Mar 30 2015

York U Strike in Context

York strikers show the way — now let’s build a truly public university

Protracted labour dispute raises questions of post-secondary governance and funding

by Justin Podhur

(excerpted from Ricochet)

The strikes at York University, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere have opened a long overdue debate about student debt, precarious labour in the academy, rising tuition, and, to a lesser extent, university governance. The York University strike offers an opportunity to argue for the continuing relevance of universities as public institutions. The importance of the public in the public university is especially true for York, which, if it embraced its role as such, could tackle a new list of issues and lead the way for other educational institutions.

Precarity, debt, and defensive struggle

York’s contract faculty are the precarious academic labourers whose difficulties have been brought into some public light by the York strike and other labour actions in North America. The contract faculty settled earlier in March. The teaching assistants and graduate assistants had to battle on until the end of the month to win their objectives.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


Tags: , ,

Feb 15 2015

This is Contract Faculty Time

Category: Academic Freedom,Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 12:55 am

York Faculty in Support of Contract Faculty

Produced by videographer Alex Lisman, in conjunction with the CUPE 3903 communications committee, this new video features eight, tenured York University faculty members speaking about the obligation to engage the issue of contract faculty, the problem of precarious academic labour, the contribution that contract faculty make to teaching and research, and what the administration can do to exercise higher educational leadership and address this growing problem in the current round of collective bargaining.

To view this groundbreaking, revealing, educational video, click here.

Canadian higher education now faces an ominous situation. Increasingly, the university is being turned into a corporate business where education is viewed as a commodity. As a consequence, to quote John Ralston Saul, “democracy is weakening. Corporatism is strengthening. Certainly corporatism is creating a conformist society” (The Unconscious Civilization: 1995).

Corporate efficiency is the main force now driving York University where the administration holds all the power to implement policies with little regard to York’s avowed mission of academic pursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. York is chipping away at the collegial entity of the professoriate who endeavor to consciously shape the university in pursuit of its motto: Tentanda Via: the way must be tried.

One can easily see how York University’s commitment to its mission of  ‘social justice and collegial governance ‘ rings hollow, and the top-heavy administration is inclined to pursue short-sighted policies. An instance in point is its continual rejection of the contract faculty’s legitimate claims and insistent denial of their hopes of becoming full-time academics, despite their being fully qualified and fully utilized at a marginal cost. The contract faculty have been carrying nearly half of the total teaching load in the university, all for inequitable remuneration and inelegant terms of employment. It is obvious that the administration cannot hope to fill the classes offered in the university, unless it is prepared to water down the quality of teaching, or replace human creative minds with robotic computers, which will indeed ensure certainty of discipline and control.

The university pursuing the ‘Matthew Effect’ (Robert K. Merton:1968) seems to thrive on accumulating advantages from the contract faculty’s precarity! Is it not YorkU’s time to redress the inequities the contract faculty have bravely suffered so long, and is it not ethical to fairly integrate them into academe?

— Indhu Rajagopal, PhD
Professor, Department of Social Science, York University
Author of Hidden Academics: Contract Faculty in Canadian             Universities (University of Toronto Press, 2002)

Tags: , , , , ,

May 01 2012

The Union Against Itself: The Mirror Stage of Contract Faculty Labour

Category: Conferences,Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 3:59 pm

by Bob Hanke
Departments of Communication Studies and Humanities

Paper presented at The University is Ours! A Conference on Struggles Within and Beyond the Neoliberal University,  April 27-29, 2012, Toronto, Ontario

In the Production of Living Knowledge, Gigi Roggero focuses on the relationship between autonomy and subordination. As he writes:

The line of the processes of struggle and of hierarchization is not longer … located on the border dividing those within from those outside of the labour market, but is completely internal to it. In the intersection between life and labour struck by the condition of precarity, it is the quality of inclusion that becomes the object of the practices of exit and of voice. The behaviors of living labour, between the search for autonomy and subordination, self-valorization, and competitive individualism, describe, therefore, the material constitution of subjectivity, becoming at once a form of resistance and of potential conflict (Roggero 2011, p. 103).

I want to draw on this rich passage to describe and analyze how CUPE 3903 was put against itself. In response to the acceleration and intensification of casualization of academic labour, the quality of contract faculty’s inclusion in a member-driven, democratic union became problematic. In the following account, I emphasize how organization and mediation must be considered as constitutive in the production of subjectivity. I will close by raising the question of affective bargaining with the union and the shaping of subjectivity.

Currently, CUPE Local 3903 is the bargaining agent for 1726 teaching assistants in Unit 1 and 691 graduate assistants in Unit 3. In Unit 2 representing contract faculty there are 900 members; of these, 687 hold course directorships, 340 hold tutor positions, and 127 hold both positions. Given the changing composition and orientation of the local towards more graduate students, what was remarkable about the 85-day strike in 2008-09 was that contract faculty and graduate students were in solidarity on “job security.” That strike only ended when the McGuinty Liberals passed  Bill 145 – the York University Labour Disputes Resolution Act – on January 29, 2009. After the employer’s war of attrition against the strikers, the neoliberal government acted to regulate the academic labour market by stripping strikers of their collective bargaining rights.

