Quick thoughts on York strike supervised vote

Is a supervised vote insulting to the union leadership? Yes, it is. So what?


I’m presently delivering a session at the Canadian University Press conference and apologize for the briefness of the post.

Today York University asked Ontario’s Minister of Labour to conduct a forced supervised vote on the university’s latest offer to CUPE.

I don’t need to repeat a lot of what is already out there. In short, the offer from York is fair and union members will have to decide if they want to go for more.

The normal economics of labour disputes do not exist here. The TAs and contract faculty are not actually losing money on the picket line; they are merely deferring their income until they return to work. (In comparison, salaried workers do lose wages and this typically results in them taking a reasonable offer because there is a cost in not doing so.)

CUPE has responded to the forced vote by, once again, issuing over-the-top statements that ultimately hurt their standing in public opinion.

Calling the vote a “charade with the Ministry of Labour” does not reflect well on an union that consists of individuals with high levels of education. To say it’s “insulting” doesn’t help either.

It is not a charade, nor is it insulting to the average member of a union to have the ability to democratically express their opinion on a contract offer. The secret ballot is one of the most cherished fundamentals in a democratic society and should be cherished, by extension, in an organization that claims to be democratic in nature.

I’m hard-pressed to see how a process which will, finally, give everyone involved an accurate assessment of where CUPE 3903 members stand is a charade.

Is it insulting to the union leadership? Yes, it is. So what? The union leadership doesn’t like not having control over the method in which their members get to express their opinion. Having people pack a hall and face the peer pressure of supporting the union leadership is what they prefer. Who can blame them? Any group in power wishes to control the circumstances to their advantage.

This problem exists wherever there is power. Why do you think Prime Minister Harper broke his own fixed-election-date law?

This supervised voted is going to answer a lot of questions. One that I have is how much does the McGuinty government really care about York students?

The ball is now in McGuinty’s court. His Minister of Labour should be working this weekend and pay whatever overtime expenses are necessary in order to announce details of the vote Monday morning and to conduct it early next week.


Quick thoughts on York strike supervised vote

  1. Joey,

    You used to be relatively reasonable on this issue, but you’re becoming increasingly unhinged. “Having people pack a hall and face the peer pressure of supporting the union leadership is what they prefer.” Seriously? What adult doesn’t know how to deal with peer pressure? Particularly an adult who either has or wishes to have an academic job — standing up to a hostile room is not all that uncommon.

    Everyone in the union had an option to go to the meeting and express their views. Those who took that option voted against the offer. I have no serious expectation that a forced ratification vote will be all that different, and Shipley seems to agree. Hence why this is a “charade”. As with the OC Transpo strike, we will probably be no further along whenever this vote is finally held, and the administration will have tossed aside time that could have been used to bargain.

    Finally, I’m getting tired of people using the word “fair” without any explanation of what a “fair” offer is supposed to look like. What makes a deal fair? What qualities does a fair deal have than an unfair deal lacks? As I see things, the only fair deal is one that every party to it agrees to. Otherwise, the deal is necessarily unfair. (As a technical matter, this is a “procedural” view of fairness.) What’s your view of fairness?

  2. Pingback: NEW: York union blasts “charade” ratification vote : Macleans OnCampus

  3. The best thing the administration at York could do is publicly open their books (un-edited) to prove what sort of financial situation they are in.

    Through all of York’s moves through out this strike it has become painfully obvious what York’s priorities are. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. All of York’s PR statements have been nothing more than lip service to the students and to the general public. What has York done here to show that they actually care about education? York Universities administration do not care about the students involved and they don’t care about their own employees. The general public has bought into all of the PR without knowing much about the actual issues involved. Take the time to look at all of the issues. Why not consider the 15% raise that York’s president gave himself last year, or look at the fact that he has a car and driver provided to him at the expense of the university. Look at the York’s planned budget etc. None of this information is hard to find.

    I am a second year student at York. I have no affiliation with the contract workers. My opinion is that I pay for my education and as far as I am concerned I want to have instructors that are worth my money by being whole-heartedly interested in the subject and have the knowledge and experience to be able engage in the subject with students. That is the or at least should be the priority here. Before you pick a side, know the facts involved. Look at what has been taken away from the TA’s and other contract workers over the last few years, since the last strike. If I was part of the union I would fight back as well, I think anyone would. From an outside perspective the moves made by York’s administration have seemed to be nothing more then cost cutting so that some of the higher ups can walk away with a bonus at the end of the year. York University Inc. is what it comes down to.

