Jan 26 2009

Why I Voted to Continue Strike

Category: News,Strike Discussion (2008-09)jonnyj @ 4:39 pm

Article by Eric McMillan, reposted from http://www.vaughantoday.ca/story.php?id=1406

First a little disclosure:

Although I’m an editor with this newspaper, I am also a doctorate student at York University, which means I am a teaching assistant and part of the strike that has shutdown that institution..

Unlike most of my colleagues there, I’m not entirely reliant for income upon my work and studies at York. But I do have some knowledge of the situation of my fellow teachers and researchers to pass on to readers.

For a start, the strike is not just about wages. The media, taking their cue from the university administration, continually harp on the wage demands. But from what I gather, the difference between what is offered and what we would settle for is small. No worker I’ve talked to has said they would have taken the strike this far over the wage issue alone.

More important is what is loosely called “job security for contract faculty”. I wish the union would stop using this phrase, though. It invites the yahoo responses of “Don’t they know there’s a recession?” and “Nobody has job security these days!”

People, this is not a demand for guaranteed cushy jobs for life.

Rather, it’s recognizing the university has been shifting its teacher funding from full-time professors on staff, with all the benefits and research opportunities, to workers on short-term contracts without the same benefits and research budgets. These contract teachers have to apply every year for each course they teach, never knowing whether or not they’ll be getting a load they can live on. Some have been kept hanging on like this for 10, 15 or 20 years.

Another key demand is reinstatement of benefits and funds to 2005 levels. These are mostly monies established to get teachers and grad students through difficult times and to aid their professional development — something that should be seen as benefiting the entire university community.

No outrageous increase is being sought, only the reversal of a long slide.

I can outline here only the bare bones of the issues. But I encourage politicians and bloggers who want to express moral indignation over the strike to investigate and consider these issues more deeply before proclaiming “Fire them all!” or “Force them back to work!”

But, you ask, what about the poor students who are getting behind in their schoolwork or who might miss their summer jobs because the university is dysfunctional? Don’t those greedy strikers care?

We talk about this among ourselves too. We all want to get back to our teaching and our own studies. We’ve all been students ourselves and we sympathize.

But when we weigh the inconveniences created for students against the long-term problems affecting the livelihoods of our people in their careers. . . . Well, we have to ask: Doesn’t the university care about us or students? Why do they continually walk away from the bargaining table?

These are all reasons why this week, in a forced ratification vote, a solid majority of all sections of our union turned down the last offer, effectively continuing the strike.

You may or may not agree with our decisions. Even within the union, a full range of opinions are expressed. I have to say this is one very educated, intelligent, passionate and socially committed local.

Some commentators have implied this is another so-called case of big unions bullying its members and dictating to the public. Apart from the absurdity of equating the power of unions to that of big business, especially given the current economic mess created by multibillion-dollar corporations, the process that’s occurred in this case belies that rhetoric. If anything, these events have shown in these difficult times we need unions more than ever to preserve the interests of ordinary people.

A group of 3,500 thoughtful and well-intentioned employees at the university have been led to take collective action we feel is needed to protect ourselves, as well as to help other workers, students and the educational system in general.

Agree with us or not, recognizing this should at least give you pause to consider the possibility that we may have a point.

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Jan 26 2009

Statement from CUPE 3903 Executive Committee on the Outcome of Negotiations so far

Category: Point of Information,Strike Discussion (2008-09)jonnyj @ 4:01 pm

To the members of CUPE 3903:

Early Saturday morning, January 24, 2009 the Bargaining Team and the Executive of CUPE 3903 held an emergency meeting. We voted, by a substantial majority, to reject binding arbitration and to offer to continue to bargain.

York University made it clear that they had no intention of bargaining. The mediator indicated that York held their position on the basis of both economic feasibility and principle. Although we significantly lowered our demands, York made no movement and offered the same pass that members rejected by 63% in forced ratification.

