Explaining York’s Unit 1 Funding Proposal

On October 16, York’s bargaining team expressed the intention to bargain significant changes to the way funding for Unit 1 (teaching assistants, course directors, instructors, tutors, marker-graders, etc. who are full-time graduate students) would be paid out. On November 13, the employer provided a presentation explaining the details of their plan.

As promised in the bargaining report from November 13, below is an explanation of the employer’s Unit 1 funding proposal. The employer’s proposal and the employer’s presentation on their proposal are also available.

The employer’s proposal would provide Unit 1 funding in three components. First, the “Direct Deposit TA Financial Support”, which itself combines three current sources of funding — Graduate Financial Assistance (GFA), Grant-in-Aid (GIA), and International Tuition Offset (ITO – currently only for international members; also called tuition indexation) — into a single payment, deposited into the member’s Student Account once a semester. While this is how the GFA and ITO are already paid, Unit 1 members currently receive the GIA every month with their paycheques. Second, wages, including vacation pay, would be paid out monthly as a bank deposit. Finally, the minimum guarantee, renamed “Guaranteed Additional Funding Support”, would be paid out once a semester, although the employer’s presentation did not specify how, stating it “depends on type of funding”. While this is meant to simplify funding, this proposal is rather confusing, and the employer has not yet been able to provide clear answers regarding its application.

While CUPE 3903 is not opposed to simplification, we are concerned by the concrete effects that these changes could have on how funding is paid to members, how much of it can be clawed back, and how collective agreement protections can be guaranteed.

Unclear Connection Between Work and Funding

In explaining their proposal, the employer explicitly and repeatedly talked about separating funding from work. Considering that delinking work from funding was what allowed York to eliminate around 700 jobs (or roughly 90%) from Unit 3, any language that gives the employer an opportunity to separate funding from work should be resisted as strongly as possible.

It does not make sense to separate members’ funding from work. Without work, there is no union membership, and therefore no access to these funds. It is interesting that in claiming that particular forms of funding are not tied to work, the employer continues to use language that is tied to work in our collective agreement (for example, with references to the priority pool).

The language also states that members must be “available to undertake some form of RA activity”, but the employer could not confirm what this means. RAs, according to the Unit 3 scope clause, are not work; rather, funds are provided to help a member with their own research. Given that Unit 1 members must already be registered as full-time students, what does it mean to be available for a RA when RAs are not work-based? This is of concern if the intent is to fold what were previously unionized Graduate Assistant positions into more work that the employer tries to arbitrarily claim is separate from employment. We already catch several of these RAs that should be GAs every year. Furthermore, if availability to do an RA is ill-defined, this could open to door to members being judged to not fulfill this requirement for any number of reasons. Let us not forget that it is our contract that guarantees us six years of funding; York would jump at the opportunity to reduce funding to four years by claiming that members are not eligible for the priority pool.

More Possibilities for Clawbacks

York has a long-standing practice of clawing back as much funding as possible when members receive scholarships, grants, RAships, or additional work. Combining three different forms of funding into one fund would strip these funds from the particular protections that were negotiated in response to members’ needs.

Furthermore, the language as it was presented enshrines a clawback of the minimum guarantee for Unit 1 members who accept ticketed course director positions. The employer was also unable to give us a clear answer regarding whether additional work assignments would be subject to further clawbacks.

Return to Flawed Tuition Offset Language

In 2013, York drastically increased tuition for international student members, despite the existence of Letter of Intent 6, i.e. tuition indexation. In 2015, CUPE 3903 struck for and won better tuition indexation language (officially named the “tuition offset”). However, barely two months after the end of the strike, York revealed that they were planning to clawback the tuition offset from international students who received funding from any source other than employment or the GFA. What resulted was a year-long struggle to get York to recognize that the offset must always be above and beyond other sources of funding received by members. This agreement was reached in a Memorandum of Settlement. The employer’s proposal ignores this agreement, using the offset language that was contested after the strike in 2015, thus guaranteeing that we would face the exact same problems. This appears to be a sleight of hand, slipping a concession across the table and hoping our bargaining team won’t notice.

Summer Funding, Minimum Guarantee, and Fellowship

The current “Letter of Agreement: Additional Funding for Priority Pool Members” language is what we call the minimum guarantee. It was won in the 2001 strike in response to the requirement that graduate students pay tuition year-round. This is why, in the majority of cases, this minimum guarantee was paid out in the summer — until the 2017. When York rolled out its Fellowship Funding Model, summer funding was unilaterally folded into the fellowship, effectively decimating summer funding.

While York’s proposal provides slightly more funding in the summer, it does not return summer funding to a livable standard. Moreover, while at the bargaining table the employer indicated that the minimum guarantee would continue to be met through the fellowship, they did not appear willing to enshrine the fellowship into the collective agreement, where it would be protected from further unilateral changes. Leaving the fellowship outside of our collective agreements furthers the risk that York will attempt to decimate Unit 1, as they did with Unit 3.

Going Forward

The Unit 1 bargaining team has not yet had the opportunity to present CUPE 3903’s own proposals around Unit 1 funding, which are meant to address the Fellowship Funding Model and summer funding. We believe we have a solution that could very well strike a balance between the needs of our members and the employer’s desire to implement their funding model smoothly. We hope that the employer will take these proposals seriously, and that real work can be done to resolve these differences in good faith.

These proposals are scheduled for the bargaining meeting on Monday November 27. Members are always welcome to attend bargaining.