Response to York University: The ‘Path Forward’ is Bargaining

The following letter was sent to York University President Rhonda Lenton in response to the communication ‘The path forward’ which was sent to the York community on March 13. This letter clarifies the misinformation that has been spread by the administration, and reiterates the same request we have extended since York’s offer was rejected: come back to the bargaining table.

Dear President Lenton:

I write today on behalf of the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team in response to your March 13, 2018 communication to the York community.

While we share York University’s belief that our students should not continue to be impacted by our current dispute, we fundamentally differ on ‘the way forward.’ It is worth noting that the majority of our members are also students. We are essential members of the York University community.

The distance between the parties is not as unbridgeable as York has led the public to believe. York’s public statements with respect to the union’s ‘initial demands’ are neither helpful nor an accurate reflection of the current differences between the parties. We spent six months presenting, discussing, and agreeing on proposals. It was CUPE 3903’s perception that meaningful discussions were occurring towards mutual understanding on significant issues.

We believe that the fastest, most effective, and clearest path to a resolution requires both sides to sit down and make their best effort to reach a negotiated settlement. We reiterate our request, which we have extended since March 2 – come back to the table.

On February 28, CUPE 3903 provided – at York’s request – a series of modifications to our existing package of proposals. Following our membership’s rejection of your last offer, we provided – again, at York’s request – a counteroffer on March 5. At the time, York indicated a movement of this nature was necessary for bargaining to resume. Despite the fact that the union provided a meaningful counterproposal, York continues to refuse to return to the bargaining table, calling into question York’s commitment to resolve this dispute.

York’s response to CUPE 3903’s March 5 proposals:

In the portions of your correspondence under the heading, ‘Issues arising from CUPE 3903’s March 5 proposals,’ a number of issues are raised.

Proposal 12 – The union accepted York’s offer of $100,000 for the post-retirement benefits fund. What is still in dispute is the maximum available funds per year for retired Unit 2 members. This is a non-monetary issue as the overall cost to York has not been increased.

We never had agreement on this proposal; therefore, it is erroneous to claim that it was reintroduced.

Proposal 35 – CUPE 3903 reiterates, without prejudice, our long-standing position of a minimum $15,000 guarantee for Unit 3 members. The amount referenced by York is the result of a clear formatting error and does not supersede the well-established and consistent position we have taken.

Proposal 65 – The changes in proposal 65 regarding incentive funding for conversions reflect the significant reduction in the demand for automatic conversions to a fixed number or percentage of YUFA hires.

Legality of the March 5, 2018 union proposals

The illegality of Proposal 32 was never established at the table. Nor had the university ever asked CUPE 3903 to withdraw this proposal at the table. The path forward remains at the bargaining table, not in the media.

With respect to Proposals 48 and 72, it is CUPE 3903’s position that these are neither issues of scope nor have they been bargained to impasse.

With respect to Proposal 48, the offer York tabled on March 1 never responded to the counter we made on February 28. Over the past six months, the union repeatedly asked York to ensure the protection of Graduate Assistants, as we believe York arbitrarily eliminated over 700 Graduate Assistantship positions. This is the first we heard that this is an issue of scope. We disagree, nor has it been bargained to impasse.

With respect to Proposal 72 (not 71, as referenced in your document), the SRCs, as proposed by the university, would never be acceptable to YUFA for the reasons outlined in the following statement: That is why the union countered with a revised SRC program that models the program agreed upon by YUFA in the past.

On the issues of arbitration, mediation, and a ‘way forward’

Since members rejected the employer’s last offer, York has repeatedly called for the parties to agree to binding arbitration as a means of settling the dispute and resolving the outstanding issues.

CUPE 3903 acknowledges that while arbitration and other third-party dispute resolution systems have value in certain circumstances, as Premier Wynne stated on March 7: “the best agreements come from the bargaining table.”

We ask you to consider the Premier’s and Minister of Advanced Education Hunter’s request that you return to the bargaining table immediately and do the right thing for York’s 50,000 undergraduate students.

You have asked three questions of us.

  1. Will you agree to use interest arbitration for one or more of the bargaining units
  2. Will you agree to a non-binding mediator and factfinder to assist the parties for one or more of the bargaining units?
  3. If you are not prepared to agree to either of the options above, will you provide a realistic counter having regard to university norms in the history of collective bargaining at York and norms in the larger university sector, and withdraw those proposals which are not appropriate as a strike issue?

Our responses are as follows:

  1. At this time, no, as the parties have not exhausted every possible effort to resolve their outstanding issues through negotiation.
  2. As indicated in our answer to the first question, York must return to the bargaining table as we have not yet exhausted every possible avenue.
  3. We have provided a realistic offer. We are working within a realistic framework. Our proposals reflect the changing needs of our membership that address real concerns around precarious employment and access to public education. All of the remaining issues are legitimate strike issues.

We are now asking York University to answer the following question: Will the university agree to meet with the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team and the provincially-appointed Conciliation Officer in an effort to resolve the outstanding issues between the parties?

If the answer is yes, we ask that you please provide meeting dates as soon as possible. Our Bargaining Team is prepared to meet whenever it is convenient for you.

We await your reply.


Devin Lefebvre
CUPE 3903