Sunday, November 30, 2008


So, is this coalition dealy really happening? Or are we, once again, being set up in order to be kicked down?

Negotiations update from CUPE 3903

Original here.

November 30, 2008 - TORONTO, Ont.

CUPE 3903 has requested a continuation of talks with York University on Tuesday, December 2, but union officials say university negotiators are holding up an agreement by refusing to address the key issues at stake in the strike.

The two sides met for three days last week and some progress was made, but union representatives say university negotiators have stubbornly skirted their main concerns: job security for contract faculty, a reinstatement of benefits and funds to 2005 levels, and subsistence wages adequate for the cost of living in Toronto.

“York would rather sit back, fold their hands and let 50,000 students lose their term than make us a workable offer to take to our members,” said union spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah.

Members of CUPE 3903 do more than half the classroom teaching at York yet their contract represents just 7.5% of the university’s $848 million annual budget. Even as the economy slows, revenues are growing as a result of tuition fee hikes, increased graduate enrolments, bigger provincial transfers, and donations to the York University Foundation, according to the university’s own recent financial documents.

“Hiding behind the current economic recession is downright deceptive,” said union member Katherine Nastovski. “They’re obviously putting the classroom at the bottom of their priorities, so we want to know where the fees paid by hardworking parents and students, tax dollars and public fundraising are going.”

Ziadah says she finds the attitude of the York administration and negotiators toward employees and students “shocking.” “What is the university’s game here?” she asked. “We are indispensable educators at York and we’re asking for peanuts relative to the university budget. Their four-year accumulated surplus of $139.9 million by itself is worth twice a much as our annual contract of $62.5 million.”

“Before encouraging the province to get involved, we need to see some leadership from our new university president,” said Nastovski. “President Shoukri needs to step in and press his negotiators to get serious at the bargaining table. “It’s time to stop spending precious university funds on high priced lawyers and public relations flacks and start valuing students and educators by showing some goodwill and negotiating a fair contract,” she added.

The union representing 3,400 teaching assistants, contract faculty, graduate and research assistants has been on strike since November 6.

Hey, Toronto Star: quit lying!

This says the talks between CUPE 3903 and York U were "suspended" by the mediator. This is simply not true, as can be seen here:
CUPE 3903 has requested a continuation of talks on Tuesday, December 2nd. In the meantime our bargaining team is using the time to streamline proposals with a view to accelerating progress towards an agreement.
The University's continued attempts to bargain through the media are doing nothing to improve increasingly toxic labour relations with crucial teaching staff.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wait... it's back? Do these people have any idea what they're doing?

So, the public financing thing is off the table...

...and? What about the rest? What about legislating public service contracts and stripping workers of the right to strike? What about Harper's failure to propose any sort of economic stimulus package of any kind? Financing was a smokescreen; hopefully, the Libs and Dippers have the sense to keep trying to bring Harper down.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We'll see.

But things may be about to get interesting.

Jesus H. Christ.

If the NDP, Liberals and BQ don't vote this shit down, I'm voting Communist (or possibly Nazi, if I have the option) from here till the end of my days, just to stick it to 'em.

Holy hell, where can we start?

It's been pointed out all over the place that cutting the public financing of political parties, while possibly good policy, is irrelevant to the current economic situation. It's also been painstakingly pointed out -- but clearly not in small enough words for Mister Flaherty -- that selling off government assets of any kind during an economic slowdown is a recipe for disaster.

When it comes to stripping civil servants of the right to strike for a year, not only is there no reason to suppose this will actually save the government money -- for removing the right to strike generally involves mandatory binding arbitration which tends to lead to greater costs than negotiated settlements -- but it's morally abhorrent and illegal under international law. Is this government really so petrified of its own employees that it can't stand the possibility that they might dig in their heels during contract negotiations? Is this what conservatism has become in Canada, a refuge for cowards?

