Students take a stand on York U strike

Classes are still canceled for more than 50,000 students, tensions are rising


It almost felt like a regular academic day at York University, with multiple rallies occurring at suburban Toronto campus. However, instead of the usual Israeli/Palestinian rallies, students were rallying against or for a strike by CUPE 2903, which has kept 50,000 students out of classes for the better part of two weeks.



Video provided by CITY-TV Toronto

In the morning, about 200 York undergraduate students held a rally calling for government-imposed binding arbitration to end the strike and get them back in their classes.

The rally, organized by a student group that calls itself YorkNotHostage.com, was designed to give students the opportunity to make their voices heard.

“We don’t really have a say,” says Catherine Divaris, a fifth-year kinesiology student who helped organize the rally. “We are not at the table.”

Divaris, like many students, is concerned about what the consequences of a long strike may have on her future.

“I’ve applied to law schools already. I’m in my final year. I have to work in the summer to make money to be able to afford my future education,” she says. “It’s not fair for a union of 3,200 members and an administration of 10 or 11 people to decide the fate of 50,000 students.”

Students were encouraged to write their stories on a large banner placed on a wall. Many students expressed apprehension about finding summer jobs if the strike results in classes being pushed back into May.

The students have succeeded in garnering the attention of at least one provincial politician. Peter Shurman, Progressive Conservative MPP for Thornhill who is calling on the provincial Liberal government to pass back-to-work legislation, spoke to the students.

“My office was besieged telephone calls and emails as this strike has unfolded,” said Shurman. “People have very long memories: they remember there was a 11-week strike seven years ago and they don’t want to see a repeat.”

Shurman presented the students concerns to the Ontario legislative assembly. However, his call for government action is only his individual position and does not reflect the position of the official opposition.

The union was dismissive of the rally, pointing out that a crowd of 200 is minuscule compared to the thousands of York students represented by the students’ union.

“They been claiming they represent the 50,000 undergrad population here, looking around, there are less than 100 people here,” Nishent Upadhyay of CUPE 3903 said. “I don’t think this is a fair representation of the undergraduate population. The YFS is still supporting us.”

Many students at the rally took issue with the stand of the YFS and noted that the student population itself was not given a direct say in the position.

“The YFS is supposed to represent undergraduate students, that’s what they are elected for,” said Harrison Baland. “Instead they go and side with the people who are screwing us over.”

It seems the only thing the grassroots YorkNotHostage.com and the YFS executive can agree on is they both want the strike to end quickly. YorkNotHostage.com wants arbitration, whereas the YFS wants the university to meet union demands.

Following the YorkNotHostage.com rally, there was a noon rally organized by the Ryerson Students’ Union and University of Toronto Students’ Union to show solidarity with CUPE 3903 and the York Federation of Students.

The RSU and UTSU provided buses from their campus to bring supporters to York. A crowd of about 250 students, picketers, and union activists made speeches and chants to boost the morale of the striking CUPE local. They carried signs provided by the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario saying “Students & Workers UNITED.”

There are presently no talks scheduled between the two sides and no end in side to the 11-day-old strike.


Students take a stand on York U strike

  1. Did you notice that CUPE 3902 (U of T's TA union) called a strike vote for the first week of December? And that one of their demands is a 2-year contract (which would expire in 2010)? Oh, it is ON.

  2. How are you in the position to demand more money? You may offer engaging classes but bottom line you are still considered a student. So instead of automatically speaking poorly about the "greedy administration" take a look at how reasonable the demands are. I don't know any full time students who are paid to essentially go to school unless they have scholarships. In fact all medical students (myself being one) have to pay their tuition but get to supplement it by residency. Unfortunately that's what comes with being a student, you lack the credentials to garner full time employment so you have to work another job to supplement your income. I think it's a bit asinine to demand a wage increase. If you are unhappy with your wage amount then do like the rest of us students do: get a part time job. But it's a tad unrealistic to think as a part time student you should be able to live off your wages. Living in both Canada and the US I challenge the TAs to start attending school down there. After living IN POVERTY in New York without health insurance suddenly you will realize how trivial your problems really are.

    And as for the "greedy" adminstration. They run the university, so why should they have to take a pay cut? Regardless of how capitalistic you try to make them out to be, they have paid their dues.

