Strike FAQ 2024

Strike FAQ 2024

Members of CUPE 3903 Unit 1 (Teaching Assistants), Unit 2 (Contract Faculty) and Unit 3 (Graduate/Research Assistants) may vote to go on strike in February 2024. There are a lot of questions about what being on strike means and how it happens. This page attempts to answer all your burning questions! Of course, if there’s anything else you want to know, you can always reach out!

Please read this letter from the bargaining team to see what is at stake this round of bargaining.

Strike Basics

What does it mean to go on strike?

A strike is a legal step that unionized workers can choose to take when they can’t reach an agreement with their employer when bargaining new collective agreements. A strike is a strong leveraging tool for workers. Being on strike means withdrawing your labour to pressure the employer to move at the bargaining table. The withdrawal of labour means not doing any of the work associated with your contract, e.g. if you are a TA, you’re not running tutorials, not attending lectures, not grading assignments, not holding office hours, etc.

How is the decision to go on strike made?

The decision to go on strike comes from the membership – these are your contracts that are being negotiated, and you get to decide whether what’s being offered is good enough. The first step was to hold a strike mandate vote: this happened in December 2023, and 84% of members voted to authorize a strike if necessary. The next vote will happen on February 16th, when the membership will consider the employer’s “final offer” and decide to accept it or reject it. If it’s rejected, the membership can vote to direct the bargaining team to return to the table with specific directions, or to go on strike.

What do I need to do before going on strike?

There’s a few things members can do to prepare for a strike, and a few things that are not required to do. Before the strike begins you can sign up for picket pay! The registration form is forthcoming and will be distributed when ready! We encourage members to communicate with students about the likelihood of a strike, what may happen, and how this may (and may not) impact students so that students are not taken off guard. You can also communicate strike updates with students during a strike. You may also hide or remove course content or your own intellectual material from eclass.

During a strike action, the Union will be calling on members to withhold submission of grades as part of work-to-rule action. Despite recent communications from York administration, CUPE 3903 members are not required to upload any grade on eClass before a strike action.

As stated by YUFA: The request that YUFA members and/or their Teaching Assistants upload grades on eClass appears to be motivated by a desire of the Employer – currently in negotiation with CUPE 3903 – to undermine solidarity between campus unions. YUFA has expresses its support for CUPE 3903 in negotiations for a fair contract.

At the end of the year, course directors are required to upload final grades to the SIS Student Information System) portal once a course is completed. But a strike does not change timelines and there is no need for any of this additional workload being downloaded to course directors before reading week. That is the extent of what CUPE 3903 members have to do, and of how to do it.

What if I keep working at York University during the strike? 

Working during a strike is a form of strike breaking, also called scabbing, and it is against the CUPE National Constitution. This means that you could lose some or all of your union privileges or face fines.

Withholding your labour during a strike is crucial for two reasons: First, the stronger the strike, the more effective it will be, and the faster it will conclude. Therefore, by undermining the strike you are working against your own interests. Second, and most importantly, all members get the same contract. Undermining the efforts of those who are fighting for your rights alongside their own is counterproductive and disrespectful. All members get a say in whether there is a strike or not; once that decision is made, it’s to everyone’s benefit to work together towards a resolution of the strike.

Can I attend classes/use the library/work on my research during the strike? 

You are not strike breaking when you engage in activities that are not directly tied to the contract from which you are withdrawing your labour. However, members are encouraged to avoid crossing the picket lines as much as possible. That being said, no one will police you if you need to attend to time-sensitive experiments or otherwise use campus facilities.

If classes go ahead during the strike, all students, including graduate students, are protected by the Senate Policy regarding labour disruptions, which gives students who choose not to attend class during a strike “immunity from penalty, to reasonable alternative access to materials covered in their absence, to reasonable extensions of deadlines and to such other remedy as Senate deems necessary and consistent with the principle of academic integrity”.

How does a strike end//what happens after a strike ends?

Once the Bargaining Team achieves a tentative agreement, it will be brought to a ratification vote. If the membership votes to ratify the new agreement, the strike is over. During a strike, there are weekly general membership meetings, at which members can direct the bargaining team as necessary to reach a deal.

As part of the process of ending a strike, we negotiate back-to-work protocol – this will include plans for remediation of the work missed during the strike, including amended sessional dates and payroll dates. Members will get paid for all work done to remediate after the strike, up to 100% of your original contract depending on how many weeks of remediation there is to complete. Union officers and staff are here to fight for you if the Employer withholds work or pay after a strike.

Strike Finances

If there’s a strike, will I get paid? 

You will not receive employee pay* from York University because you are withdrawing your labour for the duration of the strike. All members who participate in approved strike duties are eligible to receive strike pay from CUPE National. For the first 7 weeks of a strike, strike pay is $300 per week, assuming five shifts of 4 hours each, for a maximum of 20 hours. Strike pay increases at the 8, 12, and 16 week mark.

*This is different from money associated with scholarships.

What if I need additional financial support?

CUPE 3903 will operate a Strike Hardship Fund (SHF) for members who are facing financial crises during the strike. The SHF is designed to assist CUPE 3903 members who are participating in the strike and is intended to supplement strike pay. The SHF supports members in purchasing items they need for picketing or alternate duty and in dealing with financial hardship resulting from reduced income during the strike.

To be eligible for the SHF, there is an expectation of strike participation: that people either picket, or register with the 8th line to arrange alternate duty strike work, unless they have exceptional circumstances.

