Nervous York students demand gov’t action

Union says university “deceptively” hiding behind economic recession


Dozens of York University students descended on the Ontario legislature today to demand government intervention to end a nearly month-old strike by York’s teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and contract faculty.

See also: Mediator suspends York talks

The strike, which began Nov. 6, has left 50,000 students out of class and concerned how they will be affected by the strike. As the dispute drags on, students are concerned about the school year extending into May and costing them summer employment opportunities.

The protest comes at a critical impasse in the dispute with the provincial mediator saying the two sides are not close to an agreement and less than two weeks before the provincial legislature recesses for a two-month winter break.

“We’re hoping to get the premier’s attention with this,” said York student Catherine Divaris, a member of the group YorkNotHostage.com, which organized today’s event. She spoke to CityNews while protesting in front of Queen’s Park.

“We need the legislature to enact back-to-work legislation for this strike because it’s entering the fourth week now and there’s been no action from either side… this is unacceptable.”

The government has refuted demands for back-to-work legislation but an opposition member, Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill) introduced a private member’s bill to force an end to the strike.

Bill 135, Back to Work Act (York University), 2008 calls, “on the Minister of Labour to table back-to-work legislation.” Shurman told the legislative assembly, that if passed, it will impose a three-year contract on the union.

One of the key demands of CUPE 3903 is a two-year contract. Provincially, CUPE is preparing for a possible provincial-wide strike in 2010 to push demands for more government funding to increase pay and benefits for CUPE members at Ontario’s public universities.

“This government can no longer stand by as CUPE 3903 continues to blatantly disregard the consequences of their irresponsible strike. I’ve asked the McGuinty government to step in and show decisive leadership on this issue, but time is running out and they’ve done nothing,” Shurman said after Question Period today.

“When will the McGuinty Liberals realize that the ‘wait and see’ approach is not the way to govern? It didn’t work for the economy and it isn’t working for York U. students,” .

The bill reflects the position of the Progressive Conservative opposition but is opposed by both the Liberals and NDP. It is unlikely to be passed into law.

Rosario Marchese, NDP critic for Training, Colleges, and Universities say the root cause of the current strike is government underfunding. “We languish at number 10 in per capita funding,” he notes of Ontario’s last place status in Confederation for per-student funding of universities.

Marchese says this has resulted in situations like York where “the workers who do 50 per cent of the teaching are only paid 7.5% of York’s operating budget.” He say is not far that contract faculty are being used by universities to balance budgets in light of government underfunding.

He says the government has caused the problem and needs to provide funding to fix it.

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy stated he is continuing to “call on both sides to put the interests of the students [at York University] … front and centre and come back to the negotiating table and reach an agreement.”

The union says the university has money to meet its demands and return students to the classroom.

“Hiding behind the current economic recession is downright deceptive,” CUPE 3903 member Katherine Nastovski said in a statement released by the union. “They’re obviously putting the classroom at the bottom of their priorities, so we want to know where the fees paid by hardworking parents and students, tax dollars and public fundraising are going.”

CUPE 3903 points to York recently successful fundraising campaign “York to the Power of 50” which has raised over $167-million of its $200-million goal as a potential source of funds to pay for a settlement.

The York Federation of Students, in their first news release since the strike began, seconded the calls of CUPE 3903 calling on the “York University Administration to immediately allocate a portion of the more than $160 million raised in the “York to the Power of 50″ fundraising campaign in order to end the strike.”

“The York Administration has repeatedly stated that there is no money to meet the demands of CUPE 3903,” wrote Hamid Osman, YFS president in the statement. “We understand the need to celebrate the University’s 50th anniversary, but during these tough times it’s more important to get 50,000 undergraduate students back into the classroom.”

Neither side appears to be changing its position and no talks are presently scheduled for this week.

The Ontario legislature recess for their winter break next Friday, Dec. 11 and is not scheduled to sit again until Feb. 17, 2009.


ONTLA: Peter Shurman and John Milloy debate York strike during Question Period.
CITYNEWS: York Students Protest at Queen’s Park While Work Stoppage Lingers On.

– photo courtesy of Gavan Watson


Nervous York students demand gov’t action

  1. Amusing to hear a tory declare the wait and see approach doesn’t work in the economy. I thought a free market economy is what tories advocated.

  2. If Only teachers were considered an essential service, then this strike could have been dealt with quickly and sent into arbitration. But defining teaching as an essential service is hard, and can end it unfavourable results for either side.

