Apr 17 2012

What Has Happened to the Once-All Mighty CUPE 3903?

Category: Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 2:26 pm

by Lykke de la Cour
YUFA CLA, Health and Society Program
Department of Social Science

Though no longer a member of the bargaining unit, I have been following CUPE 3903’s negotiations due to my own continuing concerns with the casualization of academic labour at York and elsewhere in the university sector. Having been deeply involved in the last strike, and in the final round of mediation for the last collective agreement, in the spring of 2009, I am utterly dismayed and perplexed by the current settlement that has been put before Unit 2. This is not even a concessionary deal … it is purely punitive.

I cannot fathom how either the Bargaining Team or the current CUPE 3903 Executive could ever have recommended this offer to the membership, or how an all-union SGMM voted to move forward with a vote on the settlement. In the 25 years that I have been following the politics of CUPE 3903 at York, this marks the lowest point I’ve ever witnessed in the union’s history and in the history of its collective agreements. The settlement quite clearly demonstrates that CUPE 3903 is no longer at the forefront of bargaining in the university sector, or progressive labour politics. The Local that once was a leader in the sector has now become the backwater with respect to Unit 2’s collective agreement.

The offer put before Unit 2 flies in the face of gains that have been recently achieved for contractualized faculty at other universities in Ontario and across Canada with respect to the regularization and stabilization of their employment, such as five-year renewable contracts and the continuing sessional appointments that the CUPE Local 4163 negotiated for contract faculty at the University of Victoria. It also fundamentally contradicts the political thrust dominant amongst unions today – i.e. not to enable but to fight against the casualization of labour.

The settlement that has been put to Unit 2 is de-facto contributing to the casualization of academic labour, not challenging it. This is ironic given that even with what most acknowledge as the dismal failure of the last brutal strike, the collective agreement achieved in that round of bargaining at least did not further casualization through its albeit meagre provisions that were finally negotiated. But now, with this settlement, without any strike or further negotiations, the Bargaining Team and Executive are recommending a new collective agreement that facilitates exactly what the employer wants, i.e. to keep contract faculty continually and forever precarious. The deal reached for Unit 2 does this by putting an overall limit on the number of contract faculty who can hold LSTAs (long-service teaching appointments) and by continuing to keep conversions appointments low. The provisions around enforcing a ‘hard’ CAP around the fractional (.17) excesses associated with Foundations teaching, also contributes to casualization.

More than a few members in Unit 2 have, over the years, argued for a more equitable distribution of labour amongst contract faculty, often calling for a reduction in the overall workload members are eligible to teach. Some have suggested that the 4.5/5.5 CAP be reduced to 3 CDs (or equivalencies) per member so that the work can be spread out. While this line of argument is often advanced as democratic, in reality it is not. This argument lines up precisely with what employers everywhere want these days, i.e. the elimination of full-time work and its replacement with part-time employees. The current administration at York would love nothing better than to see a CAP of 2.5 or 3 CDs per Unit 2 members as everyone would then be precarious, without a liveable wage, and thus much more vulnerable, less able to challenge the powers that be.

What was unique about Unit 2 at York, in the 1970s and through to the mid 1990s, was that through hard-won battles it managed to negotiate collective agreements that purposefully challenged the part-time and precarious nature of contractual university teaching – i.e. contracts that helped to facilitate members’ abilities to have something akin to full-time work, with respect to a liveable wage, benefits, pensions, etc., and job security through seniority provisions. This was organized around the principle of seniority as seniority was, and remains, the central, fundamental challenge to the managerial rights (i.e. the arbitrary ‘pick and choose’ approach) traditionally used and favoured by university administrators and tenured faculty … i.e. the approach used with tenure-stream hires, CLA hires, and conversion appointments.

Both the new restrictions around the LSTA pool and the ‘hard’ CAP on the minor excess (.17) associated with Foundations teaching essentially represent an assault on the most senior members of CUPE 3903. The right-wing within YUFA has basically been agitating for a purge of these CUPE 3903 members since our last strike, and now the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team has handed this to them on a platter by recommending acceptance of the offer negotiated for Unit 2. And what confirms this analysis is the fact that the employer didn’t turn back the CUPE proposal around the ‘hard’ CAP. Yes, it came from the union, not the employer and this CAP is going to be an administrative nightmare for the university to enforce. It essentially means that, for Foundations courses, UPDs will now have to make a large number of additional .17 appointments. And how will these be awarded? Will the person with the .17 appointment be brought in to oversee tutorials in the last 2 weeks of a course? Will they mark exams but nothing else in the course? This is an administrative and pedagogic nightmare.

So why would the employer agree to this? A number of possible reasons:

(a) it will create such a mess that the university will have arguments to justify no longer appointing Unit 2s to tutor 1 positions in Foundations courses.

(b) it helps to perpetuate divisions and resentment between senior and junior members within Unit 2

(c) it contributes to and fosters the organized assault on senior Unit 2 members … members who have been at York 10, 15, 20+ years and who helped to develop the strong collective agreement Unit 2 once had … members who in their sheer presence symbolically represent CUPE’s challenge to the administration’s feudal ‘managerial rights.’

Unit 2 members need to reject this offer and order the BT back to the bargaining table. There has been a signal failure in this round of bargaining that is unprecedented in the history of negotiations for Contract Faculty at York. But it is not too late to turn the offer back.

Contract Faculty at York (CUPE 3903, SRCs, CLAs, and CUPE exempt in Schulich, Osgoode, and Continuing Ed) now number around 1700. There are roughly a little over 1200 tenure track and tenured faculty at the university.  Casualization, in other words, has grown since the last strike. Contract Faculty are the majority faculty at the university. When will Unit 2 really get this and get what it means? When will Unit 2 start standing up for itself and demand what it rightfully deserves?

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