York’s Campus Return Plan Strikes Confusion and Concern: Survey

Close to 500 CUPE 3903 members have already filled out the Winter Campus Return Survey since its launch in late December 2021. While there is still time to have your say, we would like to share the following preliminary conclusions:

  • York’s plan for a winter return is not inspiring confidence in our members
  • Members have serious ongoing concerns regarding their safety
  • The accommodations process is onerous and dysfunctional
  • There is broad support for the demands passed by the General Membership Meeting in November 2021

Mostly Negative Feelings Regarding a Safe Return

Members surveyed reported mostly negative feelings about returning to in person-learning. In particular, they predominantly expressed feeling anxious/nervous, stressed, and pessimistic.

A bar graph with the results to the question: How are you feeling about returning to in-person learning in Winter 2022? Teh categories are anxious/nervous, excited, unsure, afraid, overwhelmed, relieved, stressed, optimistic, pessimistic, tired/burnt out and other (please specify).

These feelings are not surprising given the results of several other questions in the survey. Overwhelmingly, members did not express confidence in York’s plan to keep the community safe, and do not believe that the plan is clear and responsive to members’ concerns.




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Overall, York’s plan is not getting a passing grade in terms of the belief that the administration’s plan will keep the community safe.

Member Concerns Include Omicron, Ventilation, Distancing

When asked about specific concerns about the return to campus, an overwhelming number of members (85%) responded that the Omicron variant was a concern. This is entirely reasonable given the climbing case count, nearly overwhelmed hospitals, and the fact that Omicron can evade the immunity previously provided by vaccination.

A strong majority of members (71%) expressed concerns about the lack of social distancing in the classroom. Given the highly contagious nature of Omicron, if York chooses to follow the provincial government’s decision to exempt higher education institutions from social distancing requirements, it will make it virtually impossible to prevent classrooms from becoming sites of potential outbreak.

In a similar vein, 68% are also worried about inadequate ventilation. It is worth noting that York University continues to fail to comply with the legal requirement to provide CUPE 3903 with the ventilation audits that they have completed.

A table showing the concerns of respondents. Omicron variant: 85.49%. Ventilation in classrooms: 68.08%. Inability to social distance: 71.65%. Lack of high-quality PPE: 54.02%. Inability to ask students to mask: 60.04%. Transmitting COVID to a vulnerable family member: 57.37%. Added workload due to hybrid teaching: 43.30%. Risks of spread in grad or student residences: 28.57%. Lack of clarity regarding plans for outbreaks: 61.38%. Accommodation processes at York are not adequate and/or fair: 29.46%. No plan if a pivot to remote is needed: 40.63%. Not knowing vaccination status of staff, students, and visitors on campus: 51.79%. Students/faculty not completing YU Screen: 43.30%. Lack of transparency around COVID cases: 53.13%. Taking public transit (TTC, GO, etc.): 50%. I have no concerns: 2.46%. Other (please specify): 13.39%.

Accommodations Process Gets a Poor Rating

The workplace accommodations process is a vital mechanism to protect members and/or members living with loved ones who are at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Members who meet the criteria for accommodations under the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g. disability, medical, family status) should have their work modified so that it is accessible to them (e.g. access to remote-work or to adequate PPE and well-ventilated classrooms where attendants can practice social distancing).

Of members surveyed, 13% reported having applied for workplace accommodations. Around 50% of these requests were rejected. It is no surprise then, that the accommodations process received a paltry 1.8 star rating from those who have participated in it, where 1 represents the process is “difficult/lengthy/intrusive” and 5 represents “easy/quick/understanding”.

A picture of a star rating of the accommodations process. It is rated 1.8 stars out of 5.

This result is reflective of the union’s experience. Even after providing ample documentation York has refused to approve a great number of accommodation requests. Only after persistent pushback from the union’s executive and staff, did York finally begin to reverse these refusals.

While York recently signed a settlement with YUFA to improve the system of accommodations, they have yet to sign a similar settlement with CUPE 3903, and problems with the process persist. As it stands, the system of accommodations continues to be unnecessarily onerous and scrutinizing which counters York’s claims that it will be able to keep our most vulnerable members and their families safe.

Broad Support for Membership Demands

Given the ongoing concerns with York’s return plan identified above, it is unsurprising that the demands passed at the November 2021 General Membership Meeting have been met with broad support. In particular, 85% of respondents say that they support instructors’ choice over the mode of delivery of their course. Providing members the flexibility to deliver their courses in a way that addresses their and their students’ need for safety would go a long way to addressing specific issues around accommodations, distancing, and ventilation.

All of the demands received majority support, as can be seen in the table below.

A table showing the survey results regarding support for particular demands. York should respect instructors' choice over mode of delivery (in-person/remote): 84.97%. York should abide by its legal requirement to make ventilation audits available to the union: 75.85%. York should improve the medical accommodations process and extend existing accommodations: 67.88%. York should grant family status accommodations to members who risk transmitting COVID-19 to unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised family members living in the same household: 75.17%. York should release accurate and complete data about vaccination rates and case counts on campus: 78.59%. York should grant instructors the authority to ask their students to complete the daily YU Screen questionnaire and abide by masking guidelines: 71.30%. York should open participation in the COVID table to all members of CUPE 3903: 60.36%. York should develop a transparent, evidence-based contingency plan, with thresholds in case counts and transmission rates that would trigger a campus shutdown: 78.36%. York should make respirators (high-quality PPE) available to all members of the York community: 68.79%. York should make rapid antigen tests easily available to all members of the York community: 81.32%.

What’s Next?

The results of this survey show that a) members are not confident that York’s plan will keep them safe, b) concerns with the plan are widely shared, and c) the solutions presented by the union have broad support. The path forward is clear: York needs to take the necessary steps so that every single member of the York community can work and study in a safe environment.

Currently, York’s plan is to return to in-person teaching at the end of January. There is very clear evidence that the risks presented by the Omicron variant will persist, at least, for the remainder of the term. If there is a move to return to campus before York takes the necessary steps to keep us safe, we need to take collective action. This will mean moving quickly as the situation develops.

For members interested in organizing for a safe return, please contact tfac2.cupe3903@gmail.com, otherwise keep an eye out on our website and social media to find out how to get involved.