CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team Letter to the Membership

Graduate students have now been on strike for 106 days.

A primary reason for the current strike is the administration’s implementation of the York Graduate Fellowship model, which has negatively impacted all graduate student members.

The York Graduate Fellowship has resulted in the loss of summer paychecks. Members were alarmed to see their minimum guaranteed funding clawed back for accepting additional RA or TA work. The Fellowship has also intensified the reduction of funding for members who have earned departmental and external scholarships, which recognize the merits of their scholarly excellence and academic contributions. Through these clawbacks, the administration has effectively turned the minimum guarantee into a maximum guarantee.

The development and implementation of the Fellowship funding model shortly after the employer signed the 2015 Collective Agreement with CUPE 3903 resulted in the elimination of over 800 Graduate Assistantships (GAs), which are jobs for graduate students. Though claiming the Fellowship has ‘liberated students from work obligations’, it has undoubtedly robbed hundreds of graduate students of invaluable research and professional development opportunities, as well as access to necessary health benefits and funds to support their graduate work. Beyond this, the decimation of Unit 3 GAs has created an atmosphere of distrust in the administration and a perception amongst our members that nothing signed will actually be honoured by the administration.

Further illustrating the administration’s insensitivity to the needs of its students and our members, the negative impact of the Fellowship on equity and accessibility cannot be overstated. Students with code-based disabilities were denied 2-year extensions in the priority pool, despite it being past practice for a decade. That this proposal is being refused by the employer after 106 days on strike is appalling. The union is simply asking the employer to honour a past practice guaranteeing members with disabilities their right of a code-based extension.

If the administration took these concerns about the York Graduate Fellowship model seriously, we would not be in this lengthy strike. If the administration attended to the union’s concerns regarding reprisal language, we would not have further reason to prolong the strike. We call on the administration to make a meaningful attempt to correct the aspects of the Fellowship that have negatively impacted the striking bargaining units and to address the language in their Return to Work Protocol.