Good lord, this is just pathetic. We're doomed. I'm moving to the US, Obama's at least sane, and sane can always learn how to be principled.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Louise Brown needs to go.

Seriously, this is just ridiculously biased. CUPE 3903 and York are finally going back to negotiations on the 27th. And she throws this into the middle of the article:
It invited York officials to resume talks Nov. 13, but discussions broke down in less than two hours after York officials said the union had not made significant changes to its demands.

York is offering a wage hike of 9.25 per cent over three years, a deal it says reflects settlements being signed across a number of sectors. Already York's teaching assistants are the best paid in Canada. CUPE has asked for 11 per cent more over two years.
The first paragraph is a blatant lie, and anyone following the negotiations knows it's a lie. The Union changed several demands, and the University refused to alter its offer. Kinda hard to negotiate in those circumstances. The second paragraph, second sentence, states as fact university spin. Depending on how you count these things, York TAs may not pan out as the "best paid in Canada". Furthermore, she ignores -- probably because she doesn't know -- that CUPE 3903 represents contract faculty as well as TAs, and York contract faculty are far from the top of the payscale in Canada.

I also note York's idiocy here:
But the university's statement asks why the meeting will come a full week after union members at a general meeting gave their bargaining team the go-ahead to revise some of its proposals.

"Given what is at stake for our 50,000 students, this one week delay in getting to the bargaining table does not suggest urgency on the part of the union to reach a negotiated settlement," said the posting.
If they want to settle the strike, maybe they should stop trying to piss the Union off? When negotiations are resuming after two weeks of silence, it's usually a good plan to keep your head down and see what happens.

Unless, of course, you're not serious about settling the strike through any means but back-to-work legislation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Stay classy, CFRB 1010.

York slashing services to save money during strike.

York has, reportedly, introduced the following changes:
  1. 1. York shut down its chilled water system to save power/money. The university operates its own internal chilled water system for things like cold rooms, coolers, condensers, etc. They shut this system down and didn't bypass to city water. This caused all of the cold rooms and freezers in a number of buildings to fail, with nasty consequences for research involving live samples.
  2. 2. The university has cut its internet commit. Internet service on campus is subsequently slowed, as well as off-campus email access. (And I'm still paying my fucking tuition.)
  3. 3. Most faculties have now implemented an emergency hiring freeze, and cancelled all tenure-track position searches -- even ones that had already started and been budgeted for. In one instance a hire was already informed he had the position and then had it revoked a few days later. (Classy!)
  4. 4. All departments have been ordered to slash their budgets across the board. Some of which have cancelled planned entrance awards for January admissions.
I'm honestly not sure whether to read these points as York trying to solve whatever minor budget issue they have by prolonging the strike, or York realizing that the strike is having serious financial consequences and they need to save money to keep themselves from serious trouble. If the former, the strike will continue for quite some time; if the latter, the strike may be coming to a conclusion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


So, current word is that Schulich (business) international students are already back at classes (or soon will be), and the Osgoode (law) students may be back next week. I think this is hysterical.

For Schulich, it's completely arbitrary: there are other international students facing the same problems across the university. It also means the YUFA members are being asked to cross picket lines, and I don't believe they can be compelled to do that. They probably shouldn't in any event, as they may end up having to teach the same course twice to all the non-international students; and they would also have difficulty marshalling grad student and contract faculty support for themselves when needed.

As for Osgoode, their faculty aren't in YUFA and the current plan is apparently to record the lectures for those students who exercise their right not to cross lines (because that's clearly the same as being taught the course). There are two courses taught by 3903 members that simply won't happen, so I'm not sure how far the program can actually be completed. That said, having dozens more trying to cross the picket lines is going to make traffic jams worse and probably cause further problems with threats and other aggression against picketers.

