Employer Open Letter Gets an ‘F’ for Inaccuracies

Over the next few days, the employer plans to promote an “Open Letter to CUPE 3903 Members” through official channels and as an advertisement in the Excalibur (as indicated since they named the file “YU_Labour_ExcalAD_Jan24”). Spreading lies to their own employees is a dirty tactic, and not at all consistent with good faith bargaining.

Because we are educators, we have corrected the employer’s letter below. Unfortunately, because it is factually inaccurate and makes unsubstantiated logistical leaps, we must give it an “F”.

“Over the next few days there is an opportunity for each of you to cast your vote on whether to give CUPE 3903 a strike mandate for your collective agreement. If more than 50 per cent of union members who actually cast a ballot vote in favour, the union will have the authority to set or call a strike without consulting the membership again.”

This is purposefully misleading. The employer knows very well that we will be holding a ‘Final Offer’ Special General Membership Meeting, at which the decision to go on strike will be taken by the membership.

“We respect and value the contribution that you make to the success of York University students. That’s why the current total compensation package for York TAs, GAs and contract faculty is the best of any Ontario university.”

This is why York’s bargaining proposals would confirm the elimination of 90% of GA jobs, push PhD students out of the priority pool so that they don’t get 6 years of funding, and attack the seniority provisions for contract faculty. This is union-busting. The value of our collective agreements is meaningless if members continue to be pushed out of work. 

“Now we are offering to make this package even better, with a comprehensive compensation package that includes an increased salary, increased academic support funding, plus improved job security and certainty for contract faculty.”

This is a blatant lie. The employer has tabled a number of concessions for job security, including reducing the number of Conversions to tenured-stream appointments from 8 a year to 1, and proposing language for the Continuing Sessional Standing Program which would undermine the seniority system. They have also refused to address the manipulation of qualifications.

“Major highlights include:

  • Salary increases of 1.55 per cent in each of the next three years to teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and contract faculty. 
  • The increase is higher than that agreed to in the last contract with CUPE 3903, and, in keeping with York University’s commitment, is in line with settlements at other Ontario universities”

Inflation is currently around 2%. In previous bargaining rounds, CUPE 3903 accepted increases under inflation, putting us even further behind cost of living increases. CUPE 3902 at the University of Toronto recently negotiated an increase for contract faculty that averages out to 3.8% per year over the life of the contract.

  • Increases between 10 and 30 per cent in childcare, health care, and other benefits, which, as of this writing, CUPE 3903 has rejected

The employer has refused increases to dental, paramedical, and vision care. They also appear to be counting access to the Employee and Family Assistance Plan — which we already had prior to these negotiations — as an increase. The employer has also refused to work towards childcare facilities at the Glendon Campus and projected Markham Campus, saying “York does not see itself in the business of daycare”. Increases to the childcare fund and other funds are still actively being negotiated.

“We have made eight non-monetary proposals. CUPE’s bargaining team has rejected them all without any real discussion or counter offers.”

This is yet another lie. The bargaining team and our staff have been explaining and discussing until they are blue in the face. Hours have been dedicated to providing presentations and evidence and offering alternatives, as detailed in our bargaining reports.

“Among our proposals which have been rejected by CUPE 3903, we would like to:

  • allow students to use email to communicate with teaching assistants and contract faculty” 

This would be more accurately characterized as “removing protections from ballooning workloads from TAs and contract faculty”. These concerns have been explained at length to the employer’s bargaining team.

  • set a time period within which job offers must be accepted or refused to be fair to all CUPE 3903 members, and

While refusing to even discuss setting better timelines to offer those appointments. Offers of appointment are increasingly made days before the start of a course, negatively impacting the classroom experience.

  • make course evaluations available to students so they can make an informed choice.

The bargaining team has discussed at length the equity implications of course evaluations. For a list of sources, see the bottom of the Jan 8 report. Turning course evaluations into “Rate My Professor” is not a sound pedagogical choice, nor is it consistent with York’s stated commitment to equity.

“CUPE 3903 has tabled 111 proposals to date. Of those, we have been able to agree on fewer than 10.”

