Response to the York University Administration

Once again, the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team is disappointed to see that our offer to return to the bargaining table was met with yet another hostile missive from the university’s lawyer. More troubling than the veiled threats against our members and aggressive tone of the message, however, is the multiple misrepresentations and outright lies contained therein.

Bargaining Does Not Happen Over Email

Why is the employer shocked that they are expected to agree to bargaining before seeing a framework for settlement? There has been much ink spilled on the idea that CUPE 3903’s bargaining practices are “non-normative”. Yet, there is nothing normative about bargaining over email, in the media, or through an exchange of passive-aggressive letters. As we have repeatedly said throughout this strike, if the employer returns to the bargaining table, we will work together and creatively find solutions for settlement. We want to do this right, with a mediator present, so that we can reach an agreement. Since the strike began, 67 days ago, it is the employer, and not the union, that has refused to bargain.

Misrepresenting the Union’s Processes

The employer claims CUPE 3903’s bargaining team did not engage in any discussion of York’s recent offer of settlement with the general membership. This is categorically false. In fact, there were three different meetings this week: a Unit 1 & 3 Townhall, a Unit 2 Townhall, and a Special General Membership Meeting (SGMM) which was fully dedicated to questions of bargaining strategy. Considering that the employer sent their offer of settlement to every member not once, but twice, it is hard to comprehend how the administration can truly believe that the membership would even allow the bargaining team to prevent discussion in these democratic spaces.

In addition to the misrepresentations noted above, there was no bargaining meeting over the weekend. York’s lawyer, Simon Mortimer, emailed our bargaining team after the release of William Kaplan’s report, informing them that the employer was booking a room to discuss the terms by which the union would agree to arbitration. Needless to say, that was putting the cart before the horse in spectacular fashion, since there was no agreement to go to arbitration. If there had been a real desire to meet for the purposes of bargaining, we would have been there.

The University Has Red Lines

The employer has consistently misled the public and the broader York community as to what constitutes a “red line” in bargaining. Red lines, for the union, are proposals that need to be contained in a collective agreement in order for this settlement to be acceptable to the membership. This does not mean that no movement is possible.

In fact, our bargaining team has moved significantly on several issues. The Unit 1 and 3 bargaining team agreed to change the way our funding is paid out, combining the GFA and GIA and reducing the amount of money contained in each monthly paycheque, at the employer’s request. The Unit 2 bargaining team moved from its original position on conversions to 20 or 20% of tenure-track hires, then 15 or 15%, then 10 or 10%, and now 8 or 10%. They have also come down in the asks for the Continuing Sessional Standing Program (CSSP) and Long Service Teaching Appointments (LSTAs). These are only some of many examples.

It is important to note that the university’s bargaining team has their own red lines to which they are being held. In fact, Rick Waugh, the Chair of the Board of Governors, has stated that: “the Executive Committee approved bargaining parameters based on a careful analysis and recommendation by the President and senior administration, having regard to the best long-term interest of York University as a whole.” It seems apparent that the parameters approved by the Board of Governors prevent the university’s bargaining team from even meeting with the union. That is the most rigid of red lines possible. In fact, it may border on bad faith.

The Employer Does Not Put Students First

The most disturbing part of the employer’s latest communications is that, after months of trying to blame the union for the difficulties experienced by students, the university openly implies that breaking the union is more important than attempting to find a solution which gets students back in the classroom, stating “In order to fulfil the University’s mission we are guided by a longer-term view, and accepting the demands that CUPE 3903 has put forward is simply not an option”. Even when directly asked, through Commissioner Kaplan, the employer has refused to explain what their mission is, and what principles guide it. In the last Senate meeting, President Lenton was asked to define the university’s values and principles, and how that contradicted CUPE 3903’s proposals. Again, President Lenton refused to provide an explanation.

It is apparent that the administration is willing to sacrifice academic integrity and the overall well-being of students in order to pursue the corporate interests disproportionately represented by the Board of Governors. The recent motions of non-confidence in President Lenton and the Board of Governors, passed by a significant portion of programs, departments, faculties, and student associations — most recently by the York Federation of Students (YFS), representing the undergraduate student body — is indicative of the failure of the administration in maintaining academic integrity and the well-being of students.

Bargaining is the Answer

In sum, we still remain committed to bargaining. Our bargaining team has, and has always had, the authority to negotiate a settlement. We ask the administration and the Board of Governors to seriously consider the plan they have enacted and the very real human costs that this strategy has occasioned. Negotiations need to resume as soon as possible. Now is the time for President Lenton and the Board of Governors to show leadership and earn back the confidence of the York community. If Simon Mortimer and Hicks & Morley’s aggressive strategy is not working for the university, we encourage the administration to change lawyers and come to the table with a lead negotiator who understands the complexity of the issues and has a real commitment, as well as the authority, to negotiate a settlement.