It's worth noting that trying to hold classes during the strike was one of the major problems in 2000-2001, hence why the Senate decided not to bother this time around. These cracks in the administration's facade suggests to me, first, that they don't really give a crap about the potential consequences for their students' education of crossing picket lines and related disruption; and, second, that the various pieces of the University realize that the upper-level has no particular interest in resolving this strike in a timely fashion.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Finally, the Star sees the light.

At long last, there is a fair article on the CUPE 3903 strike in the Toronto Star. See here. The few negative comments I see are, as I read them, from folks who simply aren't on the same planet as the rest of us. They want the institution of the university to be something other than what it actually is. Which is what the article is about. So, go read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The internet is awesome.

Click already.

Edit:12:03am. Shoot, it's down. Try this instead (not quite the same effect as it doesn't loop).

More CUPE 3903 number-crunching.

See here.

  • The combined annual income of four of York's bargaining team members is equivalent to the annual salaries of 46 TAs.
  • A classroom of 60 undergrads brings in $100,000 in revenue, but only $14,000 goes to pay the course director.
  • York has been steadily receiving more income from tuition, through provincial funding for grad studies, and via the York Foundation.
  • CUPE 3903 members do 50% of the teaching at York, but receive 7.5% of the total operating budget.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Someone at CUPE 3903 did the heavy-lifting and dug up York's 2008 Financial Reports. They quote them here, but here's what matters:
Operating revenues are running ahead of last year due to the impact of the increased tuition rates... and the cash balance is very strong.
In other words, budget cuts? economic downturn? inability to pay? All, as I said here, bullshit.


From here.
We must be mindful of the impact of the current global financial crisis and the significant budget cuts that are being implemented at the University over the next three years. In these difficult and uncertain economic times our offer is fair, reasonable and comparable to other settlements across the Province.
What budget cuts? Driving down TA and contract faculty salaries and benefits seems to me to be the only "budget cut" on the table. What other budget cuts are being proposed, and why are we only hearing about them now?

The proposals the University has chosen to highlight are here. Which of these are supposed to be unreasonable, exactly?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A modest proposal.

(Well, no, not really "modest".)

Given that York undergrads are busily whining about their education being "ruined" and their being "held hostage", I propose that CUPE 3903 members should consider, in future, advocating only for a reduction in graduate tuition fees, and an increase in undergraduate fees to cover the difference. After all, if undergraduates refuse to recognize that there is common cause here, it seems ridiculous for TAs and contract faculty to continue to suppress their own best interests in favour of the interests of their students.

After all, turnabout is always fair play.

Yup. This about sums it up.

Message to York undergrads from CUPE 3903

Original here.
York Undergrads… Frustrated by the Strike?

Published on 17 Nov 2008

So Are We!

Why are we frustrated?
We’ve been at the bargaining table with York University’s administration since July, trying to get a fair contract for over 3000 contract faculty, teaching and graduate assistants. The administration has refused to present us with a reasonable contract offer and has forced us to go on strike. This was our last resort.

We are going without pay from York for as long as we are on strike, and most of our members are students who paid fees this term so this is neither fun nor economically stable for us.

The administration is trying to turn our students (and the public) against us by misrepresenting our needs and demands in the media.

Why are we on strike?
Our contract was up for renewal and we asked for job security for contract faculty, some of whom have been teaching at York for many years; fair wages for all; and funds to catch up with the growth in our membership since our last contract.

Right now we do more than half the teaching on campus but less than 10% of York’s budget goes to our contract. We want more money going into teaching and learning in the classroom. That’s what you pay for.

We want to negotiate a fair settlement but the University is effectively refusing to bargain.

CUPE 3903 members, as students and teachers, have no interest in disrupting classes. Education is what we do every day – it is our main concern and our job. For many us, our studies have also been interrupted.

Striking is our only option

Going on strike is our legal right and it’s the only option we have to pressure the administration to deal fairly with our membership.

