On Friday, May 4, Mr. William Kaplan released his report resulting from the Industrial Inquiry Commission, which was called by the Ministry of Labour on April 13.
CUPE 3903 is dismayed with the partiality of the report and the failure of the Commissioner to engage in a critical analysis of the facts as they were presented to him. As an arbitrator, it is unsurprising that Mr. Kaplan would recommend interest arbitration over a return to earnest collective bargaining. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Yet, the Commissioner’s failure to adequately understand the situation is more troubling because it sets a dangerous precedent for employers to abdicate their responsibility to bargain without consequences.
Employer’s Submissions Lack All Substance
Mr. Kaplan states, correctly, that the issue of precarity presents a significant division between the union and the employer. However, we disagree that precarity for contract faculty is the only issue of importance. For example, the loss of over 800 Unit 3 Graduate Assistant jobs was one factor that led to the strike, as the employer continuously refused to acknowledge the issue. The absence of any direct mention of this issue, funding for Teaching Assistants, or equity proposals in the report is alarming.
Mr. Kaplan repeats the employer’s claim that they have successfully negotiated collective agreements with other unions on campus without strikes, without considering the differences in situations facing these employee groups. For example, most of the employee groups named are not precariously employed. The report names CUPE 3903 Unit 4, which consists of precarious employees, but this unit has only negotiated one previous collective agreement (which was rather difficult); not to mention that they are a unit of around 20 people, and therefore they are hardly in a position to launch an effective strike. The employer may have successfully bargained with other employee groups on campus, but they display a very poor track record of bargaining with those who are the most vulnerable.
Mr. Kaplan’s uncritical acceptance of the university’s position is most baffling because York University’s submissions consisted mostly of out-of-context quotes from articles written about the union and strikes, dating as far back as 2002. No questions are asked as to the relevance or representativeness of these quotes to the current situation. It also has a chilling effect on academic freedom. We are alarmed by the fact that rank and file members who have written about their experiences of striking saw their work used as proof that the university has a right to forego bargaining in good faith. As university workers, we should be afforded some level of academic freedom, in line with the stated values of the university.
It is also troubling that Mr. Kaplan would suggest that the union reconsider its bottom-up, democratic organizational structure and principles of social justice and solidarity merely to please the employer. The issue is not our structure, but the university’s inability to respect our process. An employer that has nothing to hide should not fear full transparency.
Collective Bargaining is a Right
The most troubling part of this report is not that the commissioner believes there is an impasse that cannot be resolved through collective bargaining, but his belief that the employer — that any employer — can refuse to engage in bargaining without consequence if they believe that it will not give them the result they desire. Collective bargaining is a Charter-enshrined right, and we are appalled that Mr. Kaplan, with all his years of experience in labour disputes, and with his strong political convictions on social justice and dissent, does not even spare a few words of condemnation for York’s refusal to bargain. Mr. Kaplan should be reminded that in the 60 days since the union began its strike, York University only made one attempt at collective bargaining. One out of sixty should be seen as outrageous to any reasonable person.
In that, Mr. Kaplan is ignoring the four faculty councils, three department councils, fourteen graduate and undergraduate student associations, and the York University Graduate Student Association (YUGSA)’s motions of non-confidence in the President and the Board of Governors, which rests in part on the university’s refusal to bargain. The York University Faculty Association (YUFA) also expressed “deep concerns”.
A Task Force Pushes a Current Problem to the Future
The recommendation that the government establish a task force on precarity in post-secondary education employment is a positive step, but it does not address the needs of our members in the present moment. In particular, many Unit 2 members who have been teaching at York for several decades may not be at York in five years if the employer is allowed to continue with its manipulation of qualifications. The loss of the more than 800 Unit 3 jobs which the employer eliminated, as well as unilateral changes to graduate funding, if allowed to continue, will have very serious impact on the accessibility of graduate education.
These are systemic issues, which can be addressed in two ways: 1) by empowering those facing precarity through strong, fair contracts determined by robust collective bargaining, and 2) a larger-scale examination of a chronically underfunded system that allows educators to live contract-to-contract in poverty. Arbitration is not a solution to systemic issues, but rather a preservation of the status quo which keeps education inaccessible and educators living from contract to contract.