A top provincial mediator was appointed Wednesday to “bang a few heads together” in a last-ditch effort to end a strike that’s left 50,000 York University students in academic limbo, with some fearing they have been forgotten amid the stalled labour dispute.
The workers will continue to strike until they receive a fair contract, a union spokesman said, a day after members rejected an “inadequate” offer.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty dispatched his biggest gun, Reg Pearson, to try to break the deadlock, while rejecting Opposition calls to force an end to the strike at Canada’s third-largest university with back-to-work legislation.”This thing has gone on so long, one could be forgiven for coming up with the impression that the two sides have lost sight of the interests of the students,” McGuinty said.
“We’ll give this one more shot. We think it’s the fastest way to bring this home, which is to send in a mediator to bang a few heads together and ideally lead to a speedy resolution.”
Pearson, the director of the Ministry of Labour’s Dispute Resolution Services, which provides arbitration and mediation services to trade unions and employers, will be given a limited amount of time to broker a deal, said McGuinty.
Setting a firm deadline won’t help resolve the dispute, McGuinty suggested.
York University president Mamdouh Shoukri says the school “welcomed” the announcement and is hoping for a breakthrough in negotiations.
“We look forward to Reg Pearson’s involvement in the hope that it will lead to a speedy resolution,” he said in a press release issued Wednesday night.
Canadian Union of Public Employees spokesman Tyler Shipley said he supports the move.
“There are some heads at that table that need to be knocked,” he said. “We’ve been trying with this university to bargain for not just the two-and-a-half months that we’ve been on strike, but six months.
“We started this process in July.”
The union membership of teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty met Wednesday to discuss how to proceed after rejecting the university’s latest offer by 63 per cent.
The main sticking point for the union is greater job security for its members, who do more than 50 per cent of the teaching at the university, Shipley said.
“For them to treat us as if we were expendable labour is disrespectful to say the least,” he said.
Shipley, a graduate student, said the striking staff sympathizes with the plight of students left in the lurch, but that they are fighting for resources to do their jobs effectively.
The lengthy strike, which began Nov. 6, has international student Amina Abbas frustrated she can’t proceed with her studies, having come all the way from Pakistan.
“I’m so sick of it,” said the 20-year-old, who is taking a double major in communications and economics.
“I want both (sides) to work together and basically work for the students because we’re the ones who are here, and it’s our money and our time.”
Hanna MacKechnie, 22, is in her final year studying humanities, and is so frustrated by the strike that with mere months needed to complete her degree, she has contemplated transferring to another university.
“I’m very stressed,” she said. “I just want to go back to school.”
Pearson, an 10-year veteran in mediation, declined to comment about the university strike.
“I’m still trying to sort out when we’re going to meet and all that good stuff,” he said.
The premier’s decision to call in a mediator left the Opposition fuming.
“To say that he wants a speedy settlement to this dispute at York at the 11-week mark is disingenuous to say the least,” said Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman, who has lobbied the government for weeks to intervene.
“(The government) owes an explanation to the people of Ontario and certainly the 50,000 young people who have been waiting around for 11 weeks worrying about their future.”
A senior government official said there are concerns that if the province forced an end to the strike, the union would challenge the back-to-work legislation in court – a fight the government fears it may not win.
The government has to show that it’s done everything possible to end the strike before it can consider legislation, the official said.
In April 2008, the province forced 9,000 striking Toronto transit workers back to work after recalling the legislature for an emergency Sunday sitting. The bill passed within 30 minutes and received the support of all parties.
Shipley said the union’s bargaining team is on call and ready to go whenever York wants to resume talks.
– The Canadian Press