You can help end the strike…

Send a direct message to York U President Mamdouh Shoukri by going to:

Come out and march with us on the picket lines!
We’ll be at York’s Keele and Glendon campuses from 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday

Tell York what you think:

• Support your TAs, contract faculty and GAs in CUPE 3903.
• Value our teaching, support and research.
• Classroom teaching should be THE main priority in York’s budget.
• Negotiate at the bargaining table ASAP – NOT in the media.
• Respect CUPE 3903’s legal right to collective bargaining instead of using forced arbitration to score cheap PR points.

Write or call these people:
• Mamdouh Shoukri, President Tel: 416-736-5200 Fax: 416-736-5641
• Peter Sadlier-Brown, Special Advisor to the President,
• Ken Fasciano, Manager, Communications,

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

One of the better protest signs against California's Prop 8

Here. From Digg.

(Yes, I'm trying to avoid strike crap.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

PhD: Blocked

I know some full-blown PhDs, as well as a number of my fellow doctoral students, read this. Anyone get blocked on the dissertation? I'm partway into drafting my first chapter and am really having a hard time with getting sufficiently motivated to finish it up.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Congratulations, Thornhill...

...your MPP is an ignorant douchebag.

A selection of bullshit:
Thornhill Peter Shurman, Member of Provincial Parliament (Thornhill), has called the CUPE 3903 strike at York University offensive and is demanding that the McGuinty government take immediate action to protect York University students and their academic year.
Like violate the ILO? That kind of immediate action? Then again, he's a Con, so I'm not surprised he considers Canada's international responsibilities somebody else's problem.
“I’m offended as a representative of the constituents who attend York University and whose academic careers are threatened. I am offended as an Ontarian fully aware of the thousands of job losses that our province has sustained and I am offended as a former employer when I hear of the outrageous demands and the apparent lack of good will on the part of the union,” said Shurman. “All these factors should spur the McGuinty government into action. Instead, they’re sitting on the sidelines like a car that’s overstayed the idle limit, polluting Ontario’s air but not contributing in any meaningful way.”
You don't represent me, douchebag; you're not even my MPP. Then again, I'm one of those greedy grad students, so I suppose I don't count? And my academic career doesn't count?

Shurman also fails to note that the Conservative government in Ottawa is at least partially responsible for the problems Ontario is facing. (Everyone remembers Flaherty talking up the dollar and calling Ontario a terrible place to do business, right? And when he cut the GST while everyone with a functioning brain could see the housing bubble was going to burst? Okay, moving on....)

Shurman pointed out that a drawn out strike could have damaging consequences for students who depend on their summer incomes to support them throughout the year, those looking to graduate this year, and students who may have jobs lined up right after graduation.
This one's certainly true. Hence why the university should start bargaining already.

“Should their academic and professional careers suffer because the union wants to gain leverage in the next round of negotiations? Is this government really going to just stand back and allow students to be sacrificed for the sake of a union’s political strategy? What is it about the word ‘responsibility’ that the McGuinty government and CUPE 3903 don’t get?” Shurman asked. “That aside, where else in times like these could you ask for an 11% increase over two years and not be a laughingstock?” he added.
In government?

Does anyone happen to know what the rate of increase of MPP's salaries is? I'm having trouble tracking that information, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't a hell of a lot more than what York is offering TAs and contract faculty.

I'm interested to see, though, that Shurman apparently believes York admin has no responsibilities whatsoever. Or maybe he thinks they understand the word, and it's really just semantic comprehension he's worried about?

Shurman said that while he is disappointed with the McGuinty government not taking a stand to protect more than 50,000 York students, he is not really surprised.

“This government has made a career out of backing away from tough decisions, especially when it comes to saying ‘no’ to spending. They clearly don’t want to risk a confrontation with the union, so they make York University students bear the cost for their lack of backbone.”
And now the wheels come off the bus. Is Shurman seriously suggesting that the province is responsible for whatever agreement gets hammered out between the University and the Union? Oh, for God's sake; would someone please get this man some basic civics lessons? Or a straitjacket. Whichever.

