Strike at York
On Mar. 19 York University faculty went out on strike. The CAUT Defence Fund promised $1,000,000 for strike pay and financial support for the operations of the union during the strike. Individual faculty associations also offered donations with the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers leading the way with $10,000.
As the strike entered its fourth week, the CAUT Executive declared a national and international alert publicizing the egregious attempts of the administration at York to undermine collective bargaining and its failure to bargain seriously with the York University Faculty Association.
YUFA has received many messages of support by fax and email and the York Federation of Students has been supportive of the strikers as has the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students.
The Association of University Teachers of the United Kingdom has advised its members not to take jobs at York, not to proceed with collaborative research and not to attend conferences at York.
The tone was set last summer when the administration decided to end negotiations, abrogated conciliation and proceeded to strip the contract of one of its key articles on retirement and to impose their own. In effect the administration proceeded unilaterally and dared the union to go on strike. Nevertheless negotiations resumed in the fall and winter without success.
At a rally on Mar. 25, Professor David Clipsham, president of YUFA, and CAUT President Bill Bruneau noted the link between the unilateral imposition of contract articles and the more general problem of increasingly centralized and managerial decision-making at York. More and more key decisions are made in top-down style. The consequences are clear. Class sizes grow. Expensive decisions about new technologies are made without proper negotiation and without effective planning. As a result, the union has made class size and technological change important issues in the negotiations.
The York faculty are also angry with the administration about salary matters. York has dropped from twelfth to fourth place in Ontario in ten years. There is no money, the administration says. However, the union alleges that the administration has stashed money away in a series of funds at the discretion of the board.
Furthermore the provincial government itself has acknowledged that the Toronto area will be the centre of the area of maximum growth of student numbers in the next few years.
The financial situation has been aggravated by repeated and misleading statements by the administration concerning salary figures. Although it is offering zero on scale, it tells the public that it is offering eight per cent — a figure arrived at by adding up the automatic steps on the salary grid, which the university would have to pay in any event, including the step in the current academic year almost all of which it has already paid.
At the meeting on Mar. 25 David Clipsham noted that the hard-line tactics of the administration could only be met by firm resistance. Professor Bruneau spoke of the pattern developing in certain universities and provinces. It was important, he said, to resist the attack on "the way we govern ourselves" wherever the challenge emerged.
At the beginning of April the administration asked for and the union agreed to two days of intensive mediation by private mediator Kevin Burkett. During those two days the administration made not a single offer and showed no movement on any of the issues. They did announce that they had a mandate and they were not going to move from it.
The union had previously tabled proposals concerning the flexible retirement plan and proposed third-party mediation-arbitration for both the retirement and the salary structure provisions, and indicated further areas of flexibility during the mediation process — to no avail. CAUT’s Executive Director Donald Savage, present for the mediated negotiations, said the behavior of the administration in making no new offers was extraordinary.
On Apr. 9 YUFA formally offered to submit all issues outstanding in negotiations to binding arbitration — a strategy strongly supported by the membership — and to go back to work immediately while the procedures for the arbitration were being worked out. The administration refused.
On Apr. 10 in a dramatic bid to end the current strike, YUFA members marched to the offices of Bill Dimma, chairman of York’s Board of Governors and presented him with an Honorary Degree of DBA — a doctorate of binding arbitration with the following message: "In the interests of students, faculty, librarians and the entire York University community, as well as the long-term future of quality post-secondary education, we call upon you to insure that the Board of Governors of York University fulfills its responsibilities by acting immediately and decisively to end the current labour dispute through negotiating in good faith or agreeing to third-party arbitration.
"We will return to the classroom immediately when you and your colleagues in the boardroom formally agree to submit all of the issues in dispute to third-party arbitration."
Quite apart from the bargaining issues, many academic staff at York are concerned by the increasing commercialization of the university, in particular the decision to allow donors to attach their corporate names to individual courses. Many thought that the administration was selling the academic freedom of the university. The more the administration denied the charges, the more the striking faculty disbelieved them.