  4. I think this is a reasonable argument, but one point: while it’s true that, due to the term eventually being extended, we York TAs will get paid for that time, it certainly won’t be the same as what we’ve lost. I will lose almost 3 paycheques of the 8 I get, but will only make up 1 when classes carry over into May. It is true that this isn’t as economically straightforward as a ‘normal strike’, but it seems misleading to argue that there is no penalty when there is, in fact, a hefty one – particularly since our normal ‘pay’ (read:graduate funding) means that we live below the poverty line anyway.

  5. Dear ADHR,

    It is only the naive or unobservant who believe that adults of any age do not succumb to peer pressure in such situations. If you doubt that assertion, I would suggest you review some of the vast scholarship that has been produced on the subject. With respect to young TAs (who, among the membership of CUPE 3903, would be most susceptible to such pressure), responding to challenges from students in a tutorial session is an entirely different situation from letting it be known in a room full of your frustrated, disgruntled colleagues/peers that you are willing to “call it a day”, despite their desire to do otherwise. Regrettably, human pettiness does not typically “rise above” such perceived betrayal, even among those who believe themselves to be open to a plurality of beliefs and opinions. I suspect you are correct in your assertion that a forced ratification vote will change nothing. However, I would also note that, while the vote may be a “charade” insofar as the Administration is undoubtedly prepared for the possibility that the offer will be rejected, it is a necessary precursor to the Government intervening and introducing back-to-work legislation. And, rest assured, that will be the end result of a rejection of the current offer. So, in the final analysis, the agreement will be produced by an arbitrator, an outcome that could have been achieved without a strike. What is a fair agreement? “Fair’, like many other terms, is an “essentially contested concept”. Similarly, merely because a party “agrees” to a specific proposal does not render that proposal “fair”. If there is any coercion/duress involved, as there is in this instance (and, indeed, in almost every instance of negotiation), then, arguably, it is not a “voluntary” agreement, which, in turn, would seem to render it “unfair. (Unless, of course, one agrees with Hobbes that an agreement secured at the point of a sword can still legitimately be considered a “voluntary” agreement.)


  6. @T — I’m not sure where your comments are coming from.

    “the 15% raise that York’s president gave himself last year” — York changed presidents last year. If you examine the Ontario salary disclosure for the old president (Lorna Marsden), and then look at the contract of the new president (should be google searchable), you will see that the only possible way for Shoukri to make more than Marsden is if Shoukri gets his entire bonus, in which case he will make on the order of 1% more.

    “Look at what has been taken away from the TA’s and other contract workers over the last few years, since the last strike” — What has been taken away, exactly? As far as I know, the union did not accept concessions in 2005. I suspect you are referring to the erosion of per capita benefits, but a constant per capita benefit was not part of the last agreement! It is revisionist to think of that as a takeaway, as the contract is what was negotiated and set down by the parties, not what the members thought the agreement was, or should have been; for similar reasons, although CUPE is well within their rights to demand indexing, for York not to offer such indexing is not, strictly speaking, concessionary.

  7. @ ADHR:

    Clearly you do not belong in CUPE 3909, or at York even. This union is infamous for being one of the most “radical,” militant school unions around, hence their ability to stand off for so long and remain in full solidarity — or at least in the public’s eye, which is where the ultimate judgment lies.

    The union (or rather, *A* union), despite whatever ideology it may claim to pursue, is an ultra-hierarchical tight-knit group. That one dissenter who wants to finally end the damn thing by shaking hands with the devil (York) will get ostracized faster than Israel in the Middle East. Core CUPE supporters wear their union faith on their hearts, you don’t mess with that.

  8. A small point: I get that contract (or part-time) teachers are paid on a per-course basis, and thus could not really lose much salary when all is said and done.

    But teaching assistants are in fact paid on a per-hour basis, are they not? If the terms are shrunk to eight weeks or something like that, they will still only be paid for 10 hours per week for eight weeks, I would think.

    It all depends on the return to work protocol, I suppose…is there a precedent for this anywhere that anyone knows about?

  9. @ ADHR

    You want to see what happens when you don’t succumb to the peer pressure of CUPE 3903?

    Check this out:

    You become the target of anonymous harassment. If you are a union member and post something anti-union on a facebook page, you get anonymous messages from someone named “CUPE” telling you to wise up.