    Its a shame though for the york students; being jerked around by this union, jeopardizing your education and future careers. If your school year does extend into May say goodbye to good summer employment; and unfortunately there is no one to fight CUPE’s stupid actions for all the lost wages within those months, or other lost opportunities.

    I know the people on strike have already lost their wages for the month, but what purpose does it serve if you are continually losing money and the talks being conducted by your mediators are not getting anywhere; just more lost money.

    Hopefully the Government steps in, I am on the students side and think this strike is stupid and selfish; and the bigger picture of further education is getting lost in the mix.

  3. I have sent this letter to Premier McGuinty, My MPP Peter Shurman and John Milloy Minister of Training Colleges and Universities:
    I am appealing to you to ask parliament to help end the strike at York University. I wanted to let you know that as a voter and as a parent of 2 students being affected by this strike, I would really appreciate your efforts. I guess you can imagine the frustration of the students not getting what they paid for and sitting day after day wondering when they will go back, how their year will be affected and if they will even complete their year. As a parent and alumni of York, I am disgusted and discouraged that this is impinging on my children and the 50,000 other students, on their future. Multiply this by 3, or 4 or 5 to include how this is affecting their families, not to ignore the lack of bus riders, shoppers at York and the many restaurant owners at and near York, and far more than 50,000 people are being affected.
    I understand strikes, I am a teacher. However, in today’s’ world economy this is totally unacceptable. Each and every one of us should just be glad we have a job. On top of that-what are we modelling for our future citizens? The affect of this strike on our children is devastating to say the least. Last strike at York University alone caused 3 students that I personally know to drop out of school and their lives have never been the same since.
    I am appealing to you now to let me know, and our students, where we go from here? Have we no voice? Can the government legislate and end to this strike before Christmas? Is there anyone else we can appeal to?
    I guess you can hear my frustration and anger. It is an awful feeling that we have no say, no recourse and no power.
    Thank for letting me vent. if you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.
    Thank you once again and please be supportive and represent us as the voice of the people.
    Rochelle Bowmile

    Rochelle Bowmile
    Special Education Resource Teacher
    Baythorn Public School

    “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
    ~Nelson Mandela

  4. I am so upset at the politics CUPE and York University administration are playing with our money and our children who supposed to be right at this time in the middle of exam session. How long 3400 TA’s are planning to keep 50000 students hostages? How are the international exchange and law school students are different from 4th year undergrad students?CUPE representatives and TA’s I am asking you again consider the economic situation in the world .You have the job today,you might not have it tomorrow,because someone might agree to do the same job without CUPE crazy conditions.
    Nataly -mother of 4th year student,who payed for education.Also,I would like to know are you -TA’s and professors are payed to do nothing?

  5. Pingback: Nervous York students demand gov’t action

  6. I think the strike is completely unnecessary, and, even after the fact, the university should not have canceled classes for those not being taught by unit 2 faculty.

    Simply put, as a former TA at York, I made pretty good money. $45/hour marking tests. This is the standard rate: $6000 for 135 hours of work (in each semester) [6000/135=$44.44]. The contract given with the prof calculates approximately how many hours it will take you to do something, and in most cases, it will be done in much less time (135 hours on paper is really done in 90-100 hours). To be fair, lets say even 120 hours [6000/120=$50/hour].

    Benefits are outstanding, and last time, they even negotiated for a fund for people who want to get a sex change (why should an employer pay for this… is beyond me, but I guess it’s cheaper than paying everyone another $10/hour).

    CUPE claims that they are below the poverty line because they make $18000/year for 3 ‘trimesters’. The problem is that York only needs them for 135 hours per trimester. So they’re effectively limited this way.

    If they’re below the poverty line, making $40-50/hour, then they should find themselves another job.

    Stopping 50,000 students from getting an education is in nobody’s interest. Because of CUPE’s greediness, 50,000 students have lost more than a months worth of work after they finish the year ($3200 each at $20/hr [avg starting salary], which is $160Million). International students have also lost their time here on educational visas as well as plane tickets. People also lost full time careers waiting for them upon graduation.

    The union needs to drop their ego and get on with life making, be happy with $44/hr for TAs, and stop poorly trying to delay people who want to get their work done at the university.

    I think it’s time the students got together and started a CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT AGAINST CUPE3903!

  7. Pingback: York says unless strike resolved soon, classes end Dec. 15 : Macleans OnCampus

  8. Pingback: New! Settlement offer from York administration : Macleans OnCampus

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