Bargaining Team Responds to Employer on Equity

On Monday April 26th, the Bargaining Team sent a letter to Dan Bradshaw, Assistant Vice President Labour Relations (and lead negotiator for the Employer), addressing the Employer’s responses to our proposals on employment equity and proposed steps to address systemic inequities at York University. You can read the full letter below.

Dear Dan,

On March 13, on behalf of the Employer, you told us that you were surprised by CUPE 3903’s communications in which the Union refers to itself as doing the heavy lifting on equity, and describes the Employer as lacking a plan to implement concrete changes. When we say CUPE 3903 is doing the heavy lifting, it is because the problem of systemic racism at York University is real and deep-seated, and it needs great effort to uproot. We are not interested in scoring points by simply making claims to be leading on equity; we are interested in everyone putting their backs into making systemic change to create equity. 

Since the beginning, the Union instead has sought to engage in meaningful bargaining without protracting the process. In December 2020, we presented our package of proposals which reflect the diversity of our local and the University. We emphasized several key issues, especially job security and equity. Our view is that stability for students, faculty, and the administration is best achieved when the Employer and the Union are engaged in just and transparent employment policies and practices. 

Our package offers a robust while not exhaustive model of stable work for employees in all three bargaining units, seeking to redress inequitable access to the protections of our existing collective agreements. Our proposals include provisions for greater representation of equity-seeking groups, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), who face systemic discrimination at all career levels. However, the problem of underrepresentation is not the only way we have sought to implement equity. We have proposed improved job security programs, and a dignified path to retirement for instructors who have taught at this university for decades. 

Our package includes proposals to address long-standing problems in the School of Nursing, where a lack of clarity regarding qualifications and job description for Clinical Course Directors has produced a toxic work environment for workers on the front lines of a global pandemic. Clarifying the mandate and powers of the Employment Equity Committee would also increase the Union and the Employer’s ability to work on joint solutions to long-standing equity concerns outside of the bargaining context. In Unit 3, more than 800 jobs were cut in 2016 when the Employer revamped the graduate funding model, and the few remaining positions have been further eroded by the misclassification of graduate assistantships. Our proposals seek increased joint oversight of funds for graduate assistants to counter the Employer’s ongoing union-busting. Notably, the loss of graduate assistantship positions limits graduate students’ access to the equity-based funds, benefits, and many other protections that come with being a member of the Union. 

For months, the Employer’s initial and repeated responses to our proposals integrating equity and job security were questions about how that would work. This response implies that the Employer lacks any genuine will to pull their weight and develop concrete steps to achieve employment equity. This response does not inspire confidence nor reflect an administration that has a clear plan to implement change.

More than three months after the Union presented its equity proposals, the Employer’s Bargaining Team finally shared their proposal on equity hiring. Concretely, the Employer’s proposal would eliminate seniority protections, and further marginalizes long-serving BIPOC members of CUPE 3903. This approach represents a significant concession that members would never ratify, and that smacks of a cynical attempt to claim the upper hand on equity. This is another example that makes the Union question the Employer’s commitment to fighting anti-racism, and whether the Employer understands that where systemic employment inequities exist, the burden to redress those inequities is on those who hold power and resources— the Employer.

For CUPE 3903, while hiring members from equity seeking groups is an important goal, it does not sufficiently address all equity-related issues that members confront daily in their workplace. In addition to removing barriers in the hiring process, the Employer should be increasing and improving the supports available to members after they are hired, including mentorship opportunities, effective and timely workplace accommodations processes, as well as clear and consistent family status accommodations, and mandatory equity-based and anti-violence training for heads of hiring units. Such measures would improve the experiences of newly hired members, especially those from equity-seeking groups. Strengthening the Employer’s response to workplace violence and harassment –including appointing trained external investigators when workplace violence does take place– would demonstrate a continued support for members who, as precarious workers, experience the brunt of systemic and institutionalized discrimination.  

CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team is seeking meaningful and substantive change to redress systemic racism at York University. If the Employer wants to join us in this process, we welcome you shouting it from the rooftops and including it in all your press releases. What we object to strongly is your use of equity for the purposes of PR, your attempts to pit members against each other by positing equity against seniority, or to silence criticism of institutional inaction, therefore perpetuating white dominance. For the Employer to take up space in bargaining to express surprise at CUPE 3903’s valid criticisms is to miss the big picture: redressing systemic inequity is the Employer’s responsibility. For the Employer’s seemingly all-white Bargaining Team to claim to have the best approach to equity is not only a misrepresentation of reality, but also offensive. White people’s feelings about equity should not be dominating conversations around racial equity. To do so further delays the work that needs to be done, and signals to racialized people, especially racialized members of CUPE 3903, that their experiences are irrelevant and unimportant. 

We open every bargaining session with a land acknowledgment, which reminds us of the history of colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and that the longstanding guiding principles in these territories are to share and redistribute wealth. It is long past time for the Employer to turn these words into action. We look forward to engaging meaningfully in this urgent work.

The CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team