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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2000

York Staff on Strike

More than 2,000 members of CUPE local 3903, representing graduate, research and teaching assistants as well as contract faculty at York University have been on strike since Oct. 26.

Strikers are fighting for job security for contract staff, protection from tuition increases for teaching assistants and graduate assistants, a fair first contract for graduate assistants, smaller class sizes, and a modest wage increase. The union says university administrators are "stonewalling on all of the key issues."

Tuition relief issues have been at the forefront of negotiations since the massive increases of the early 1990s and the recent deregulation of tuition fees. In 1996 CUPE negotiated a tuition rebate for teaching assistants at York and in 1998 it negotiated an indexed tuition rebate.

A recent statement by the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) noted that the York administration is seeking to end tuition indexation so York can fall in line with McMaster and Toronto which crushed attempts of their TAs to follow the York pattern.

"The York agreement sets a precedent that is troubling for other university presidents who are facing demands from their TAs for a similar provision," said CAUT executive director Jim Turk. "Yet, with it becoming increasingly difficult for TAs to survive on teaching assistant salaries after paying for sizeable tuition increases, it is vital that all of us do what we can to help the York TAs win their strike to preserve indexed tuition rebates and win wage increases."

YUFA President Penni Stewart agreed, "Full time graduate students are only permitted to work 10 hours per week. If forced to 'moonlight' in order to pay rent and to eat, students will find it impossible to meet programme and degree completion deadlines.

"This creates a problem not only for students, but also for the university because complete times and completion rates are taken into account in the regular review of graduate programmes conducted by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies."

The university has also denied all efforts to extend the indexed tuition rebate and other benefits and wages that teaching assistants have to CUPE's newly-unionized members, the graduate and research assistants, who are predominantly Master's students.

In response to a bargaining proposal for a five per cent wage increase for contract faculty, the employer has offered one per cent and rejected the union's proposal for a cost of living allowance. Most critical of all the administration is attacking the job security of contract faculty members. Since 1988 the contract faculty agreement has included a program for converting successful applicants into tenure-stream faculty positions. In this round of bargaining the employer is seeking to scuttle the conversion program.

There is no end in sight to the strike, now entering its second month. Says Rob Heynen, bargaining team member and local 3903 treasurer, "The administration's intransigence on every key issue has led to this strike, and is responsible for its continuation."

The administration broke off talks at the end of November and has said it will not return to the bargaining table unless the union substantially reduces its bargaining position.

"The effect on classes has been devastating and the term has ended in complete disarray The loss to learning and the loss to the financial resources that support that learning by now are incalculable," said YUFA vice-president external Lorna Erwin.