  10. Dear Sean,

    Teaching assistants are not paid on a per-hour basis. Rather, they sign employment agreements that identify the number of hours they are to be employed (typically, either 65 or 130 per term, depending upon whether it is a “partial” or “full” TA appointment), and they receive a pre-determined compensation for that work (whether they work 130 or 100, etc). Further, if a course is run that employs TAs, then, regardless of whether the duration of the course has been shortened, the compensation for a TA would remain the same (i.e. 65 or 130 hours per term). One of the common mistakes made is the argument that TAs are paid only for 10 hours per week, but often work for a greater period of time. The “10 hours per week” is an averaged figure: it is recognized that there will be certain periods during the term when TAs will work more than 10 hours per week (e.g. when term papers and exams need to be graded); but other than during those specific periods, it is extremely rare that a TA will work 10 hours per week for a single course (and let’s be clear: I am referring to course-related work for which the TA is being compensated, not work related to the TA’s own studies, for which s/he is not being compensated). I offer this information both from the perspective of someone who served as a TA for five years and, subsequently, has had TAs under his employ.


  11. Thanks Steve.

    I guess my point is that in the scenario that York and the union find themselves in, something will have to give. They are now presumably at the point where full 13-week terms are physically impossible.

    For example, presuming two eight or nine week terms, only eight or nine labs would be given for chemistry classes. Fewer midterms would be needed (and needed to be corrected). Fewer office hours needed. And so on.

    In a shortened term scenario, would TAs still receive pay for 65 / 130 hours? It’s hard to imagine that they would still be working the same number of hours per course, if the courses themselves are shortened (not condensed, but actually shortened).

    Sean – Previously a TA for, um, six years.

  12. “From an outside perspective the moves made by York’s administration have seemed to be nothing more then cost cutting so that some of the higher ups can walk away with a bonus at the end of the year. York University Inc. is what it comes down to.”

    “Through all of York’s moves through out this strike it has become painfully obvious what York’s priorities are. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. All of York’s PR statements have been nothing more than lip service to the students and to the general public.”

    “I am a second year student at York. I have no affiliation with the contract workers. My opinion is that I pay for my education and as far as I am concerned I want to have instructors that are worth my money by being whole-heartedly interested in the subject and have the knowledge and experience to be able engage in the subject with students. That is or at least should be the priority here.”

    Good post. The thing you have to understand here T, is that you have gone beyond just looking at this blankly and have read between the lines of this whole thing. Not everybody does that.

    Think about it…..

  13. @T

    As a University, York has to have audited accounts, presumably by one of the big firms, so they must be on the website. The idea of York ‘opening its books (unedited)’ is another example of someone demanding something that’s already there.

    The question is not whether York’s books are open (they have to be by law) but whether the union is capable of understanding what they are reading. The comments that have floated around during this strike about the pots of gold lying around all over the place are simply wishful thinking and an admission that the union had not done its math before putting together the silliest set of demands in living memory: “Surely there must be some money somewhere – look under the cushions in the couch!” This math should have been done before the demands were put together while their own members are out on strike!

    It’s abundantly clear that the union has no idea how to end the strike and is probably quite relieved that someone else has at least taken the initiative to do so – they can get back to focusing on the catering. They’ve already become a textbook case of how not to go about a labour negotiation and the strike isn’t even over yet.

    They’ve brought down upon themselves the greatest fear of the despot – the laughter of their own populace.

  14. @ Trinity

    All of the union/cupe bashing really just seems to be a tactic filled with dismissive elitist jargon. Unfortunately, the general public and a good number of York students have bought into it. The bullying and endless avoidance of the actual issues at hand just puts further emphasis on what really seems to be a fact at this point. York does not care about the students. It is all about business at York, like I said before its York U Inc.

    Here is a link to an interview that I found interesting:

    Why not see what the other side has to say.

  15. @T

    It’s not union-bashing to ask why the union did not do its financial homework before taking its members out on strike. It’s basic stuff. Union 101. Nor is it elitist to ask the union leadership to inform themselves before calling a strike – they owe that to their members.
    The fact that you didn’t even know that a major institution has to have independent audit statements is mind-boggling. I dearly hope you’re not one of the union leaders. If you are, it explains a lot.

    As for the Potts interview, I’ve seen it before and it’s quite amateurish. But your assumption that anyone who disagrees with you hasn’t informed themselves is quite totalitarian actually and not what I expect from one of Canada’s largest unions.

    While I’m on the subject – where is CUPE national in all this? I understand Sid’s off solving the problems of the Middle East (far more glamorous than resolving a strike) but why isn’t CUPE National all over this? Have they written 3903 off as a rogue local or do they not give a flying one about York’s 50,000 students? Which is it?

  16. @ Trinity

    As I have stated before, I am not affiliated with the union. I am a second year student.

