Strike FAQ for Students

Strike FAQ for Students

Your learning experience is our teaching experience.

CUPE 3903 voted to strike starting on Monday, February 26th.

In contract negotiations, two sides bargain to reach an agreement. CUPE 3903 units that represent Contract Faculty, Teaching Assistants and Graduate/Research Assistants have been without a contract since August 31, 2023. We have been meeting with York and attempting to negotiate new contracts since June. In January 2024, negotiations continued with the help of a government-appointed mediator. Despite all this York University refuses to engage fairly with all of our main proposals – proposals that help make the university better for you too! 

We are not just fighting for ourselves – we are fighting for smaller classes, a reduced workload, and a guaranteed turnaround time on grading so you get more one-on-one attention from people with the time to devote to your education and return your graded assignments within a guaranteed, defined timeframe.

If York management negotiates fairly and offers a deal that is acceptable to the bargaining team and the membership between now and Monday, then this strike can be avoided. If York continues to negotiate as they have been to date, we cannot avoid a strike.

Tell York University administration to negotiate a fair contract with CUPE 3903! Add your name and email Senior York University Administration at

General Strike Info

Who is on strike?

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903) is on strike. We are the union that represents contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and part-time librarians and archivists at York University. This includes over 50% of your undergraduate course instructors, who are contract faculty and graduate students at York. Collectively, we fight for better working conditions and decent wages for the majority of the educators at York University, providing better quality and more accessible undergraduate and graduate education for all members of the York community.

What does a strike mean?

A strike is the ultimate last resort when an employer is not willing to bargain. It is a complete work stoppage and withdrawal of labour that forces the employer to take bargaining seriously. It is the only way for workers to exercise collective power against an employer that otherwise holds a lot of power over them.

Concretely, when educational workers are on strike, this means that they are no longer teaching, marking assignments, answering course content questions over email, holding labs, or any other duties relating to their employment. All programs, placements and classes taught by CUPE 3903 members will stop. While you may have access to eClass, no new content or assessments will be posted for the duration of the strike. CUPE members will not be responding to emails regarding their courses but can respond to general questions about the strike.

What is the strike about?

Our Working Conditions Are Students’ Learning Conditions

Members of CUPE 3903 are the instructors and educators that students interact with most! Improving our working conditions has a direct impact on students’ learning conditions.

In this round, we have made proposals to address class sizes, workload, and grading turnaround times, so that students can get their grades more regularly and get more one-on-one instructor attention. These are proposals York has refused to discuss to date.

Supporting workers through decent wages, job stability, and protections that directly contribute to a robust and inclusive educational experience for students and workers alike. These proposals will not only uplift the university workers but will also safeguard the educational quality that is integral to the reputation of York University.

Addressing the Cost-of-Living Crisis

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting everyone, but it is hitting those already in vulnerable positions the most. Between the cost of living increased by 15.8% and wage increases being capped at 1% for the past three years due to the Ford government’s Bill 124, which has since been found unconstitutional, the real wages (adjusted for inflation) that precariously employed academics earn for their work have dropped drastically. Inadequate wages impact us every day—at the grocery store, at the rental office, and the pharmacy. We need not only substantial increases in wages and graduate funding but also significant increases in our health benefits and other funds that we rely on to make ends meet.

Ensuring Job Stability

Did you know contract faculty (members of CUPE 3903 Unit 2) have to re-apply every few months for courses they’ve often taught for years? York relies on precarious contract labour for more than half of its teaching needs yet resists recognizing the value of that work. Job stability and equitable hiring also improve students’ learning experiences by giving instructors more time to plan courses and creating an overall better learning environment at York University.

Worker and Student Protections

We have proposed a better process for dealing with discrimination and harassment cases, ways to improve the workplace accommodations process for members with disabilities, an accommodations process, supports for members experiencing racialized violence, and a new mediation-arbitration process so grievances can be resolved faster. These proposals help make the university a more inclusive and accessible place for everyone! And these are just some of the union’s proposals!

Why does this matter to me?

We are fighting for smaller classes, a reduced workload, and a guaranteed turnaround time on grading – so you get more one-on-one attention from instructors and TAs with time to devote to your education and return your graded assignments within a guaranteed, defined timeframe.

But the biggest reason to care is that York can’t deliver a good education without TAs, Course Directors, and Graduate/Research Assistants. We prep your course materials, teach your classes, supervise your labs, run your tutorials, invigilate your exams, grade your assignments, and answer your emails. The problems that union members face (big classes, growing tutorials and labs, mounting debt, overwork, etc.) make it hard for us to teach to our potential – and for you to learn!

