YUGSA is calling on the York University administration to negotiate a fair deal with CUPE 3903. We were heartened that the employer resumed bargaining on March 20, but the outcome has been incredibly disappointing. As CUPE 3903 stated following the bargaining meeting, “Rather than negotiating, the employer issued an ultimatum: capitulate on all important issues, or York walks away from the table.” York continues to neglect an entire Unit of 3903 (Unit 3), and is claiming that Unit 1 has absolutely no reason to be on strike, when the union and its membership have continually made it clear that the fellowship model of funding needs to be brought into the Collective Agreement.
Whatever optimism we had on the morning of March 20 is now gone, and we find ourselves again in the position of having to urge the Employer to immediately get back to the bargaining table, which they have resisted by rejecting CUPE’s offer to bargain again today.
We are concerned with 3 main issues that have arisen thus far in the strike:
1. Strikers’ well-being and safety on the picket lines
The longer that university administration neglects Units 1 and 3, the longer the strike will go, putting the safety of 3903 members at risk on the picket lines. Violent and confrontational incidents have occurred to CUPE 3903 members on the picket lines who say that they have been confronted by verbal and physical violence on a daily basis.
CUPE 3903 has run multiple de-escalation trainings for their members, but as a result of York administration’s unwillingness to resolve the labour dispute and their futile attempts at maintaining the pretense of “business as usual”, students and other members of the York community are increasingly frustrated and, unfortunately, some have taken out their frustrations on picketers.
This is unfair to picketers who are exercising their right to picket – a right that is part of our fundamental rights of expression and assembly. York must return to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith to protect picketers’ well-being and safety.
2. Attempts to keep classes going and undermine Senate democracy
The York administration has shown a complete disregard for all students by pressuring faculty to continue classes, and by asserting that York University’s senior administration and/or Board of Governors has authority or veto power regarding decisions to suspend classes during a labour dispute.
The last Senate meeting on March 8, 2018, erupted in chaos when members of York administration prevented Senate from putting a motion on the floor regarding class suspensions. In effect, the York administration has forced the university community to keep classes running. But allowing classes to continue causes faculty, staff, and students to feel unfairly pressured to cross picket lines, putting them in compromising situations. Pressure by York administration to keep classes going while failing to return to the bargaining table has greatly exacerbated the frustration felt by the broader York community.
It has always been understood that Senate (as the highest decision-making body of the University on academic matters), in conjunction with Senate Executive, has the responsibility for making decisions to suspend classes during a labour dispute based on considerations of academic integrity and fairness to students. As 27 Senators wrote in a collective statement on March 12, 2018: “It is the duty of Senate to consider and determine this issue, a duty that must not be denied the Senate by Senate Executive or other bodies within the university”.
The membership of Senate is composed of students, faculty, staff and administrators who act in concert to oversee and enact the academic policies of the university. Attempts to avoid putting the motion on the floor regarding class suspensions meant undermining the legitimacy of Senators, and denying academic integrity and fairness to all students.
YUGSA denounces the decision of the Senate Executive Committee on the continuation of classes, and requests the Senate to immediately call for a suspension of all classes. The Lisa Philipps statement, that “Nothing is more important to York University than our students and their success,” is nothing but a sign of hypocrisy. Words such as “excellence” and “impact” are nothing but empty signifiers that veil the lack of respect of the university administration for knowledge and the true mission of academia, and hide the profit-seeking mindset behind its actions and attitudes.
3. York administration’s combative approach to labour relations
The Employer’s approach to labour relations with CUPE 3903 has become a cause for alarm among all the other employee groups at York, as the Cross-Campus collectively observed before the current strike began (see statement released on February 28, 2018).
When the York administration cut the graduate assistantship positions of over 700 Master’s students, they initiated a labour conflict in the first place. They knew this from the very beginning of this round of bargaining, and did little to nothing to solve this issue and prevent the strike. The unwillingness of York to bargain during the weekend after CUPE 3903 overwhelmingly rejected their final offer, and that CUPE 3903 made themselves available to bargain that weekend, was evidence of York administration’s disrespect to the principles of fair bargaining.
The York Administration has not only declared war on a union that does 60% of teaching at this university, but also a war on all its stakeholders, including the student body. This is a war between those who are here, at this university, to serve their communities and elevate knowledge in our society, and those who merely follow the chain of commands. This space is neither a factory nor a military academy; this is a university that should enhance true knowledge and stand for principles of social justice. Unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, people with ballooning incomes and corporate mindsets and agendas would hardly understand what social justice is.
YUGSA believes that CUPE 3903’s issues regarding the cut over 700 graduate assistantships, lack of job security for contract faculty, and funding for equity, anti-racism and anti-sexual violence initiatives must be addressed by York administration immediately. President Lenton’s claim that “York’s compensation package remains the best of all Ontario universities,” is entirely false, because Master’s students no longer have access to CUPE 3903’s health benefits and various forms of support (i.e. academic and non-academic, monetary and non-monetary), which was taken away from them when York administrators cut the majority of graduate assistantships. This is an act of union-busting and it is a great loss to our graduate student community.
With great respect for and solidarity with our teachers who fight for knowledge, education, collegiality, and social justice at this university,
The YUGSA Executive