    To be clear I haven’t said that anyone who disagrees with me is uninformed. What I have been saying is that I don’t think there is any reason to take York’s PR at face value. The higher ups are in it for themselves and for that reason they should not be involved in education.

    And as far as the interview being “amateurish”. Someone from Excalibur (York’s newspaper) conducted the interview. By you only saying that the interview was “amateurish”, really only shows that you are trying to avoid getting into anything that was said in the interview.


  17. dear york TAs and contract faculty
    this student, for one, supports you. get involved in your union, and bargain smartly and firmly. you will win a more fair deal that way. if you support a proposal put to you via forced ratification process, not only will you be throwing away all your leverage, but future bargaining power will be severely compromised. ignore joey’s comments completely.

  18. @ t

    That again, is just being dismissive.

  19. @T

    By describing the Potts interview as amateurish I was talking about the whole thing – not the Excalibur involvement. Excalibur has been highly responsible throughout this strike as noted by Joey elsewhere. I was also taking care not to personalize the strike but was merely saying that the entire interview (content, ideas, production) is amateurish, which it is. Hardly the stuff with which to man the barricades!

    To prove my point, there aren’t even enough pickets to cover the campus entrances never mind take on the casualization of the corporatization of the neo-liberal military-industrial complex thingy.

    The ingoing presumption that the video would provide some kind of epiphany for me is about as silly as the ‘university should open its books (unedited)’ thing. An amoeba wouldn’t buy either idea.

    You then go on to say that ‘the higher ups are in it for themselves and should not be involved in education’ which is unsupported and comes completely from left field. Now even the amoeba are snickering (they cover their mouths with their pseudopodia). If you listen very carefully you can hear them.


  20. Oh boy. “Dismissive elitist jargon.” I can’t wait for “infinite plurality of egalitarian perspectives” or “bourgeois neo-liberal reactionary.”

  21. Wow you’re angry little bitter thing.

  22. Why would anyone go to york anyway? The staff couldn’t care less about the students. And I think union leaders don’t care much for members well being either.

  23. Union is being way too greedy. Show me evidence otherwise.

  24. I don’t understand why the union is so upset…if this strike that has gone on this long is to continue…shouldn’t all its’ members support it? If only a minority of that union do then the strike should have stopped long ago. The way I see it, the Union wouldn’t be upset unless it knew that the majority disagree with this strike…otherwise it would be confident to show the York Administration that most of the Union agrees with the strike.

  25. Wow. Just… wow. So, to sum up: people who, generally, want to be academics and will have to stand up in front of other academics and defend their ideas are poor little lambs, suffering so terribly from the peer pressure of being disagreed with and the intimidation of Facebook. And they’re blameless for not being able to resist! Awesome. Nicely done, folks. I’m done with these forums.

    FYI, AFAIK there has never been a back-to-work order given to university employees. Even if there were, there are ways to duck them and drag things on for weeks or months more. The government knows this, even if you don’t, and they’re not going to intervene until, I would guess, a term actually gets lost.

  26. @ ADHR

    why would academics or proto-academics be exempt from peer group pressure? they’re only human. Moving it up a notch, the Stanford prison experiment proved that individuals acting under what they perceived to be legitimate authority would indeed inflict pain on their peers if they thought it was acceptable within their closed value system to do so. Sound familiar?

  27. ADHR, BTW legislation can (and is) introduced and passed within hours, making the strike action illegal immediately. There is no way to circumvent the process (or “duck and drag” it, as you describe). If the vote fails, BTW legislation is the only way this semester will be salvaged.

  28. The reason the vote was a charade is because the deal that was proposed was the exact same thing the administration had been offering since December and the union through their GMMs knew that it would be rejected. The only reason the administration did it was to make it look like they are the only ones trying to get a deal and go back to class when in reality they are doing the opposite. By offering proposals that ignore the fundamental reasons that this strike occurred they are essentially bargaining in circles.

    CUPE is not the reason York students aren’t back to school York is the reason.

    People need to wake up and stop believing the propaganda from the York administration.

  29. Dear Labour-Law:

    You are correct: The “fundamental reasons that this strike occurred” are the patently absurd and unreasonable demands of CUPE 3903. You are equally correct that people need to stop “believing the propaganda”, though, it is the propaganda of CUPE 3903 that needs to be recognized (thankfully, there are very few who are either sufficiently foolish or blinded by ideology not to have already recognized as propaganda the rhetoric of CUPE 3903).

    Steve Yonu, PhD

  30. CUPE’s demands are absurd and unreasonable! Thanks Dr. Yonu!

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