On Friday, March 2, Teaching Assistants, Contract Faculty, and Graduate Assistants voted to reject the “final offer” the employer had tabled the previous day. The membership then held another vote recommending that a strike begin on Monday March 5 at 12:01 am. The information below will be updated as we find out more.
- Who is CUPE 3903?
- Why is there a strike?
- What does “being on strike” mean?
- What are the main issues?
- Why not just go to arbitration?
- What happens to my classes during a strike?
- What if I feel pressured into attending class?
- Can I still access YFS services?
- What can I do to help?
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.
Why is there a strike?
CUPE 3903 Units 1, 2, and 3 (excluding part-time librarians and archivists) have been without a contract since August 31, 2017. We have been meeting with the employer since late September, attempting to negotiate new contracts. Since January 8, these meetings have taken place with the help of a government-appointed conciliator.
After months of bargaining, the offer presented by the employer on March 2 did not respond to educators’ needs. For example, the offer did not protect Teaching Assistants from reductions or arbitrary changes to their funding, offered less stability and fewer full-time opportunities for contract faculty than the previous contract, and did not respond to the elimination of more than 800 Graduate Assistant jobs. See “What are the issues?” below for more information.
Faced with such an inadequate offer, and an employer that had been dragging its feet since the beginning of bargaining, the membership of CUPE 3903 was faced with a very difficult decision. A strike is a last resort, and this decision was not taken lightly.
What does “being on strike” mean?
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.
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.
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 2.
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.
Reversing the cut of more than 800 jobs
In 2016, York cut more than 800 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 discuss a set number of jobs, as well as compromise positions that would give priority of research jobs to Master’s students.
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 to facilitate respectful communication with people who are Deaf, 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.
Why not just go to arbitration?
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, the York administration is opting to try to do so. 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.
Some departments have decided to suspend classes for the duration of the strike. Here is the list we have so far:
- Social Science
- Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies
- School of Translation (Glendon)
- Politics (Glendon)
- Cinema and Media Arts
- Equity Studies
- Communication Studies
The departments of English and Social Work have recommended the suspension of classes. Twenty-four faculty members in the Faculty of Environmental Studies have signed a letter demanding the suspension of all classes.
Hopefully, York will come to the table 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 would work to complete the semester as efficiently as possible.
What if I feel pressured into attending class?
As stated above, all students are protected by the Senate policy on the academic implications of labour disruptions. However, asserting those rights can be hard to do. Luckily, your representatives at the York Federation of Students (YFS) have put together a resource on how to do just that, which you can find here: YFS Strike Info Page.
Can I access YFS services?
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. Only four services are being provided: the YFS Food Bank, the YFS Members’ Services Office (which distributes TTC tokens and passes), and the YFS Printing Resource Centre, and YFS Access Centre. YFS members should feel free to access these services.
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: yorkstopthecuts.ca.
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.
Support your instructors by not crossing picket lines!