The YUGSA executive has carefully reviewed William Kaplan’s report to the Ministry of Labour, as well as York’s and CUPE 3903’s response. YUGSA agrees with CUPE 3903’s response, but we would like to focus our response on the issue of cuts to Graduate Assistantships (or, GAships), which Kaplan’s report inexcusably fails to mention, and which is of particular concern to YUGSA members, and to the graduate studies community in general.
As CUPE 3903 argues [emphasis is ours]:
“Mr. Kaplan states, correctly, that the issue of precarity presents a significant division between the union and the employer. However, we disagree that precarity for contract faculty is the only issue of importance. For example, the loss of over 800 Unit 3 Graduate Assistant jobs was one factor that led to the strike, as the employer continuously refused to acknowledge the issue. The absence of any direct mention of this issue, funding for Teaching Assistants, or equity proposals in the report is alarming.”
It is indeed alarming that the most significant issue for graduate students and for members of Unit 1 & 3 is completely missed in Kaplan’s report. Senator Rajabi-Paak, the President of YUGSA, emphasized this issue during the April 12, 2018 meeting of the Senate. To paraphrase her: in the year prior to this round of bargaining, York cut over 700 GAships, and by doing so they initiated a labour conflict in the first place. No one wanted this strike, no one but York’s senior administration and the Board of Governors.
York also initiated the labour conflict that resulted in the 2015 CUPE 3903 strike. In 2014, at the beginning of bargaining, York increased the tuition fees of international graduate students from $11,000 to $18,000, without any increase in their funding—something that was against the spirit and language of Unit 1 & 3 Collective Agreements. If it wasn’t for the 2015 strike, and CUPE 3903’s insistence on protecting international graduate students, that issue wouldn’t have been resolved.
The GAships issue follows the same pattern. York essentially tabled a concession, and they refuse to bargain around it. Yes, “there were 26 negotiation/conciliation meetings before the strike began,” as Kaplan’s report says, but not once has York bargained to restore the cuts to GAships. “You can’t bargain for people outside of your bargaining unit,” has been York’s response to discuss the GAships.
YUGSA’s Senators have been stopped and interrupted on various occasions by the chair of Senate, who insists we cannot discuss the issue of GAships at the Senate floor, since this is a labour negotiation issue. If it’s a labour issue, why doesn’t York bargain around it? If it’s not a labour issue, why can’t we talk about it at Senate? Lies can easily lead to paradoxes.
York claims that by removing GAships and re-structuring the funding of graduate students under the new fellowship model (which came into effect in Fall 2016), Master’s students receive the same amount of money without being obliged to work. This is only partly true. Yes, what Master’s students were gaining as “wages,” they are now receiving as “funding,” which is almost the same monetary amount. Yet, since they are not GAs, they are not members of the union, so they do not receive CUPE 3903 benefits: extended health and dental plans, academic funds like travel grants, emergency funds, trans funds, and many other academic and non-academic, monetary and non-monetary funds, benefits, and protections. Many students have expressed to YUGSA how much they relied on these funding sources from CUPE 3903.
In addition, the report names 9 unions at York, whom successfully and without strikes (except on one occasion in 1997) have signed collective agreements during the last 21 years. But the report fails to mention that 7 out of these 9 unions who are part of York’s Cross-Campus Alliance, as well as YUGSA and the York Federation of Students (YFS), have expressed huge concerns over the employer’s aggressive and concessionary approach during this round of bargaining with CUPE 3903. Indeed, the lack of faith in the employer is widespread, and is being manifested in a growing “non-confidence” movement on campus.
Last Monday, on April 30, 2018, the YUGSA Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion of non-confidence in York’s senior administration and the Board of Governors. This is in addition to 15 Departmental Graduate Students’ Associations, and various faculty and department councils, all of whom have passed the same motion over the last two weeks (and the numbers are growing!). The message is clear: the York community, and graduate students, in particular, are harmed as a result of actions taken by York’s senior administration and the Board of Governors to avoid bargaining in good faith, and to address the cuts to GAships.
In conclusion, we are extremely disappointed that Kaplan’s report didn’t investigate the loss of GAships—a key issue in the strike which York has not tried to resolve since they made the cuts. The York community should be proud of a union that is standing to protect the hundreds of graduate students who have been left out of the union.
The bottom line for graduate students is clear: York needs to bargain around the issue of GAships, and the sooner the better.
The YUGSA Executive