A committee of members from the 8th line will adjudicate Hardship Fund requests on the basis of need and availability to help as many members as possible. The Hardship Fund is funded through a portion of the Strike Fund and also donations. More information on applying will be available as the committee prepares.

Strike Duties and Accommodations

What’s an approved strike duty?

For most members, strike duty means picketing, i.e. slowing down traffic coming onto York’s campuses. Physical picket lines need picket captains, people who move gates or pylons, people who keep time, people who talk to drivers, people who direct traffic, and of course, those who walk the picket line! There are also other necessary duties like strike coordinators (who coordinate between the lines), people responsible for loading and unloading equipment, people who are involved in processing strike pay, social media, coordinating supplies, soliciting donations, etc. Non-picket duties are reserved as much as possible for members who require accommodations.

What’s a Picket Line?

The civil law recognizes that striking workers and unions may wish to communicate to the public about the issues in their labour dispute.

Picket Lines Basics

  1. The most important thing about a picket is the safety of picketers and this is everyone’s responsibility. Be alert, look out for one another and do not put yourself or others in a dangerous situation. Do not begin to picket until the proper equipment is present and enough people to properly picket the street/entrance/area have assembled.
  2. Each picket line will have Picket Captains, who are in charge of safety on the line. All picketers are encouraged to work collectively with their line’s Picket Captains to ensure the safe and effective operation of the picket line.

How long are picket line shifts?

A picket line shift is four hours long. We will start with two shifts per day, a morning shift (7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) and an afternoon shift (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Please arrive before your scheduled start time and dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

How to prepare for daily shifts on the Picket Lines

  1. Dress warmly. Being outside for four hours in this weather is hard on bodies. Wear lots of layers. Also wear a toque, a scarf, and mitts or gloves. It sounds obvious, but it is amazing what we all forget!
  2. Feet can get wet pretty easily. Bring an extra pair of socks, stored in a plastic bag. Try to wear shoes/boots that keep your feet dry and prevent slipping/falling (strike hardship fund can help if you don’t have the right gear).
  3. Bring some snacks, and bring some water. Warm beverages like herbal tea are always nice too!
  4. If you are freezing cold, tell your picket captain. Depending on the size and location of your picket line, you may be able to take a 10-minute break to warm up inside somewhere nearby. It’s important to work together so everyone can take occasional breaks to warm up!
  5. Picket lines are as fun as you make them: bring some music and speakers, bring food to share if you can, bring games you can play while walking in a circle. Be creative!
  6. Picket lines are also serious: pay attention while you walk the line.
  7. Look after yourselves! Your safety and well-being are the most important things in this strike. If there are things we can do to help facilitate your safety and well-being, please let your picket captain know. They will communicate that information to the Strike Committee.

What measures are in place for picket line accessibility?

Each picket line will have a wheelchair accessible portapotty. Many lines are also close to businesses or other buildings where someone can use the washroom or take a quick break to warm up. Picket lines will have tables and chairs. While maintaining an active picket line is important for the strike, no one should police anyone who is sitting down or taking a break. All picketers should commit to being mindful that different people have different needs and can play different but equally important roles on the picket line.

Who is eligible for accommodations? 

All members who cannot picket for reasons covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g. disability, illness, caring responsibilities for an ill child, lactation, etc.) are eligible for alternate duties, also called the 8th Line. CUPE 3903 commits to strike pay for these members regardless of whether CUPE National approves them.

Accommodations for other reasons, e.g. living very far from campus, incompatible work schedules, etc. will be accommodated if possible; however, priority will be given to Ontario Human Rights Code-based accommodations.

How do I request an accommodation?

Members who need accommodations should indicate as much when they fill out the picket pay form. Members who have an Accommodated Work Plan through York will not be asked to provide additional documentation. However, we recognize that walking a picket line represents a different accessibility standard than teaching duties. You can request strike accommodations even if you don’t have formal accommodations through the employer.

More information on how to apply will be posted as soon as possible once the process has been approved by CUPE National.

What if I’m travelling/out of town during the strike?

There’s no punishment for just not being on the picket lines. If you’re travelling or away from town during the strike for any reason, that’s fine. However, if you’re not contributing to the strike by carrying out strike duties, you will not be eligible for picket pay during the period that you’re away. If you live far away and cannot reach the picket lines to complete regular duties, you can apply for accommodations and work alternative (“8th line”) duties. See above for more on accommodations.

I’m in International Student – what does a strike mean for me?

Not only is striking entirely legal for international students, it is a protected activity under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You cannot be punished for participating in a strike, performing strike duties, and/or showing support for the Union during contract negotiations. In additional, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) protects foreign workers’ right to lawfully strike and provides protections to study permits when international students are unable to complete their studies due to circumstances entirely beyond their control, such as a strike.

We’re created a specific Strike FAQ for International Students, please click here to find out more!

How do I get more involved?

The best way to make sure you hear all the latest news is the sign up for the weekly newsletter:

As per Article 19 of the bylaws, the Strike Committee is responsible for strike logistics, including things like strike policy, finances, choosing a strike headquarters, and more. There’s a lot of work to be done and we need many helping hands! We encourage all members to get involved as they can.

In particular, we need volunteers to help support strike action preparation and join various subcommittees. Some possible roles you can fill are picket captains and strike coordinators but a full list of subcommittees can be found in Article 10 of our Strike Policy. Please take a look and let us know what role excites you most!

Interested members should reach out to one of the lead stewards:
Unit 1 – Matt Lomas,
Unit 2 – Chris Bailey,
Unit 3 – Imran Syed,