Information for Students

Worried about a strike? Confused about bargaining? Want to know more? This is the page designed specifically with undergraduate students in mind!A banner inviting students to sign up for email updates.


Who is CUPE 3903?

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903) is the union that represents contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and part-time librarians and archivists at York University. Collectively, we do 60% of the teaching at York.

What is bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process through which an employer and their employees (through their union) agree to new contracts. At York, a typical contract lasts three years. CUPE 3903 Units 1, 2, and 3 (excluding part-time librarians and archivists) have been without a contract since August 31, 2017. The membership of CUPE 3903 elected a bargaining team and approved the proposal package over the spring and summer of 2017. We have been meeting with the employer since late September, attempting to negotiate new contracts. Little to no progress has been achieved.

Will there be a strike? If so, when?

It is too early to know whether there will be a strike. The membership voted 85% in favour of a Strike Mandate. A strong Strike Mandate tells the employer that we are willing to take strike action if necessary. Considering the lack of movement in negotiations since the fall, a Strike Mandate was necessary. Hopefully this pressure will force York to bargain and a strike will not be needed.

A strike deadline has been set for March 5, 2018. The members of CUPE 3903 will meet on Friday, March 2 and make a decision based on the contents of the employer’s offer at that time.

What is the purpose of a strike? Why not just go to arbitration?

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

Arbitration is a legally binding ruling made by a third party. Arbitration rulings tend to follow sector standards and are therefore not a good way to gain improvements to a contract. It is a way to undermine collective power; therefore, arbitration generally favours employers over workers. Arbitration is never completely out of the question, but it should not be treated as an alternative to bargaining, and it is not always a valid alternative to a strike.

What happens to my classes during a strike?

CUPE 3903’s position is that it is unfair to students to try to hold classes while 60% of their instructors are on strike. However, that decision rests with the university. If the university chooses to continue classes during a strike, all students should know that they 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. Crossing picket lines undermines the effectiveness of a strike and is therefore likely to prolong it.

Hopefully, if a strike occurs, it 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 would work to complete the semester as efficiently as possible.

What are the main issues?

Increasing job security for contract faculty

Most contract faculty have to reapply for their jobs every year, and are often given contracts right before the start of class. This uncertainty is bad for contract faculty, but it also negatively impacts students, as courses are prepared without adequate time.

We are suggesting improvements to four different programs that give contract faculty more security and certainty in their jobs, and concrete solutions to the problem of late course postings. York has refused all of these, and is even suggesting to cut one of these programs — the Conversions Program — from 8 appointments a year to only 1.

Protecting funding for Teaching Assistants

York has suggested to completely reorganize the way in which funding is paid out to Teaching Assistants. Their proposal would make it easier for the university to claw back money that TAs earn from other sources, such as scholarships or Research Assistantships. It could also mean a reduction in years of funding for PhD students from 6 to 4.

Reversing the cut of more than 700 jobs

In 2016, York cut more than 700 Graduate Assistant jobs, artificially inflated the cost for faculty to hire graduate students into these positions themselves, and then warned faculty that their grants could be denied if they hired Graduate Assistants at the new, inflated cost. This is blatant union-busting. These measures have had serious impacts on Masters students, who have been robbed of access to superior health benefits and a variety of union funds, not to mention valuable work experience.

In response to these union-busting measures, CUPE 3903 has filed an Unfair Labour Practices suit with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. However, we would prefer to come to a negotiated agreement rather than wasting resources — both ours and York’s — going through this legal process. So far, York has refused to even discuss the issue.

Equity and accessibility in the workplace

Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, racialized people and women remain underrepresented in processes of hiring and promotion. We’re seeking to protect access to employment and promotion for contract faculty and graduate students who are members of equity-seeking groups, as well as to expand data collection on employment equity. As we did in the 2015 contract negotiations, we are again demanding that LGBTQ-identified persons be included under these protections. We also have proposals meant to improve accessibility, for example ASL interpretation for the hearing-impaired, and access to childcare and breastfeeding rooms. There has been some very small movement on some of these proposals, but not enough, especially considering that most would not cost York any money.

What can I do?

Stay informed! You can get the latest updates right in your inbox.

CUPE 3903 and the York University Graduate Students Association (YUGSA) have a joint petition asking York to stop the cuts to graduate funding, which you can sign here:

Talk to your fellow students about the issues and organize a show of solidarity.

Follow us on Twitter (@cupe3903comms) and Facebook (@CUPE3903) for on-the-go updates.

In the event of a strike, support your instructors by not crossing picket lines!