funding and work with York’s Fellowship Model. We are more than willing to find a solution to this difference of opinion that does not require concessions.

Third, detaching funding from work is a step in a very alarming direction considering that York has recently cut approximately 700 jobs from Unit 3 (Graduate Assistants) by de-linking their funding from work. Should Unit 1 suffer a similar decimation, all those members will lose their union membership and therefore their benefits, which would be a concession even by York’s ridiculously restrictive definition. There is cause to be concerned that York might be moving to attack Teaching Assistants; for example, the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LAPS) has proposed the elimination of 9-credit Foundations courses, thus cutting the number of TAs for each of those courses by half.

Student Evaluations

Student evaluations were never meant to be a customer satisfaction survey for students. They are a tool for faculty to improve their teaching. It is well-documented that women and racialized educators are disproportionately affected by negative student evaluations. Courses that are harder or present unpopular topics might also be disproportionately rated negatively.

Furthermore, this appears to be an attack on CUPE 3903 specifically, as other faculty will not have their results publicly posted.

Considering our advocacy for class sizes and equity, CUPE 3903’s commitment to the quality of education at this university has been proven time and again. There are good ways of evaluating the teaching provided at York. A customer satisfaction survey is not one of them. Our collective agreements keep student evaluations internal to protect the rights of those already most precarious, and its loss would represent a concession.

Unit 1 Course Directorships (Tickets)

This concession is admittedly more complicated, as it involves pitting one unit against another in order to divide us and weaken the union as a whole. A ticket is a course directorship given to a member of Unit 1, i.e. a full-time doctoral student. Tickets can be good opportunities for graduate students. They are also a marked increase in work, which is not reflected by a significant increase in pay, as Unit 1 tickets do not receive the Grant-in-Aid (GIA).

Unit 1 members who are offered a ticket should carefully consider whether the increase in work without adequate compensation is worth the opportunity. However, doubling the number of Tickets is also a concession for Unit 2. 40 more tickets is 40 fewer jobs for contract faculty. Because funding is guaranteed for most graduate students, paying a Unit 1 to teach the same class for which they would have to pay a member of Unit 2 is a net loss of unionized wages and work, especially when multiplied by 40.

The attack on the number of Unit 2 postings is also of concern to Unit 1. Those are Unit 1’s future jobs, and agreeing to reduce them for short-term advantage would be akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

Watch our website for more information as bargaining develops. Members are especially encouraged to acquaint themselves with the Bargaining tab.