At midnight, the mediator made it clear that if 3903 did not accept binding arbitration, then they would be contacting Premier Dalton McGuinty, and the outcome would be back-to-work legislation. We feel that it was inappropriate for the mediator to set us this impossible choice between binding arbitration and back-to-work legislation, with a 7:00am deadline. Although we have no way of knowing how the employer was treated, from our point of view, the responsibility fell on our union to decide between two unpalatable choices.

The Bargaining Team and the Executive feel that our demands are fair. The mediator asked us to reduce our demands to a few key priorities. We dropped our demands on wage increases in response to feedback from the membership at the January 21 General Membership Meeting. We withdrew over 40 outstanding proposals. We continue to emphasize that minimum guarantees, job security, and child care funds are essential to our members. Because York offered a three-year deal with a two-year funding structure, with poor back-to-work protocol, we were unable to accept their offer. At the same time, York has made it clear that regardless of how often we lower our demands, they dismiss the value of our members, and refuse to give our members the respect they deserve. We are convinced that by rejecting binding arbitration, we are keeping members’ best interests in mind. We lose very little by refusing binding arbitration. We have rejected binding arbitration since bargaining began, and it would be inappropriate to accept it now. We considered carefully the larger political implications of our decision. We want to continue to bargain on our own terms. We refuse to undermine the dignity of our members by accepting an offer that our members already rejected.

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Jan 20 2009

Yes We Did! U2 Makes History as 59.3% Vote NO

Category: Events,Strike Discussion (2008-09)Bob Hanke @ 10:31 pm

CUPE 3903 in the Media — January 21, 2009

A message from the CUPE 3903 executive to all units:

We, the executive of CUPE 3903, are pleased that 1466 of our teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty have voted against the employers’ latest offer in a forced ratification vote. This number represents 799 in Unit 1, 363 in Unit 2, and 304 in Unit 3, for a total of 63% voting NO to this offer. The membership of this union has stood strong against an employer who has done the bare minimum in terms of bargaining and who has refused to recognize our key demands during a strike that has so far lasted 77 days.

This deal has been recognized as one that is not adequate in terms of addressing the priorities as outlined by our members, and we are disappointed that York University’s administration felt the need to waste 11 days of bargaining on an offer that they knew our members would reject.

The defeat of forced ratification is a victory, but our work as a local is not done. Our challenges are real and many. They will not be met easily, but they will be met. We need to get back to the table so that we can all go back to work with a deal that is fair and equitable. Our members have outlined key priorities again and again: We will not give them up for the sake of expedience.

There are some who have questioned the scope of our demands and the scale of our ambitions. They think we are asking too much. But these criticisms fail to take into account all that this union has already accomplished through years of collective bargaining.

But there is much yet to be gained

For contract faculty we want to see the integrity of our conversions program maintained, and also have job security for these members.

For teaching assistants and graduate assistants in our local we need to see the issue of graduate funding addressed in a way that takes into account the needs of our members.

For all our members we need to see an Extended Health Benefits Fund that takes into account the real and serious health issues that our members face each day. We need to have a fund that is ample enough in terms of assisting our members with childcare needs.

All this we can do, and all this we will do.

Over the course of this strike we have been amazed at the level of commitment our members have shown to this local and to our key priorities. We have been awed by all the hard work and countless hours people have put in day after day. We are confident the solidarity that has been shown over the past few months will remain through to the end and beyond the strike.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that we as members will stand strong in solidarity and win a fair settlement through the democratic process of collective bargaining.

Solidarity Forever,

The CUPE 3903 Executive Committee


Jan 18 2009

Only a ‘NO’ Vote will Redefine the Probable

Category: Events,Strike Discussion (2008-09)Bob Hanke @ 11:17 am

We are calling on all CUPE Unit 2 members to exercise their democratic rights of collective bargaining and voting in support of our students and the academic integrity and viability of the academic programs that we teach in.

CUPE Unit 2 is a diverse group. Some of us are working towards full academic careers. Many others are specialists who only teach one or two courses a year at York, and have other professional pursuits outside of the university. We are all dedicated professionals with families to take care of and we all want to get back to class and to our students. But we also know that we are suffering economic hardship and that people have become weary, bored, frustrated and frightened.