York is domain-squatting?

This is weird. I went to go to CUPE 3903's website (, and accidentally punched in Previously when I've done this, the URL has gone to the default search page as no one has the domain.

Until today when I tried it, and got to here:

Nice use of students' tuition dollars, eh?

CUPE 3903's response to York University

From here.
Members of the CUPE 3903 met with York University yesterday in the hopes of resuming bargaining and seeing some appreciable movement from the University on our proposals. But the Employer walked out of negotiations after only 15 minutes at the bargaining table.

York University has yet again posted misleading information on its website. While it claims that CUPE 3903 is “still demanding 41% in wage, benefit and other economic increases” compared to the 9.25% that the University has offered, this is a gross distortion of the facts.

CUPE 3903’s wage demands are not that far off what the University has offered. CUPE 3903 is asking for a 11% increase over two years, while the University has offered 9.25% over three years. CUPE 3903 has moved significantly on its wage demands, dropping from an initial proposal of 30% to a 7% and 4% increase over a two-year contract. The University has only increased its offer slightly, from a formula of 2%-2%-2.5% to 3%-3.5%-3%, over a three-year period.

In light of a 28% membership growth since 2005, CUPE 3903 is seeking increases to benefit and support funds in order to bring funding levels back up to their 2005 level. We are also requesting that these funds be indexed to membership growth, which is expected to increase substantially in the next few years with the expansion of graduate enrolments. So far the University has responded very poorly to this issue. For example, due to the increase in CUPE 3903’s membership over the last three years, the university’s contribution to on-campus childcare for members with childcare needs has dropped from 30% to 11%. Currently, the fund only allows coverage for 30 members a year. CUPE 3903 has requested an increase of $150,000 to the childcare fund. So far the university has responded with a counter-proposal of $1,500.

The University has not bargained in any meaningful way around job security for long-term Contract Faculty. They have not indicated whether the Conversion Program will be maintained, and their proposal around Long Service Teaching Contracts actually intensifies job insecurity for Unit 2 members.

CUPE 3903 members find it quite hypocritical to suggest that CUPE 3903 is being ‘unreasonable’ in its wage demands, when York Administrators clearly have not had any problem in giving themselves ‘excessive’ wage increases. Over the past three years, CUPE 3903 members had an overall wage increase of 6%. However, during this same time period, one Associate Dean received a 43% wage increase, the University’s President’s salary rose by 39%, and the Registrar had a 34% salary increase. The Senior Director, Admissions Communications and Client Services saw her annual income rise by 28%. The salary for the Director of Media Relations, currently Alex Bilyk, rose 24%. Many other Deans and top ranking administrators had wage increases ranging from 15 to 26%.

CUPE 3903 went back to the bargaining table on November 13th hoping to see some reasonable indication from the University about their willingness to take the bargaining process seriously. As was pointed out at our rally on Wednesday and on our website, binding arbitration in neither a sound nor a democratic solution to the current impasse in negotiations. Fair bargaining is the only answer here. The University’s administration has wasted over a week of valuable negotiating time by continuing to press for binding arbitration, despite its OWN clear opposition to it in the past (see

If York’s administration is as committed to students’ concerns as they claim to be, why have they waited so long to come back to the table? Why did they stay only 15 minutes?

Yup, I'm right.

See here for the University's latest whinge. It seems I was right: the Union hadn't caved, and the University bargaining team don't have the brains to modify a proposal on their own.

Honestly, this isn't hard. If the University changed some details of its offer and it still was rejected, then they'd have some political leverage. Hell, they could even insist that the revised offer be taken to a GMM, and the Union membership might go for it, even over the recommendation of the bargaining committee.

But, no. The University keeps sticking to this lunatic "binding arbitration" demand, and refuses to change their proposal one iota. Given that, what possible incentive is there for the Union to change their demands?

Let me see if I'm following this.

See here.

