Ont. dismisses combined bargaining for university unions

Union officials are pushing for bargaining process similar to provincial school boards

Co-ordinated bargaining for all universities across Ontario is not being considered by the province despite a second university going out on strike since the school year began, the government said Thursday.

Some 3,400 contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants walked off the job at York University in Toronto after the midnight deadline passed.

Union officials have argued for a provincewide bargaining process similar to the one used with school boards, but the minister responsible for colleges and universities said that isn’t going to happen.

“I respect the autonomy of the institutions when it comes to our universities,” said John Milloy. “I’m confident that both sides are going to work to find an agreement that’s in the best interests of the students at York.”

The province could save time and money through combined bargaining, said Fred Hahn, secretary-treasurer for the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“It’s the same idea we’re talking about for universities… that we think would be good for the entire broader public sector quite honestly,” said Hahn.

The same thing happens at Ontario hospitals, and could be applied to nursing homes and social services agencies, he noted. “There could be great cost-efficiencies held just by having some kind of provincial bargaining structure.” In the current economic climate, it’s not just public sector workers that bear the burden of fiscal belt-tightening, Hahn said.

“The government has to start to think about ways of doing things differently,” he said. “The provincial government has a great role to play in developing efficiencies and saving resources.”

Christina Rousseau, chairwoman of CUPE Local 3903 which represents the striking York workers, conceded her members are better off than most in Canada but doesn’t feel that combined bargaining would negatively impact them.

“If we could use our status as having one of the better agreements to help make other locals in the sector better, I think it’s something we can do,” said Rousseau. “It’s the best of out of a bunch of collective agreements that are nowhere near adequate.”

Milloy wouldn’t speculate on how much time the sides at York might have to reach a deal before considering any back-to-work order.

But Hahn insisted combined bargaining has been shown to expedite the process. “Local unions that might spend a year at the table have been able to reach agreements in two months,” said Hahn.

In September, more than 1,000 professors, librarians and part-time teachers went on strike at the University of Windsor. That delayed the start of classes for some 16,000 students for more than two weeks, meaning the fall semester had to be extended.

There’s concern an extended strike at York could extend classes into the summer. Dave Tovee, 24, a fourth-year geography student from Huntsville, Ont., worried about the job prospects for graduating students.

“It could really jeopardize their chances of coming out with the field of graduates from other schools,” said Tovee.

The striking workers at York are seeking an 11 per cent wage increase over two years, compared to the 9.25 per cent hike over three years being offered.

“But when you look at the wages and benefits packages together, it actually ends up being 2.3 that they’re offering us per year,” Rousseau said.

The Windsor agreement included a nine per cent wage hike over three years.

York graduate assistant Dave Blocker, 24, said he and his peers get between $10,000 and $14,000 for the year, which isn’t enough.

“Based on what I’m getting from York, I’d be living well below the poverty line,” Blocker said. “When you subtract the tuition payment of some $5,000 for the year, that leaves virtually nothing to live on… especially when you’re trying to live in Toronto.”

-The Canadian Press




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Ont. dismisses combined bargaining for university unions

  1. Pingback: York U strike is a power struggle, not about wages : Macleans OnCampus

  2. This is really sad. I am sorry, but it is posted on the York U site that grad. student assistants work about 10 hours a week. Is this right? If so why should they get paid more than 10-14K per year?
    I’m sorry, but this is becoming ridiculous. They are students working part-time, not full-time professors who should expect a full-time salary. Half of my TAs have been good and the other half were useless. Why do we not get to decide who gets a teaching position. Where is our bargaining power? I am not for or against unions, but it seems like whenever they go on strike, they look more wrong than the big bossy man.
    The union wants to fight a bigger battle provincially and guess what? York students suffer. Thanks a lot, makes me love my TA even more….lol.

  3. Pingback: 2008 York University strike is CUPE’s Waterloo : Macleans OnCampus

  4. lol… sorry to make this sound stupid, but honestly… working 10-16 hours a week as a TA and getting 10k – 14k a year is pretty damn good…. if they think they are suffering, then what about those other students WHO ARE doing part-time jobs while studying. Wait, I do part time at a supermarket for 9.75/hr… and I’m spending almost double the time TA’s spend to earn just as much as they do… and somehow I can manage paying my 5k tuition.

    Quote: “He and his peers get between $10,000 and $14,000 for the year… … When you subtract the tuition payment of some $5,000 for the year, that leaves virtually nothing to live on… especially when you’re trying to live in Toronto.”

