Following Marathon Mediation, York University Refuses to Reach Settlement

On Saturday June 2, and into the early morning hours of Sunday June 3, the CUPE 3903 bargaining team passed several proposals to the employer through experienced mediator Kevin Burkett. The union had previously offered to move significant items to arbitration, including every item that the employer had identified as barriers to settlement. The offer made in mediation moved the union’s position to its very bare bones. Yet, the employer refused to end the strike, now 13 weeks old.

Employer’s First Pass

The bargaining team began caucusing at 9 am on Saturday June 2. Around 11 am, we were told the employer was working on a pass in response to the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) proposed on Wednesday May 30, in which there was only 12 items left on the table, as everything else would be sent to arbitration. By 3 pm, we received the employer’s pass (Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3). It proposed to send all outstanding issues (including the employer’s remaining concessions on Technology and Instruction and Unit 1 Tickets) to arbitration, with the exception of four counter-proposals:

a) $50,000 to the Lee Wiggins (Student Centre) Childcare Centre to contribute towards their operating costs;
b) the creation of a joint committee on the feasibility of childcare at Glendon and Markham campuses;
c) Professional Development Fund of $137,000; and
d) $50,000 for a Sexual Violence Survivor’s Fund under the control of the Trans Feminist Action Caucus for 2018-19 only, with the amount and distribution of the fund in future being determined in arbitration.

Items a) through c) are, as was indicated in the May 30 MoS, acceptable to the union. However, sending the future distribution of the Sexual Violence Survivor’s Fund to arbitration is problematic. It is clear that the employer wants this fund to be housed within, or managed by, the Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO), despite all the problems that have been highlighted with this office throughout bargaining and in the consultation processes from which the union withdrew in protest when the SVRO was initially founded.

The employer’s return-to-work protocol set a floor for remediation at 60% of pay and did not provide any protections from reprisals for York community members and other allies who supported the strike. The employer threatened that if the union did not accept the offer by June 4, 2018 at 11:59 pm, the floor would drop to 40%.

Union Response

The bargaining team responded by working through a comprehensive counter-proposal that went down to the bare bones of what would be acceptable to each unit. In the spirit of compromise and in the hopes of securing an end to this strike, the union proposed the following:

  • Accept the employer’s past wage proposal at 2.1%/2.2%/2.3% per year
  • Bring the remediation floor down to 85%
  • Send the Racial Discrimination Fund to arbitration
  • Decrease the amount to be protected from clawbacks for Unit 1 to $5403 (essentially protecting the fellowship amount)
  • Return to the status quo for the payout in the Continuing Sessional Standing Program
  • Drop the increase in Summer Assistance for Unit 3
  • Drop all Unfair Labour Practice (ULP) proceedings

In exchange for these significant compromises, the union asked for the following, very few items:

  • A return-to-work protocol including protections from reprisals for all members of the York Community engaged in political dissent
  • A Sexual Violence Survivor’s Fund funded for two years, under TFAC control
  • Two-year funding extension for Ontario Human Rights Code grounds for Unit 1 members
  • A CSSP program that includes long service, low intensity members, and which addresses the lack of participation in the program of certain departments and secures CSSP status once it is achieved (these constitute minor tweaks to the existing language)
  • A benefits surcharge of 31% for Principle Investigators (PIs) who hire Graduate Assistants (it used to be 15% — now it is 80%), as well as matched funds to contribute to offsetting the cost of Summer Assistance and Graduate Financial Assistance for PIs (again, these used to be covered by the university, but are now applied to the research budgets or individual faculty members who wish to hire GAs).

These proposed changes to the collective agreements of Units 1, 2, and 3 would cost the university very little, but go a long way to address the very real problems our members have indicated they encounter in the workplace.

Employer’s Final Pass

At 11 pm, the bargaining team received word through the mediator of the employer’s response. Despite the very serious movement by the union, the employer’s position (Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3) contained very little change from their position from eight hours before:

  • Remediation at 65% if ratified by Wednesday June 6 at 11:59 pm
  • Language that almost seemed to promise reprisals (see below)
  • Clawback protection for Unit 1 at $5500 (essentially rounding up from the requested $5403)
  • Nothing for Units 2 and 3

Despite the insulting nature of this pass, which largely ignored the sacrifices the union made in the name of reaching an agreement, a thorough and vigorous conversation followed. Leaving aside that there are essentially no unit-specific gains in this pass, the most disturbing aspect are remediation and the lack of protections.


The employer claims that remediation pay cannot be kept at the levels at which it was offered in similarly long strikes (100% in 2001, 85% in 2009). However, the decisions made by the university in this strike, including assessed grades and provisional grades, raise particular difficulties for remediation. Members, especially course directors, will be forced to remediate not only students who remain enrolled in suspended classes, but also sort through the assessed and provisional grades and verify and update these grades, which are self-reported or generated from previous grades, respectively.

While there is a provision that members could report these extra hours and be compensated, there is very little clarity regarding how these requests will be managed and met. Setting a reasonable remediation rate for work that remains to be completed is the solution that does not embroil both the union and the employer in several hundred  arbitration cases regarding the proper application of the remediation framework.

Lack of protections

In the late pass from the employer, they double-down on their refusal to guarantee protection from reprisals, laying out instead what recourse will be open when they unavoidably apply these reprisals, stating:

Should any CUPE 3903 bargaining unit employee be subject to discipline as an
employee flowing from their conduct during the strike, this discipline may be grieved under the Collective Agreement. For any undergraduate student or other University employee subject to discipline under University Policy flowing out of their conduct during the strike in support of the Union, this discipline may be subject to a review on a standard and process established by the Interest Arbitrator.

This is shameful. York University has already been warned twice by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that its heavy-handed approach to quashing political dissent is unworthy of a public institution of higher learning.

Both Offers Remain

At 1:30 am, the union asked the employer to take another look at the union’s offer and see whether they could engage with it in a more meaningful way, so that both parties could leave this marathon session with a deal. The employer rejected this.

The employer’s offer expires on Wednesday June 6 at 11:59 pm, whereas the union’s offer expires on Friday June 8 at 11:59 pm.

What is most important to note is that there could have been an agreement in mediation. While there is certainly a lot of room for improvement in the employer’s pass regarding substantive proposals for all units, it is inconceivable — not to mention irresponsible — that the union would recommend to ratification an offer that does not provide a realistic plan for remediation or offer basic protections for the civil liberties of the members of the York University community. Essentially, the employer rejected a deal in the name of taking a punitive approach towards political dissent, both by the union and its supporters.