So, before today, the University's line was that they hadn't received a response from the Union to their last proposal (a strike apparently not counting), and binding arbitration was the way to go.

The Union's line was that they were happy to talk to the University, as soon as they, y'know, actually started talking again.

Now, after speaking through a mediator for the first time in a week, the University's line is that the Union hasn't completely caved on crucial issues, and binding arbitration is the way to go.

The Union's line is that they are still happy to talk to the University, as soon as they, y'know, actually start negotiating instead of demanding.

Is that about the size of it? Have I missed something?

How long does the York University administration believe it can continue to deliver ultimata to the Union rather than bargaining in good faith? I'm really quite incredulous as to how incompetent the University negotiating team really is. They aren't moving their offers until the last possible moment, and they won't talk to the Union unless everything the University disagrees with is swept off the table. And yet they insist they have the best interest of the student body at heart. It's absurd: the strike could break tomorrow if the Union could take seriously the idea that the University was actually willing to give some ground.

Oh, and, they still haven't explained why binding arbitration was a bad idea 11 years ago and is a fantastic idea now. One wonders what's changed. (No, "it's 11 years later" doesn't count; if it was a bad idea 11 years ago, then something structural has to have changed to make it a good idea now.)

Honestly, this is farcical. The University's previous offer was clearly not acceptable, and they've known this for a good week. Change something! It's not that hard! Change anything and it's a basis for discussion, at least!

Christ. And these people are apparently worth six-figure salaries.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How things have changed in 11 years....

I pulled this from the comments section on one of the Toronto Star's anti-union pieces. See here for what the University used to think of binding arbitration. Cliff's Notes version:
  • Arbitration is not "owned" by any participant
  • Arbitration subverts the search for "mutually agreed upon settlement"
  • Costs may be imposed that are outside the University's budgetary limits
  • An arbitrator "cannot possibly appreciate hte subtleties and complexities of a university such as York."
Money quote:
For YUFA, as with other trade unions, the right of employees to withdraw their services is the ultimate method of resolving disputes.

Response to York University's latest propaganda piece.

See here (.pdf). This is a partial response.

Will binding arbitration reduce the “value” of the CUPE Local 3903 collective

No. The arbitrator will decide on the issues which remain outstanding between the University and the Union
based on the proposals which will be exchanged. All of the previously agreed-upon proposals and existing
collective agreement provisions not in dispute will remain as is. There are no Employer proposals on the table which would result in a reduction of wages or benefits. As such, employees represented by CUPE 3903 will continue to enjoy wages and benefits which are among the best in Canada and our 50,000 students can get back to the classroom immediately.
This is a lie. The University's proposals do amount to a reduction in wages and benefits as the University's offer is significantly below the rate of inflation.

Why aren’t the two sides at the table?

CUPE 3903 imposed its own deadline of 5:00 PM on Tuesday, November 4 for the end of negotiations prior
to its general membership meeting scheduled on Wednesday, November 5. Immediately following the general
membership meeting, the Union went on strike.

On Tuesday November 4 before the 5:00 PM deadline set by CUPE 3903, the University made a fair and
reasonable settlement offer to the Union which included wage increases of 9.25% over three years and
improvements to benefits and other provisions. The proposed wage increases of 9.25% over three years are
identical to the wage increases already agreed to and overwhelmingly ratified by members of YUSA and
CUPE 1356.

The Union has yet to make a proposal in response to the University’s settlement offer.
This is simply laughable. As I've said previously, as 3903 has said previously, 9.25% only seems reasonable given that YUSA and CUPE 1356 members already make more money. Furthermore, making this offer at the last minute -- a deadline not "imposed" by 3903, as the update claims, but required in order to present the offer to the membership -- is pretty far from good faith bargaining. The University knew when the Union would be considering going on strike; what took them so long to make this supposedly "reasonable" offer, exactly? One suspects they knew it was the last minute and deliberately made an offer they didn't expect to be taken seriously, so that they could spuriously assume some sort of moral high ground.