The administration is more likely to take steps to improve working conditions and education at York if they see that undergrads and graduate students are united and are advocating on each other’s behalf.  We’re stronger together!

Can York afford to meet the union’s demands?

Our demands do not place an undue burden on the university and would not result in higher tuition fees for undergraduate students. Administration salaries at York have ballooned as the government continues to cut funding – since 2018, the size of the senior administration team and its compensation (salary, benefits, bonuses and stipends) increased by 37% and 47%, respectively.

A decent contract doesn’t cause tuition fees to increase. Tuition fees increase because of government cuts to education funding and bad financial priorities by the University. Thirty years ago, about 80 percent of a university’s operating budget was covered by government funding. Today, government funding only covers about 50 percent. To make up the difference, universities have forced students to pay higher and higher tuition fees – creating massive debt for students while at the same time threatening the quality of their education.

How will it affect me?

CUPE 3903’s position is that it is unfair to students to try to hold classes while most of their instructors are on strike. However, it may the the case that some classes are still forced to run, this will be determined on a department to department basis.  All students should know that they are protected from academic reprisals by a York Senate policy should they refuse to cross picket lines. Crossing picket lines undermines the effectiveness of a strike and is therefore likely to prolong it.

Hopefully, York will come to the table to bargain fairly and the strike will be short. One point of agreement between the university and CUPE 3903 is that we do not want to disrupt our students’ studies any more than strictly necessary. After a strike, we will work to complete the semester as efficiently as possible.

Can I still contact my professors/TAs at this time?

Your professors/TAs will not be answering emails about coursework during the strike. But they can still communicate with you about non-coursework related things like the strike.

Can I still access YFS services/mental health supports/academic advising/school events during this time?

Yes. The York Federation of Students (YFS) provides a range of services that its 53,000 members rely on. During the strike, the unionized staff members of the YFS (represented by CUPE 1281) are not crossing picket lines. But, important services like the YFS Food Bank, the YFS Members’ Services Office (which distributes TTC tokens and passes), the YFS Printing Resource Centre, and YFS Access Centre will continue to operate. YFS members should feel free to access these services.

I live on campus. Will the strike prevent me from accessing housing, services, or facilities on campus?

No, you will be able to use housing services and access facilities as normal. Please notice that services such as Tait Mckenzie Centre, York Lanes, or other campus facilities might be affected due to the picket lines. CUPE 3903 will ensure medical and childcare services see no disruption and community members are able to access those without any barriers. You will still be able to come and go around campus.

How long could a strike last?

Typically, most university strikes have lasted a few weeks. Historically, strikes have been resolved in time for term completion. While York has had some lengthy strikes in the past, no term has ever been lost due to a strike.

But the short answer is: we don’t know. We need a fair deal and want this to end as soon as possible so that we can get back to work.

We are not the only union voting to strike. At York, CUPE Local 1356-2 have also voted in favour of strike action. UofT’s CUPE 3902 has also voted to strike, while both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association have had strong strike votes. Historically, having many unions in the sector striking at once has contributed to shorter strikes – it’s strength in numbers!

End of a strike

What happens when we come back after a strike? What happens to the term? How will the classes be made up?

Thankfully, no term has ever been lost due to a strike. After the strike, we will work to complete the semester as efficiently as possible.

As noted above, all students are protected from academic reprisals by a York Senate policy should they refuse to cross picket lines. We encourage every student to exercise this right.

In the past, after a strike course instructors and TAs ensured that all necessary and required content to meet course learning outcomes was delivered. Professors will re-work the course plan to reach the learning objectives for the course. Assignments may be reduced or redesigned with new due dates.

Getting Involved

Can I join the picket line? 

Yes, by all means! Our members would appreciate your support. Information about picketing and other strike-related events will be posted regularly on the CUPE 3903 website.

When you arrive, please identify yourself to the picket captain so they can inform you about safety protocols. If you don’t know who that is, ask a CUPE member!

What else can I do to help? 

  • Stay informed! You can sign up to get the latest updates right in your inbox.
  • Let other students know how to find this information along with our bargaining updates
  • Send an email to President Lenton and other Senior Administrators to show your support at:
  • Call President Lenton’s office at (416) 736-5200 to tell her you support your professors, contract instructors, and teaching assistants. Ask her why the university can’t sign a fair contract with CUPE 3903 now.
  • Talk to your fellow students about the issues and organize a show of solidarity.
  • Come visit us on the picket line! We love visitors, but please identify yourself to the picket captain so they can update you on safety protocols.
  • Follow us on Twitter/X (@cupe3903comms), Facebook (@CUPE3903), and Instagram (@cupe3903) for on-the-go updates.