On Monday, December 3, the arbitrator James Hayes provided his award for the Units 1, 2, and 3 collective agreements. These awards confirm what we at CUPE 3903 have said from the start: arbitration is not a valid way forward to resolve complex disputes. Arbitration, by Hayes’ admission, is a blunt instrument that knowingly simplifies difficult and complicated issues to arrive at limited solutions. While the government claimed to be acting in the best interests of students, it is clear from this that legislation that trampling on the rights of workers to impose half-measures that paper over problem is not in the best interests of anyone but the powerful and privileged.
This result is a demonstration of a continued trend of attacks on unions by both the government and employers. York refused to bargain in the hopes that the government would bail them out of that responsibility, and they have been rewarded. Meanwhile, it is the workers who suffer from this alliance.
Rather than working with the union in an effort to reach an agreement that both sides could live with, the employer chose to bargain in the media, with misleading language designed to polarize the York community and the public. We should not misunderstand their intentions: the use of the Code of Student of Rights and Responsibilities to punish members and undergrads for peaceful protest is yet another example of their aggressive attitude which left the entire York community reeling for a record-breaking 143 days.
That the government did bail out the employer from its duty to bargain is not something to be celebrated, as this outcome demonstrates. The issue here is not that the union did not get everything it was asking for — after all, that is what can reasonably be expected from even a freely bargained settlement. The problem is that this settlement does nothing to alleviate the situation of precarity at York University and contains rulings that fail to consider the challenges they present to free collective bargaining. A negotiated settlement would have avoided these pitfalls.
The climate of precarity in academia is very real. In fact, Hayes himself states in his ruling that “York is only one university among many others that depends heavily upon contract faculty for the delivery of undergraduate teaching.” By imposing concessions through arbitration, all this ruling has achieved is to deepen the existing crisis and further entrench these antagonisms. We need a sustainable solution and this process has done nothing to work towards one.
While this is the close of one of the hardest chapters of York’s history, it is not the end of the story. We continue to fight for good stable jobs and against the precarity espoused by both the York administration and the government. Members of CUPE 3903 gave everything they had to hold firm for themselves and their colleagues, and a better future for York University as a whole. This matters as we move forward into the next chapter of this struggle.
To read the awards for all units, check below.