On March 5, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and part-time faculty at York University, members of Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), began strike action after overwhelmingly rejecting York University's final offer.
CUPE 3903 represents nearly 3,000 contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants at York within three separate units: Unit 1 (Graduate Students with Teaching Contracts, mostly Teaching Assistants), Unit 2 (Contract Faculty) and Unit 3 (Graduate Assistants). All three have been attempting to negotiate a collective agreement with York for several months.
Devin Lefebvre, chair of CUPE 3903, says that there were three outstanding issues the union wanted to see addressed: job security for contract faculty, accessibility and equity in the workplace, and stable and predictable graduate studies funding. Maija Duncan, communications officer for the union, said that contract faculty sometimes learn just weeks or days ahead if they will be teaching in the upcoming semester. "A lot of people here have been teaching at York for five, 10, 20 years, and they still need to reapply for their jobs every semester," she said.
At present, the CUPE 3903 workers are participating in a provincial inquiry. On April 13, the Ontario Ministry of Labour appointed an industrial inquiry commissioner, lawyer William Kaplan, to investigate the strike and produce a report for the Minister.
Here is the most recent report on that inquiry process, copied from the 3903 website (https://3903.cupe.ca/news/) where it was posted on April 20 by the CUPE 3903 Communications officer. CUPE 3911 continues to extend its full support to the striking workers at York and calls on everyone to support their just demands.
Employer Abdicates Responsibility to Engage with the Industrial Inquiry Commission
It is with the deepest disappointment that we report that the employer has refused to participate in good faith in the Industrial Inquiry Commission’s mediation attempts. Both parties have publicly stated that they will cooperate fully with the Commission, yet only CUPE 3903 has made significant efforts to try to reach a deal during the mediation portion of the Commission, which ended today.
On Sunday April 15, the very first day of the process, the CUPE 3903 bargaining team presented a significantly amended package. These proposals focus specifically on Unit 2 job security, which the employer had identified as the main obstacle to getting a deal. The employer has refused to engage with or discuss these proposals, or provide a thorough rationale for their rejection.
As we move towards the report portion of the Industrial Inquiry Commission, the employer’s actions leave CUPE 3903 with serious doubts about the employer’s tactics and intentions, as well as the honesty of their desire to cooperate with the Commission:
Why did the employer ignore the fact that the membership rejected their offer twice, by not providing revised proposals?
Why didn’t the employer follow the desires of the Senate, which passed a motion asking the employer to bargain?
Does collective bargaining have any value if an employer can refuse to engage not only with bargaining but with government-mandated mediation?
What does this mean for future rounds of bargaining, including with other employee-groups on campus?
We have done everything we could to respect this process. We can only hope that the Commissioner’s report will address the employer’s complete abdication of its responsibility towards its students, employees, and the York community as a whole to bargain. This conflict could have been resolved weeks ago if the employer had shown any willingness to move at all — for example by responding to any of the three movements made by the CUPE 3903 bargaining team since the beginning of the strike.
Other York employees should be concerned by these dirty tactics, as well as the Deans and Faculties at York, who will be forced to foot the bill for any financial losses associated with the loss of the semester — to the tune of millions of dollars — should the administration continue to prefer destroying any vestiges of academic integrity over sitting down and talking through these issues. The sector as a whole should be concerned that the signal we are receiving is that university administrations do not have to engage with bargaining at all, and can simply wait out any collective bargaining and strikes that occur until unions are bled dry and the precarity of university labour intensifies.
This is a crisis that York has created for students, for members of CUPE 3903 on strike, and for members of the York community. We need a principled response — across the campus, the sector, and the labour movement — to say that public institutions cannot be allowed to act in this way.