    Sorry bud, but thats what a part time job means, A PART TIME JOB. Sure if it was a fulltime 44~ish hours a week job…. ya MANY people would support you… but too bad… wait a minute… since when did TA’s become so important, where they deserve higher pay? My TA’s just sit there and pass off instructions from the professor… well… for the male TA’s they kinda pick on girls they like and give them more attention… not like that matters though… (yes, at YorkU, thats what I’ve witnessed)

  5. Ahh crap, I’m going to get drawn into this discussion whether I want to be or not.

    Okay, look. I don’t even know the full details of this strike and without knowing that I can’t be sure I want to defend it. But I DO know why TA wages look so absurdly high. In fact, the pay they receive for being TAs is often higher (not just at York but everywhere) than what part-time instructors receive. This often results in a situation where the professor leading a course gets paid less than the TA who is grading for it! If you want to know why, read on.

    Rightly or wrongly (and in this case I’d argue rightly) PhD studies aren’t considered something a student should go into further debt to complete. I know undergrads aren’t likely to sympathize with this, but any PhD program that can’t afford to fund its students is regarded as an extremely poor program. Considering the investment of time required (I’m sorry, but asking people to study in their mid-late twenties or later is fundamentally different from study in your late teens and early twenties) that’s reasonable, in my opinion. There’s also some complex economic modeling that shows how PhD programs are, on the whole, not good investments otherwise. It has to do largely with the loss of five years (or more) of earning potential, which is much higher than the high-school-graduate earning potential that an undergraduate student loses by being in school.

    I’m sorry for the necessary ramble, but the upshot is this. Faced with a strong need to fund PhD students, and a desire to get at least something for it, many universities turn their TA jobs into a funding channel. They guarantee every PhD student a certain number of TA hours and then pay them quite well. Many would say too well. But that’s if you regard these positions only as part-time jobs, when in fact they are part of the wider fabric of how academia is structured.

    I doubt this is going to garner much sympathy among undergrads, but I thought I’d at least try to explain it. The hourly wage does look high. But in an environment where any PhD program that asks students to front their own tuition is quite literally a joke, it’s either give them money upfront or make them work a certain number of hours for it. The later option is what’s at play here, but it’s more about levels of funding than about a real job, in this case. It’s a very complex situation, and I at least feel very bad for striking TAs for the following reason. Whatever the basis of their complaints, I doubt they’ll ever get anyone outside academia to even understand how it all works. And you’ll never get people to support your strike when, as many posters have indicated, they can’t even figure out why you’re paid that much in the first place.

  6. It is worth adding to Jeff’s post that in addition to the need to fund students, while the hourly rate for a TA position is quite high, at many Universities TAs are required to put in many more hours than they are actually paid for. No conspiracy to it, it’s just that the people who post these jobs, and in fact many professors, underestimate how long it takes to properly do things like mark assignments and prep for labs, etc.

    So on the surface, while it appears that TAs are paid well, the reality isn’t quite so rosy. The job is not some cushy $20/hr sugar train.

  7. To add, many PhD students have families to support!

  8. Pingback: A couple of stories « Living in interesting times

  9. First, im a 3rd year student, doing both an Honours major in International Development Studies and honors minor in Biology.
    Now, people keep talkng about the wage increase and how TAs shouldnt ask for it due to a number of reasons… but quite frankly, from what ive read thus far those students who feel that way dont know enough about what theyre saying. And on top of that, wage increase IS NOT, repeat: IS NOT, the only issue the Union has been pushing for. They also want job security and benefits, something the media and York dont focus on NEARLY enough. People who work in such important jobs that affect the future of countless students should NOT have to reapply for their jobs every 4 or 8 months, that’s just rediculous.
    For those students that have the audacity to say “if TAs dont like the pay then they shouldnt be TAs”, i have two things to say: grow up, that’s a childish comment; and we all NEED TAs, profs cant do the job on their own, so someone has to do it, and they deserve higher recognition and benefit for what they do.
    There are some poor TAs, and i agree that the evaluation criteria should for TAs should be much stricter,.. but there are countless others that make incredible, longlasting positive impacts on their students and we should thank them and support them fighting for their rights.
    York is holding students hostage just as much as some people say the Union is. Binding arbitration is not negotiation. York should go back to the table and negotiate with the Union on ALL the issues they have, not just wages.
    I just want to add something:
    All those students who are panicking about their grades need to stop, relax, and think. My sister was a full time student at York during the last strike and she told me what Profs THIS year have told me: students’ grades didnt suffer then and wont suffer now, in fact they improved with so much extra time to study AND because TAs and Profs dont punish the students for the lost time. Assignments get dropped if not delayed.
    I know this isnt exactly fun, some of us are keeners that woud rather be in class, but RELAX! do you honestly think that the TAs that have gone on strike will punish you and make yo lose your mind working like fiends later because of a strike that THEY were a part of? No. They all know it isnt our fault, and they will be FAIR with us for it.
    If you want to pressure someone to end the strike, pressure the school. Theyre the ones we payed tuition to and have a contract with. We are their clients. Lets use that and demand that they work for us by getting back into negotiations with the union to get us all back in class.

