At least $74,000, or 37 out of the 40 grants awarded through the Graduate Assistant Training Fund (GATF), were misappropriated through the employer’s negligent management of the GATF. This money is earmarked for faculty members who hire Graduate Assistants (GA), who are represented by CUPE 3903 Unit 3. Of the 40 available grants, only three resulted in a GA posting. It is unknown whether those three postings resulted in three members being hired as GAs.
This serious mismanagement of our CA fund is made worse by the context which led to the creation of the GATF. In 2016-17, York revised all graduate funding with the “fellowship model” in a move that was designed to defund and eliminate over 800 Graduate Assistant positions, which were historically given to Master’s students. This blatant union-busting was one of the reasons behind the 5-month strike in 2018, at the end of which an arbitrator awarded the employer’s proposal for the GATF. This fund was supposedly designed to incentivize the hiring of 40 GAs, out of the 800 previously eliminated. Even when applied as intended, the Fund was only ever a bandaid on a gaping wound.
On several occasions in the summer of 2019, CUPE 3903 expressed concerns about the employer’s plans to manage the GATF. York repeatedly disregarded these concerns and implemented the fund. In March of 2020, after hearing several alarming anecdotes about how the money had been disbursed, the union requested data on who received the GATF and what positions were hired by these recipients. Five months lapsed between the union (repeatedly) raising the issue and the employer admitting it. At best, this is egregious mismanagement. At worst, the employer intentionally withheld information about its dishonest dealings for months.
We do not need a pie chart to visualize the sheer scale of this “error”. Despite the employer’s stated purpose to “support the incentivization of research at the University and the provision of high-quality training opportunities in research for graduate students”, money meant to train graduate student scholars was squandered and research by graduate students was not incentivized. It is very difficult not to attribute this latest attack on Unit 3 jobs as part of a pattern of continued union-busting.
In terms of immediate response, the union has filed a grievance demanding that the money be returned, safeguards put into place, and a penalty be paid. Post-facto responses that require that the employer be caught red-handed are insufficient, however. The most important lesson to be gained here is one that is most relevant as we enter into bargaining yet again: York cannot be trusted to manage any collective agreement funds.