Unfortunately, all indications are that the Employer has no respect for who we are and sees us as the weakest link in a union that represents three units. Their bargaining team has pushed the university into a crisis by not doing what needed to be done in December, i.e. negotiate in good faith. The Administration’s activities over the past few days only further confirm their disregard for democratic processes and a resolution that is professional and ethical. We can be certain of  one thing: if we vote out of fear that we will be on strike forever, or panic that the University will not offer a summer term, or that they cannot afford our modest proposals, we will have gone on strike for nothing and will see further takebacks in the next collective bargaining process in a few years.

As professionals, we have to ask ourselves, “What is becoming of York University?” They have gone to great effort and expense to pressure us to give up our right to collective bargaining by appealing to our “special responsibility as educators.” As dedicated teachers, we are all worried about how we will face our students but we can’t let the Employer treat us this badly. During the last 10 weeks, they have rejected the fundamental principle of bargaining by only negotiating for 7 days. Now they are engaging in deceptive managerial moves to see if we can hold out. If we say ‘yes’ now, those 10 weeks will be a waste. Despite all the Deans claims of “budgetary constraints,” 100 YUFA faculty have announced their retirement by July 1, 2009. The administration also managed to afford to FedEx two overnight packages with their campaign materials. Printing costs aside, this cost about  $18/pkg (X 2 envelopes, X 3412 members), which equals $122,832.

Our Unit 2 proposals are a reasonable compromise and it is neither selfish nor irresponsible to ask for compensation that better reflects our contribution to York’s academic mission. Whatever pressure and stress we are feeling, the financial pressure from attrition and declining enrollment, not to mention concerned students and parents, will be immeasurable.

All members of Unit 2 are affected by the choice you make. Voting NO will bring about serious negotiation and a quick resolution.

To read today’s unabridged 2-page Message to CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Members including: Why should I vote NO? What about Return to Work Protocol? What about the York University Faculty Association? What about the provincial government? click U2eLettertovoteNO

For English, Word version click U2eLettertovoteNO

Five Forced Ratification Vote Facts:

  1. Any unit that accepts the offer can no longer bargain. That unit would be stuck with the current offer both for a collective agreement and for an imposed, non-negotiated back-to-work protocol.
  2. Members of any unit that accepts the offer may no longer collect strike pay.
  3. Even if two of three units accept the current offer, the strike continues. Senate has said that “classes cannot resume until after a tentative settlement has been ratified by the union’s general membership.” This means all units.
  4. Judging from the exit polls, it looks very likely that U3 and U1 will reject the employer’s offer. If U2 votes Yes to the offer, you will not be allowed to return to work, or receive your York pay until every unit has reached an agreement.
  5. The administration will have to return to the bargaining table to negotiate with all units that vote NO. In 2001, U1 and U3 negotiated a better contract with the employer within days following the forced ratification vote.

Today’s Top Story: Part-Time Faculty Crucial to Ending York Stalemate, Toronto Star, Jan 19, A6.

Are You in Favour of Acceptance of the Offer Last Received By Your Trade Union from Your Employer?


Jan 13 2009

YUFA Affirms Support of Collective Bargaining

Category: Newsjonnyj @ 6:53 pm

The following motions were passed unanimously at the YUFA Executive meeting of 12 January 2009:

  1. YUFA Executive re-affirms its support of free collective bargaining and does not endorse a ratification vote of CUPE 3903 members as forced by the Employer.
  2. YUFA Executive strongly urges all YUFA members to respect individual CUPE 3903 members’ rights in the forced ratification vote to vote freely and according to their conscience. We urge all YUFA members to respect CUPE members’ rights to vote freely.
  3. YUFA Executive, recognizing the power relations implicit in theroles of YUFA members and CUPE 3903 members, does not endorse any YUFA member attempting to influence how a CUPE 3903 member might vote in the forced ratification vote.

January 17, 2009 update: York faculty association vows to support strikers

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