CUPE 3903 Questions the Employer’s “Principled” Stance

On Wednesday June 27, the Executive Committee sent a letter to President Lenton challenging the idea that the administration’s resistance to negotiating is a principled stance. Considering the few proposals that remain on the table, the principles that appear to be espoused are: impeding a survivor-centric response to sexual violence, denying human rights, union-busting and making graduate education accessible only to the increasingly privileged, and suppressing dissent.

Dear President Lenton,

Today marks the 115th day of a strike that has impacted every member of the York community. For four months, your administration and its bargaining team have drawn out this strike by continuously abdicating your responsibility to students, workers, and the community to do the hard work of negotiating an end to this strike. In your last communication, you asserted that, given the commitments of the incoming government, arbitration is inevitable. Let us be clear: holding to this position runs a serious risk that your administration will draw out this strike for a fifth month.

In the early hours of June 3rd, our bargaining team asked you to reconsider your response to our offer which would have ended the strike three weeks ago. This offer accepted several of your proposals and sent the overwhelming majority of outstanding proposals to arbitration, including every item your administration identified as a barrier to settlement. Once again, our bargaining team is asking you to reassess your priorities and to do better by negotiating an end to this strike.

On several occasions, you claimed that it is principles, not money, that are at the heart of this dispute and that these principles are preventing your bargaining team from engaging in negotiations. We agree that principles are key to this dispute. Below we outline some of the principles our members hold dear as they pertain to the few bargaining proposals that remain on the table, in contrast to what we can only imagine are the principles that your administration upholds.

Sexual Violence Support Fund: Survivor-Centric Response vs Administrative Control

Sexual violence is a problem that universities are grappling with after years of failing to take this issue seriously. The Sexual Violence Survivor Support Fund is an initiative by the CUPE 3903 Trans Feminist Action Caucus (TFAC) that the union has been funding out of its own budget for three years. It has been very successful in helping survivors with the costs they have incurred in relation to their experiences of sexual violence. Asking the university to contribute to this financial commitment to survivors in the form of a TFAC-controlled fund is a very reasonable and principled request which would demonstrate the university’s commitment to survivors beyond the minimum required by legislation. Your administration’s continued refusal to do so indicates to us that you will put risk management and administrative control over a proven method of supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Code-Based Extensions: Respect for Human Rights vs Minimal Cost Savings

In recognition of students’ different needs and abilities, your administration had previously funded two years of priority pool extensions for Unit 1 members who have accommodations based on the Ontario Human Rights Code. This was changed arbitrarily. It is shameful that we have been forced to present a proposal to restore this practice when it is a matter of honouring human rights commitments. The only “principle” that could be at issue here is that the refusal to grant funding to those who have been granted code-based extensions presents minimal cost savings.

Graduate Assistant Jobs: Accessible Graduate Education vs Union-Busting

In 2016, your administration cut more than 800 jobs in an effort to divorce student funding from work and weaken the union. The real costs of this decision were felt on an individual level as the loss of work robbed many incoming students of health benefits, access to funds, and protections and extensions for students with disabilities, not to mention valuable work experience and networking opportunities. These benefits are essential to ensuring accessible graduate education, and maintaining and increasing research excellence at York University. As you yourself said at a recent Young Universities Summit, ensuring access is an institutional and societal good, allowing for the potential of a greater diversity of students to be expressed. With these benefits in mind, the union is asking you to remove institutional barriers that prevent principal investigators from hiring Graduate Assistantships. May we remind you that access to GAships is simply a return to similar institutional practices that existed prior to 2016.

Reprisals: Protecting Freedom of Expression vs Suppressing Dissent

Despite entreaties from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), your administration has clearly indicated that you believe it is not only your right but your responsibility to enact reprisals against our members and supporters through draconian use of the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities. We cannot in good conscience fail to respond to these threats against our members and student supporters. This Code cannot be used to suppress dissent or critique of the university’s governance or practices. However much you may be claiming to act on legal obligations, it is clear that this is the suppression of political dissent and academic freedom.

You have often stated that York University is a space for social justice. We wholeheartedly agree, but have to ask how impeding a survivor-centric response to sexual violence, denying human rights, union-busting and making graduate education accessible only to the increasingly privileged, and suppressing dissent are compatible with social justice. If you choose to further drag out this strike, rather than engaging with our very few remaining proposals, we would ask that you at least take ownership of that position so that students, workers, and the community might know why it is that their lives and the reputation of their university have been so disrupted.

Devin Lefebvre,
For the CUPE 3903 Executive Committee