Ont gov whistling past graveyard on York strike

The provincial government could end the standoff: it’s choosing not to


From today’s The Globe and Mail:

There seems to be little concern in the Ontario government that York is crippling itself at a time when the economy needs more “knowledge workers.” Universities Minister John Milloy acknowledges the strike is “unfortunate,” but says he can’t intervene in the bargaining at an autonomous institution. “There is a process which is unfolding and we’re going to see what happens,” he said.

More political spin from the Ontario government. Minister Milloy can bring an end to the strike. The government bringing an end to the strike would not be easy and, instead, he is choosing to not get involved.

The government has two main options on the table.

It can pass back-to-work legislation (which, for the political reasons I noted last week, it will not) to send the dispute to binding arbitration. Back to work legislation is seen as anti-union for many reasons. Considering how strongly the government has resisted pressure so far, I’m hard pressed to see the government changing its mind.

The second option is for the government to give York University the funding necessary to meet CUPE 3903 bargaining demands. This is the pro-union option the government has on the table. The problem for the government here is that it just gave its own union less over four years than CUPE is demanding over two.

The Ontario Public Service Employees union reached a four-year contract with the government with provides “A wage increase of 1.75 per cent in the first year (retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009), and 2 per cent per year in the remaining three years.” CUPE is demanding 11 per cent over two years in wage increases.


Ont gov whistling past graveyard on York strike

  1. CUPE is not demanding an 11% wage increase over two years. For months now the wage proposal has been 4% and 4%, and my sense is that the union would be willing to come down to the university’s offer providing the employer would give significant movement elsewhere, and providing there was COLA language in the contract for the off chance that the rate of inflation outpaces the wage increase over the length of the contract.

    Furthermore, the idea that the provincial government would need to step in to assist York in financially meeting the demands of CUPE is just absurd. York’s operating budget, out of which CUPE is paid and which, unlike the endowment fund, was not hit by the economic crisis, has been running at a surplus for years. The only reason it isn’t currently is because the administration, knowing it had to negotiate in 2008 with multiple unions, moved into their budget years and years worth of deferred maintenance costs. It’s a simple bookkeeping trick which no one is falling for. The money to meet
    CUPE’s current set of demands, which indeed would come down even further if York would bother to continue to negotiate, is clearly there.

  2. @ JC

    This seems to be another version of CUPE’s “look under the couch cushions” for money strategy. It’s a bit late after six months to still be beating the bushes for mythical pots of gold. the members deserve better than that. The only trick that no-one is falling for is CUPE’s continuing refusal to face reality, preferring to chase rainbows like a demented leprechaun.

    JC appears to be speaking for CUPE leadership when he says the demands would come down – when? by St. Patrick’s Day?

  3. Not surprising. The Ontario Government being the only organization in the modern world to outright BAN use of education credentials in its hiring. That’s right …this government that supposedly puts so much value on education bans even its mention in its job ads – not even a high school diploma. The Ontario Public Service is littered with uneducated managers, leaders, and policy makers who protect this policy to the nines. Education requirements are called “an unfair barrier to employment”, “lacking merit”, and on and on. So no surprise about the absurdity coming from there.
    Write to the premier to change this, after all, its not his policy, its from the 1970s.

  4. All of York’s financial records are posted. CUPE supporters live in their own world.

  5. @ Trinity:

    Well, for one thing, simply compare the set of demands that was proposed by CUPE four months ago and the set of demands proposed now. More specifically, look at the amount of movement that was achieved in the 5 days or so of bargaining that occurred at the beginning of this month. Prior to this movement York said that they had absolutely no money to offer CUPE: they clearly did. The fact of the matter is that since this strike began York has only negotiated with the union for just over a week. Every time it’s been the administration which has broken off negotiations, which had been going well. York is clearly attempting to use every means possible to subvert the bargaining process. Binding arbitration failed; back to work legislation isn’t an option; and now the forced ratification vote. Once the forced offer is rejected, negotiations will start back up and I would expect a deal to be reached very shortly after that (in the case of the 2000-2001 strike it was literally just days after the forced vote failed that their was a settlement). Needless to say, all of this could have been avoided three months ago if York had just been willing to talk to its workers.