  3. I think the important distinction is that the strike isn't so that full-time students who are TA-ing get paid as if they're in salaried full-time job positions, but that they are able to support themselves while they contribute to the academic community. TAs are students but that doesn't mean they're in the early twenties and live in residence. Many of them have families to support, loans to consider, or simply have their basic needs such as rent and health care costs met, and let's not forget they perform a vital service ..Sure, 50,000+ students are out of school at the moment but take away the jobs contract faculty and TAs perform, and most of those students wouldn't have class ever.
    I'm guilty of looking at the 9.25% on the table and thinking, hey that's not bad and the other two groups accepted it but break it down and you see it's not even an increase that matches inflation each year.
    And most importantly, as I learnt last night after speaking with a York TA (I'm a Ryerson student), the number of contract faculty and TAs under CUPE 3903 has exploded the last few years by 30% (if I remember correctly) and that all the medical and professional development benefits go into a pool of funds .. now being shared by a considerably larger amount of people. So what, York expects to have more staff and pay the same money?
    Asking to being paid for efforts that will support further contributions to the academic field, and to have the same money for child car, or physiotherapy that you did at one point.. is that greedy?
    not to me..

  4. I am an undergrad student, and I support my TAs' right to strike. I am surprised that so many undergrad students are showing lack of support.

  5. Saying that TAs have unrealistic demands in terms of being paid as full salaried employees was an exaggeration on my part, however I still hold true to the fact that the TAs have unrealistic demands. Fact of the matter is that housing costs are dropping, in fact in the month of October housing in Toronto dropped 6%. So while at the time it may seem like the income currently provided to TA's is insufficient, the economy crisis is definitely bleeding over into Canada from the US which means inflation a'int going to be so high. Housing prices are going down, gas is going down, so the same fluctuations in the cost of living will not be on the same level. I wish the TA's would start watching Bloomberg, take a look at our economy and notice that right now of all times is the worst time to go on strike. When the Great Depression happened people were happy to have a job where they could afford to eat lest demanding more money. You also have to understand that services such as education and health care are already subsidized by the government. In that sense we already have a huge on up on our American counterparts who not only have to pay their tuition (for those of you who do not know UNDERGRADUATE tuition at NYU is $37,000 a year and some change) but health insurance and have to battle the cost of living. So as someone who has lived on both sides of the border, it's insulting to see that people with so many benefits would still complain when thousands of people are losing their jobs down south. And this is not isolated to the States, note: GM in Oshawa. While the Canadian economy is doing a lot better than the States, changes are still being noticed over here.

    As for TA's who have families and such, it is even more so unrealistic and irresponsible to count on a teaching assistant salary to support your family. In fact can someone please tell me how I can get paid to go to medical school at Columbia? I would kill to even have my books paid for.

    I sympathize with contract faculty who want job security however I don't believe TAs should even be looped in the same category as someone with a Ph.D. I believe that the unions demands are spitting on the memory of those who fought to make working conditions fair. We are a long cry away from 16 hour shifts at a penny an hour.

  6. I support the right of undergraduate students to protest the suspension of their classes. I understand that many of your are extremely frustrated and I support your right to vent that frustration in constructive ways.

    I am in favor of an end to the strike through the legitimate bargaining process, drawing on YorkU's own rejection of binding arbitration in 1997, I paraphrase: binding arbitration employs an outside body to adjudicate on terms inside an institution for which it is not accountable and has no vested interest (impartiality has its drawbacks). Arbitrators "do not have to find the money to meet the costs of their judgments, nor must they live with the impact of their decisions." A bargained settlement in good faith between York and CUPE is substituted by a decision that neither party owns. I would add that binding arbitration will lead to a settlement based on other collective agreements, a settlement that will not account for the academic demands at York specifically and the cost of living in the GTA generally.