  10. Here’s an easy way to understand why grad students who TA have a high hourly wage.

    Universities like York limit how much money grad students can earn inside the university and how much paid work they can do outside the university.

    Remember: universities like York see teaching assistanceships as a means to satisfy their obligation to fund students; TAships are not simply part-time jobs that grad students can get if they need some money.

    Outside of Canada, universities pay students a salary just to be a student. This money is in exchange for working 80 hours a week on research.

    Inside Canada, at places like York, we still work 80 hours a week. It’s just that our pay comes from spending some of those hours on teaching.

    When I got an external scholarship at York, they clawed back my teaching assistance hours and other funds. I was not *allowed* to TA as many hours as the others, because I had other money.

    Of course, I’m not alone; everyone who wins an external scholarship such as NSERC are not allowed to get as many other sources of funding.

  11. As a parent of one of the York students affected by the strike I’m annoyed at both the University and CUPE. But as a union member myself
    CUPE faces much more of my wraith.

    A union has once again shot themselves in the foot in the media and public opinion for appearing out of pace with reality.

    Not only have they turned down an over 9% pay raise when thousands of people in this province who through their taxes pay their wages are losing their jobs. Yes CUPE have other concerns then just money but in the present economic a reasonable pay offer and arbitration to deal with other issue was more than reasonable action by the University.

    I hope they see the light and quickly agree to arbitration, not just for my daughter and her fellow students, but so that the TAs and contract teachers lose as little income as possible and get as fair an agreement as possible in this scary economic time.

  12. York U Sufferer.

    Its sad that York U students have to sit and watch our education crumble. Who works during the summer to hopefully pay as much as their schooling as possible? I am one of them. I don’t take OSAP because I work hard in the summer not to; I don’t get a free ride from parents or relatives; and with all this, I work hard because of it. I work when I can and as much as I can because my education is important to me. Working in the summer is the biggest pay out and if this strike lasts any longer and we suffer by being forced into summer classes… who’s going to speak up for us? US, thats who!!! BUT… who’s going to win??? WE ARE.. thats who… I won’t put up with it, and hopefully we won’t have to!!! I think its about time the students are put first!! I am personally sick about hearing about the nitty gritty details of this strike!!! SETTLE IT!

  13. There’s some serious misrepresentation of TA stuff going on. I’m a physics graduate TA. First of all, even outside Canada, even in the US with easily the best funding for all this stuff it is the norm to teach to support yourself. You don’t teach if you get an RA. An RA (research assistantship) has to come from external funding, i.e. like NSERC in Canada.
    Asking for better benefits for TA’s, especially in a country like Canada with universal health care is ridiculous. A TA’s salary is not supposed to support a family, end of story. There’s no room for argument here. It’s school; it is not a job. The main factor nowadays driving TA salaries is university competition; as noted above (correctly), if you don’t support your grad students you program is a joke. Given that its driven by competition, I would recommend that if you don’t like the conditions at York you should try another school if you think you can get better conditions.
    The fundamental problem in thinking with most pro union people is this: you think you’re owed something. You are not. You had a choice to go work for York, they didn’t slip anything past you. If you think it’s such a terrible deal, go to another school, another field, another profession. That’s what most of us do: we evaluate the options and make choices. We don’t blackmail people into doing things on our terms.
    I’m still having trouble what exactly the TA part of the Union wants out of this. Some people say it has to do with the 3 year vs 2 year contract, a lot of people say it’s job security for untenured faculty. I don’t see how that applies to graduate students since (from all my experiences) the department invariably makes a financial commitment to you for the course of your studies. So what’s the deal?
    Maybe all the York TA’s are just venting their bitterness over not being able to get into a better school. Damn, that would make a hilarious fake news article. Headline: “York Union Members Admit they were just pissed that U of T Rejected Them”.

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