Some of the proposals that were agreed to are simply confirming practices that already exist, for example the online postings and Notices of Recommended Appointments database. Nonetheless, getting the employer to agree to these has been a challenge. Meanwhile, York has offered the word “no”, mostly without further comment or counter proposal, on 60 proposals. While there will be fundamental disagreements between any union and their employer, there is no doubt that our bargaining team has made more of an effort to discuss, explain, and find room for agreement than York.

“We are willing to go to arbitration on any issue, eliminating the need for a strike”

This would more accurately read “eliminating the need to bargain in good faith“. The options are not arbitration OR strike, not unless the employer is admitting that they are not willing to bargain.

” […] Arbitration is the chosen method of solving problems for many other university unions. It is also used by employees in hospitals, police and fire services, and other groups to avoid the disruption of a strike.”

Naming sectors that are not allowed to strike, such as “hospitals, police and fire services” as if they are choosing arbitration voluntarily is incredibly misleading.

“Legislation ending the recent five-week strike at Ontario’s colleges ordered an independent arbitrator to make a binding decision on the issues. In 2009, CUPE 3903 went on strike. After 11 weeks, legislation was introduced to end the strike and send all outstanding issues to an independent arbitrator”

In both of these cases, legislation and arbitration were only necessary because the employer refused to bargain. In the most recent colleges strike, the College Employer Council refused to come to the table because they knew the government would legislate college faculty back to work. Such dirty tactics undermines the very principles of collective bargaining; this is not something that York should be advocating.

“York University’s offer to go to arbitration at any time to resolve outstanding issues achieves the same result without a strike; York and CUPE 3903 get a fair deal, and our students’ academic year is protected. It would be most unfortunate to disrupt the lives of of every member of the York University community and damage the academic year when there is a readily available solution to avoid a strike.” 

Is bargaining in good faith not also a means to avoid a strike? Representing our options as arbitration OR strike is quite misleading and absolves the employer of their responsibility to respect the process of collective bargaining. Unfortunately, the employer refuses to bargain unless we have a strike mandate vote; they are forcing our hand and acting like they are the innocent party.

“[…] We are committed to the collective bargaining process. We have been and will continue negotiating in good faith to get a successful resolution.” 

Setting aside that previous parts of this letter appear to dismiss collective bargaining, the employer has refused to even discuss key bargaining issues, lied to the community, walked out when told to stop interrupting, and threatened our members with disciplinary action for tweeting about bargaining. This is not good faith bargaining.

“We ask that CUPE 3903 do the same.”

Considering all that precedes, we would not want to do the same as our employer. However, we can promise to continue bargaining in good faith.

“Students are our top priority”

Members of CUPE 3903 do 60% of teaching at York. Most of the people making decisions in York’s administration do not teach or actively participate in research. When we express to them the resources and changes we need to make classrooms more accessible, improve preparation time, and increase contact time between students and instructors, the answer we get is an uncompromising “no”. The provisions in our contracts directly impact students. If students were York’s first priority, they would bargain in good faith and engage in meaningful discussions at the table about how to improve the student experience. We have seen that the opposite is true.

“Going forward, if CUPE 3903 is not willing to withdraw, amend, or negotiate on its proposals, we believe the union should either agree to take them to arbitration or set a strike deadline.” 

The union has withdrawn three proposals, amended several, and indicated to the employer where there is room to negotiate. Meanwhile, the employer has tabled concessions on job security for contract faculty, and refused to even discuss crucial issues, namely integrating the fellowship funding model into the Unit 1 and 3 collective agreements and restoring the Graduate Assistant jobs that were cut. That being said, the employer is correct that a strike deadline will be set if they continue to refuse to meaningfully bargain after a strike mandate vote is secured.

“It is in the best interests of all York University students, faculty and staff that these negotiations be addressed sooner rather than later so that they do not negatively impact the academic term and student progress.” 

We have been waiting since October. Time for York to bargain.

“I ask that you consider the above as you cast your vote”

We ask that you consider York’s attempts to undermine collective bargaining by spreading lies and misrepresentations through the media instead of bargaining in good faith as you cast your vote. This is how our employer treats its workers: with contempt. There will be no fair deal unless a strong strike mandate vote is achieved.