  7. I am a York student, and I certainly don't feel like a hostage… Tell those 200 or so students that feel so strongly against the strike to actually find out the real fact. The TAs are not striking to make your lives harder. They don't make much money, well below the poverty line (on average). And this is our future, some of our TAs are among the smartest people in the country, soon to have post-grad degrees. Intelligence is paramont for the future of any economy, we need these people, and they need the money to barely survive (grad school is very very expensive. I hope to make it for next year!!) Anyways, I think these people deserve the 30% let alone the 9% they want!!! EDUCATION IS THE FUTURE!!!! lest we forget

  8. Ethne, thanks for the call and all, but I'm calling on TAs to recognize that they are full-time STUDENTS and of course they are not making full-time JOB salaries. I get what's going on here — CUPE around the country is using York as an "edge of the wedge" test case to try and get full-time salaries for full-time students. And we all know where the money will come out for that! York's TAs are already the highest paid in the country. CUPE 3903 is looking to change the game, not to reach a new bargaining point. Binding arbitration? Heck yeah. It's time to end this thing. (And, seriously, anyone who thinks recycling the positions of the administration of MORE THAN A DECADE AGO is some kind of logical debating point is not the kind of person you want trying to teach you any part of a course.)

  9. From a TA who loves her students, who works extremely hard to see her students succeed, who pushes her students to think critically about their worlds and challenge dominant representations of their realities, who makes even the driest course material fun and interesting, who treats her students as human beings and as peers, I call upon all frustrated undergrads, those I teach, and those I do not, to demand accountability from York's Administration to stop the disingenuous campaign of misinformation and distorted facts, reducing the legitimate grievances of the teaching body that carries this university (CUPE members do more than 50% of the teaching load, and then some) into a PR campaign. A laughable proposition: the third largest university in Canada, who has made a business out of education (for a 60 student course, York makes $100,000 and pays Unit 2 contract faculty $14,000) is now the hardup underdog. If we're really in such hard economic times, why don't the six figure VIPs (with comparable levels of education) also take a pay cut? But they won't, not a penny. So now you know who is truly greedy and towards whom you should demand an end to the stalling.

  10. Something I haven’t read yet…. I assume other PhD students at York, like me, were given an offer of acceptance PRIOR to choosing York. This offer listed what I would get from York in exchanged for my education over a maximum 6 year period.

    I accepted this offer and understood what the next 6 (and hopefully less) years would be like. And then, with PhD in hand, I get to go out into the world and put my education and experience to work …. and get paid a good wage to follow the career path of my choice.

    So how come I now find myself embroiled in a strike? …. with a union that has it’s own agenda which I firmly believe is being disguised under a collection of other “reasons” … reasons which large numbers of the CUPE membership disagree with. This was NOT part of the agreement I signed with York…. I understood what they were offering me, and I accepted it. My other option…. if I didn’t like the offer? Find a different university!

  11. Pingback: watercooler » York Strike Update: don’t believe what you read, says Union

  12. Hela, your points are duly noted. Here are my responses: 1)3903 executives and the majority of the picketers walking the lines in the sub-zero cold see this strike as the only way to push the University into the bargaining process. And, yes *all* collective labor action is meant to be an act of solidarity and an example. People in other institutions are inspired when they see workers defending their rights (this particular strike, by the way, has much more to do with non-monetary demands, than monetary demands– a point the University would like to obfuscate).

    2) It is absolutely relevant to call the University on its hypocritical stance vis-a-vis binding arbirtation. The points against binding arbitration (as put forth by the University in 1997) are not diluted by time, they were as meaningful then as they are now. It is called using a precedent and it is something the University must confront and own.

    See the web-link for yourself:

  13. Stephanie, I am aware of the tragic healthcare situation in the US and of the intense debt that student acquire to attend university there. It is the same principles that gave Canada its universal healthcare system, uniting together for the common good, that gave rise to unionized labor. In the case of Canada's healthcare system, we all sacrifice a little of our earnings so thatevery personcan get medical treatment when required. In the case of unions, workers pay union dues under the premise that by banding together against large institutions individual and collective rights are maintained. I would argue that even a reduction in President Shoukri's entertainment budget ($80,000) could be re-directed towards the pressing need of increased childcare facilities at York (one among many of CUPE 3903's non-monetary demands). As for a part-time job, we are actually prohibited by the Universityfrom working more than 10 hours a week. If we work more, we are not compensated at an hourly rate. Even if a person subverted the rules and got an outside job, there is intense pressure to finishthe degree (yes, I am a student, rightly acknowledged) within a timeline. This same kind of pressure is not placed on undergraduates to the same degree. So, in a nut-shell, we are told by the University that we can't work more than our TA-ship, but we're not given enough to cover indexation (the cost of living vis-a-vis inflation)….I acknowledge that a reference to the poverty line might itself be misleading…but no doubt many3903 members are living on literally pennies every month. The recent offer made by the Administration, when inflation is accounted for, is actually a wage decrease. The University is a money-making enterprise, increasing enrollment of graduate programs by 30% but keeping funding for health, etc at the same levels….taking hundreds of thousands of dollars for courses and paying the contract faculty who teach them comparatively littlemonetary compensation and providing them with next to nothing in job security. Finally, I'm not entirely sure what you intend to argue with the Admin 'paying their dues', they may 'run' the University, but they are employees like everyone else. Just because they once had to pay tuition and make their way through the system does entitle them to subvert the bargaining process. Call on the University to stop the disingenuous PR campaign and put a reasonable counter-offer on the table….they're making six figures, and they are accountable to you. They suspended your studies, they are not counter-offering in good faith, you should demand more from them as the primary stakeholder in this situation.

