Women, Precarious Employment, and the Strike

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903) has been on strike since March 5, 2018. It is now the longest strike in the post-secondary sector in Canadian history. The strike has been marked with an intransigent employer that has agreed to negotiate only two days out of more than 130. This is a struggle against precarious employment and for the very right of the union to exist and represent workers on campus (as seen with the unilateral cutting of over 800 jobs for graduate students). It is also a struggle that heavily features women and their rights under precarious employment.

Data from Statistics Canada indicates that women are disproportionately impacted by precarious employment, and that this phenomenon is compounded for racialized women, immigrant women, LGBTQ women, and women with disabilities. When we fight for better job security and working conditions, women reap the benefits.

CUPE 3903 has been making gains on issues of harassment at York, with strong anti-harassment language introduced in the 2005 bargaining round. The language was further strengthened in 2011 and again in 2015. In this current bargaining round CUPE 3903 has several bargaining proposals to address the ways in which women are especially confined to and impacted by precarious work: lactation facilities, gender and sexual violence leave, access to childcare, and support for survivors of sexual violence.

Lactation facilities and gender and sexual violence leave are two big wins from this round of bargaining. We also neared agreement on an increase to our Childcare Fund, an increase to the operating funds of childcare centers on Keele Campus, and a commitment to explore childcare at the Glendon and upcoming Markham Campuses. The availability of childcare, especially part-time childcare to accommodate part-time, precarious employment, as well as lactation facilities, helps to lessen the effects of precarity on women, for whom childcare and pregnancy present serious impediments to stable employment.

CUPE 3903 makes a point of including fighting for rights that are already guaranteed by law but which the employer has failed to independently provide. Our demands for lactation facilities are an example of our willingness to hold the employer accountable for its own failure to comply with Ontario Human Rights Law.

CUPE 3903 is also instrumental in demanding funding for the Lee Wiggins Childcare Centre, one of only two daycare spaces across all York campuses. The centre is constantly under threat of closing due to insufficient funding. CUPE 3903 has consistently included funding demands for Lee Wiggins in our bargaining. We also routinely ask for more childcare funding than other unions at York. Supporting our members with children, as well as parents campus-wide, is a priority for CUPE 3903.

One of our bargaining proposals that also remains outstanding after more than four months on strike is funding for a Sexual Violence Survivor Support Fund. In response to sexual violence at the university and within our union, in 2015 CUPE 3903 established a Sexual Violence Survivor Support Fund, which helps cover the costs associated with surviving sexual violence, whether they be medical, legal, or incidental. In this round of bargaining, we have asked York University to contribute financially to this fund so that it can keep doing the work it had successfully initiated three years ago. Sexual violence can have serious impacts on employment for women when there are no supports in place. This proposal is a large part of why many members of CUPE 3903 are still on strike.

CUPE 3903 is a sector leader and sets the tone for contract negotiations in the post-secondary sector across the country. Many unions have been able to point to our Trans Fund to get their own employer to fund one of their own. A win against precarious employment and the ways in which women are specifically affected can be leveraged by unions across the country to win similar provisions.