    And by the way, I do not speak for CUPE ‘leadership’. It’s worth noting, though, that CUPE’s highest decision-making subject is the general membership, which democratically expresses its will through the institution of the general membership meeting. The union has not been hijacked by an out-of-control minority of leaders.

  6. Clarification to the above comment: when I speak of the internal political organization of CUPE, I of course mean specifically CUPE 3903. Other locals are not necessarily run in the same way.

  7. From the CUPE 3903 website: http://cupe3903.tao.ca/?q=node/836

    “Our most recent wage proposal was a 7% increase in the first year – to make up for lost ground and 4% in the second to give us just a slight edge over current inflation rates.”

  8. Joey: please note that the document you link to is dated Nov. 9 2008. It’s hardly up to date; movement has been made since then.

  9. @jc

    so your demands are now down from 100% per year in July to 8% now. well done.

    if you (the membership) think CUPE’s demands should go down further you should let the leadership know. As it’s such a democratic organization I am sure they will be all ears (especially the strike bunny).

    there’s no rush though. not urgent. have a fancy dress party first. perhaps a potluck pirate breakfast. how about a strike party. or make a you tube video.

    don’t want to rush into anything.

    anyway, when you get round to it, let the leadership know. thanks.

  10. Actually Trinity, I agree that there is a rush. That’s precisely why 3903 members have undertaken all of their alternative actions, actions that are intended to draw attention to the York administration’s unwillingness to enter the negotiation process, but actions which are not practiced at the cost of bargaining. I’m not going to repeat the same point over endlessly, but please just consider who it is who has constantly walked out of the bargaining room despite progress, who it is who has refused to come to the table for weeks and at one point a month at a time, who requested a later rather than earlier dated for the forced ratification vote, etc.

    I’m also still not sure who this mystical ‘leadership’ is (the Bargaining Team?), but the membership has made it quite clear that it has reached the point where it is not willing to drop key demands without recipocral movement on the part of the employer. The ‘leadership’ knows this perfectly well.

  11. CUPE has overstepped it’s power, and the former oppressed become the oppressors. Unions used to be concerned with social justice. Now, they’re more concerned about power. Sad times.

    JC – I hope you’re satisfied when you finally get an agreement. The ramifications of the strike are going to far outweigh the benefits. We need better legislation to balance public union power, without infringing on the right to strike.

  12. @jc

    People in a rush don’t have 75 outstanding demands on the table after six months. Nor do they spend their efforts on fancy dress parties and catering.

    The leadership is not mystical (I think you meant mythical) it is the Executive and the Bargaining Team are the people who are supposed to be bargaining on behalf of the entire cult. Unfortunately, the BT can’t bargain – even if they knew how to – because their hands are tied at every GMM.

    And now the President of the Union has signed a petition criticizing the BT! Is the Strike Bunny running the show?

    This is never going to end because no-one in the union knows how to end it.

    The only way out of this mess is for thinking CUPE members to vote their way out of it. If they think voting for more of the same is the way out, they had better order a lot of carrots.

  13. York YUFA and CUPE are run by special interest groups in this strike.

    There is no general membership consultation in whatsoever way.

    Irregularly meetings controlled by same dozen persons passing any motions they wanted… CONFLICTS of interest abundant.

    York YUFA and CUPE exec give a bad name to UNION.

    Presidents of CUPE and YUFA, their inter-relations should be looked
    at NOW. Executive members too. It is not easy to figure it out. They are not very smart people.

    This magazine (McLean) predicted Nov 8th, the day CUPE strike started: York University strike is CUPE’s Waterloo:


    They betrayed their own rank-and-file members.

    It does not take a smart person to see what has happened.

  14. Now that the ratification vote failed, thus rejecting the offer of 3 %, 3.25 % and 3 %, the union is now to ask for 3 % and 3.25% for two years, except to apply COLA, if the CPI exceeds the raise. This must be affordable to the university, since it’s basically their offer. If money’s really the issue, there’s no reason not to settle.

    What’s more, anyone think demanding fourteen conversions over two years is unreasonable? (Especially when the conversions are *not* to tenured positions.)

    The union has already agreed in principle to the admin’s offer to create a teaching stream (instead of the SRC program).