One episode from this strike illustrates how union communication is enabling and constraining. After the strike had already started, a Unit 2 communication committee was formed to develop a communication strategy to inform and mobilize contract faculty. They started a listserv and produced the inaugural issue of the CUPE 3903 U2 Chronicle. Recognizing their underepresentation in the internal and external media, a subcommittee made plans for a press conference to make contract faculty visible and articulate the relationship between job security and the quality of education. This press conference never happened. The executive committee following CUPE National’s communication officer’s centralized, coordinated communication strategy insisted that this conference be delayed until after the forced ratification results were known. In this way, union communication was structured to foreclose the representation of “hidden academics” (Ragagpol 2002).

This is not to say that the issue of “job security” – through sheer repetition if nothing else — was ignored or unreported. Rather, it is to say that it was not attached to those most affected by casualization. The union’s communication strategy failed to make the connection between “job security,” the two-tier faculty employment system, and the threat that contingency poses to academic freedom and governance. As one senior contract faculty member put it, “At a certain level I feel that efforts to keep U2 out of the media represent an ageist attack on who we are. The lack of our voices and our faces… throughout 3903’s media representations is appalling (as is the lack of racialized bodies, differently-abeled bodies, elderly bodies, female bodies).” To put it in a post-autonomist Marxist framework of cognitive labour, if communication is cooperation and production, then what was at stake for contract faculty in this strike was not just putting a face on public service, educational workers but the production of living knowledge of precariousness.

I want to go on to argue that it is out of the memory of defeat that a new path to self valorization and determination would be tried. The union would be put against itself without being transformed. As Antonio Negri suggests in The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, communication is production. To this, I would add that mediation – the space between the subject and reality – as well as organization must be considered constitutive. Despite its legacy of achievements, resources have yet to be allocated within CUPE 3903 to enhance contract faculty’s capacity to communicate, discover who they are, and to network. Moreover, in 2011, another way was tried – restructuring the local – but it ended up having no traction. This has left contract faculty less able to tackle the problem of casualization and to protect themselves from exploitation.


To read the rest of this 9-page paper with references, download
The Union Against Itself — The Mirror Stage of Contract Faculty

Tags: , , , , , ,

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?

Tags: , , , ,

Apr 16 2012

What will Happen if we Vote No?

Category: CUPE U2 VP ReportsBob Hanke @ 1:11 am

by Sharon Davidson
CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Vice President

The ratification vote will take place from April 16- 20 in the Vari Hall link on the Keele campus and outside the cafeteria on the Glendon campus from 11 a.m to 3:00 p.m.

In my previous post, I explained why I am voting ‘No’ not only as your Unit 2 VP but also as a member of the local. Many Unit 2 members may believe that voting ‘No’ means that we may be on strike a week from Monday. They do not want to entertain a scenario that takes them back to 2008-2009 – a concern that I completely understand. To address these concerns, I want to put forth various scenarios that position us in a very different situation than 2008.

By voting ‘No,’ we would give the union leverage to go back to the bargaining table and get an agreement that moves the Unit 2 Collective Agreement forward in meaningful ways in this round and not some future round of collective bargaining. We would go back to the bargaining table with a small list of demands with a specific timeframe. This was what happened in 2001. Of course, we would have to be prepared to strike to get this extra time at the bargaining table but we could agree to give the bargaining team one more opportunity to negotiate with the employer without striking. We could also agree to have the outstanding issues sent to binding arbitration instead of going out on strike.

How is our situation different from 2008? First, we are negotiating at a different time in the academic year and are better positioned to have a short, effective strike. York cannot afford to have another labour disruption for so many reasons. Many summer courses are directed by Unit 2 members and many of us still have not submitted our grades for the fall/winter and winter sessions. It is much easier for us to set up picket lines in warm, spring weather than in the cold days of November and December. The union is prepared to mount a strike both logistically and financially; in fact, the purpose of the special levy was exactly for this circumstance. Also, the earliest a possible strike would take place is after the week-long ratification vote, so members will receive the bulk of their pay for April before going out.

Would we be legislated back to work?  No. First, First, we would not be out long enough to make such legislation necessary. Second, the provincial Liberals have a minority government and the NDP, now in a much stronger place than it was in 2009, would not allow such legislation to pass. Third,  the McGuinty government made it quite clear last time that York could not ask the government to solve its labour problems again.

The absence of many Unit 2 members on the lines in 2008 and 2009 makes it clear that if we are to be taken seriously and if our demands are to be taken seriously by the employer and our colleagues in Units 1 and 3, we have to be prepared to show signs of solidarity and strength as a bargaining unit and not rely upon other members in the local to defend and to advance our rights.  We have the collective agreement we have because those among us and before us have done this in the past. Does anyone want to go on strike? No.

But simply saying that we can build demands for equity and security at some point in the future loses sight of what is possible right now.

The current settlement offer is a bad deal. Even the union’s legal counsel advised the Bargaining Team against recommending the provisions put forth in the offer, which stunts the LSTA program by placing limits on the numbers of these types of appointments. This should be an evergreen program that grows and to which members automatically become eligible after completing the specified years of teaching service.

Please be sure to make your voice heard this week. Come out and vote down this settlement offer.

Tags: , , , , ,

Next Page »