  14. TAs are not being paid to simply go to school, nor are they refusing to take other jobs. They are being paid to prep and lead tutorials, mark assignments, assist students, etc. All of which often takes more than the apparent 10 hours a week that the job is set at. In addition, graduate students are not able to take on other jobs as they can have their funding removed if they do. The university is limiting any other job options.

    Also, there are a number of other issues on the table with the strike that have nothing to do with wages, but are related to working conditions, job security, etc. I just think it is important that we remember the complex nature of the demands before dismissing CUPE.

  15. Well, the negotiations are continuing today which is a pretty positive sign. The bargaining team must be in overdrive trying to get this figured out already.

    I don’t think any back-to-work legislation would make any sense. Especially considering the TTC was just voted as a non-essential service (although it CLEARLY IS!), there’s no way that you can expect T.A’s to be forced back to work when the city’s friggin’ infrastructure isn’t either.

    As for what will likely happen when school resumes, it seems that reading week will be canceled and instead there’ll be a crammed week of lots of labs, tutorials, etc. YAY!

    I just hope this is over soon.

  16. I am a member of Unit 2, (contract faculty) at York. The truth is that the majority of our union as well as most members of the other two unions (1 and 3) do not support this strike!!! We beleieve that this union should represent our professional interests, instead of acting as a political party! Unfortunately, a small group of socialists at York took over the union and it is hard for us to stop them. They care more about their own political agenda, than about us and our students. They rely on U of T and some other universities to join them and to expand this strike into a general political strike in this country!!! If that happens, this strike will continue for months. I ask my colleagues from University of Toronto: please, help us! By continuing your negotiations with your administration you can help us isolate the aggressive leadership of York’s CUPE 3903 and get back to our classes and our students as soon as possible!!! Thanks.


  17. Unions are useless & trouble makers. TA’s going on strike because they want more is ridiculous. Delaying studnents in their students is not fair. This possible U of T strike will result in a lot of hostilty towards the TA’s. I think they should really rethink screwing fellow students.

  18. Since it seems like some of you won’t read the website and its very reasonable demands that the striking TAs and contract staff had, it looks like it’ll have to be brought to you (see quote below) from the YFS site. I ask you after reading this, what if you wanted to further your academic studies? TA-ing is work, my fellow students. It seems like none of you (who are not TAs or staff yourselves) seem to get it.

    PS I love the union demonization — it seems like some of you are moving on anyways, have the money to pay for everything, and since you do, you don’t care how and where you get your “education service” from. I don’t have that money, I support a decent academic environment, and I want to continue with studies (possibly at York), so I support the strike. People who look no further than the “interruption in service” should really rethink screwing THEIR fellow students.

    Here’s the YFS site quote:

    “Our demands are about having all our members live at the poverty line at the very least; having a safe workplace where they are treated with respect; are able to undertake their teaching, research or other duties in a way that gives students a solid learning experience, and the community quality research. Ensuring that childcare is provided for our members, that our jobs are not contingent on a month-to-month basis, that we have enough funds to cover healthcare and other expenses, that our wages are protected against the rising costs of living, that there is equity in the classroom and the workplace, our research integrity is protected, that we have sufficient office space to work with our students, that classroom sizes do not continue to increase, have sufficient professional development funds to get or keep our jobs, and that our Graduate student members are protected against the rising cost of tuition…none of these are radical demands! These are proposals that protect our members and will lead to a better community environment at York. They are beyond reasonable: they are what York needs!”

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