Furthermore, the Union is on strike. I'm not sure what other kind of response the University is waiting for. An engraved card of some kind? I'm also not sure what other kind of response can be made given that the University refuses to resume negotiations. It's sort of hard to make a counter-proposal when one party won't go to the table.

And there never would have been a strike if the University had bargained fairly to begin with instead of constantly pushing binding arbitration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To those opposing the CUPE 3903 strike

This should tell you something about your position.

According to my sources, at the Pond Road line today (Nov 11th, ironically enough) around 4:15 pm, a white male middle-aged driver attempted to ram the line with an American brand white utility van, plates 534 8VM. The driver threatened to bring a gun next time he comes to the lines.

That anyone thinks this, a threat to use lethal force, is an appropriate response to a legal strike is beyond contempt. If you oppose the strike, I suggest you think very carefully about why some people who agree with you consider this acceptable, civil behaviour.

If anyone can identify the driver of the van, please let me know in the comments, and I will pass the information along to police.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I expect this to go otherwise unreported.

A picketer was struck by a car at the Shoreharm [Edit: 9:16 pm EST.] Road picket at York today. I fully anticipate that the corporate Toronto media won't pick this up, and that the anti-strike whiners will consider this "deserved".

See the video here.

It continues....

Is York paying the Toronto Star something? Seriously. See here.

York U. students voice anger online

Alex Cooper
Staff Reporter

... Business student Lyndon Koopmans gave vent to his frustration by starting the York University Anti-Strike group on Facebook. ...

Koopmans said his group aims to take a neutral stance toward the strike and doesn't want to take sides.

The group's mission statement, posted on their website, states: "We hope for a resolution of this dispute that is fair for all parties. However, a work stoppage has severe and unacceptable consequences for York's 50,000 students. Neither a lockout nor a strike is the responsible method for resolving this labour dispute."

Their slogan is "Forced arbitration not a hostage situation."
Yeah... and they aren't taking sides. Give me a fucking break. This is taking the administration's side. They decided to structure their university in such a way that it could not function without TAs and contract faculty. And they decided to shut down classes during the strike. And they decided that binding arbitration -- which, interestingly, is quoted as "forced" here -- was preferable to negotiation.

"We just want forced arbitration and to get back to school," said Catherine Divaris, a final-year kinesiology student who has been vocal online about her opposition to the strike and attended yesterday's meeting.
And fuck everyone else, right, Cathy? Christ, this is just pathetic.

Hey, check out the last paragraph:
Anti-strike groups aren't the only ones being created. Five groups in support of the strikers have been started, including the union's own, Support CUPE 3903 in Bargaining, which has more than 1,600 members.
There's more members of the pro-3903 group, but you wouldn't know that unless you sat through the entire article. (There is a note of a 1500 member group "York Victims", but I know for a fact that this group is populated by a mix of union members and whiny undergrads.)

Somebody remind me why I want to teach these sorts of people....

Saturday, November 08, 2008


I need to stop reading the anti-union nonsense that's floating around, particularly on Facebook. I can take it, somewhat, from undergrads. It basically comes from ignorance, and university is a good place to be to correct that. (Although, the hateful level of the rhetoric comes from nowhere I understand.) But others who should know better, including tenured professors -- that's not even incomprehensible; it's simply repugnant.

And I should stop reading it because there's very little that can be done to reach people like that.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Response to Toronto Star editorial

Original here.

York students hit again - Opinion - York students hit again
November 07, 2008

Ontario's economic future depends on a highly educated workforce. All the more regrettable, then, that 50,000 students find themselves without classes because of a strike at York University.
Agreed. Yet there is a surprising lack of sympathy for the -- highly-educated -- graduate students who are now wasting precious research hours trying to bring a recalcitrant administration into line; and the -- presumably -- important contract faculty who handle the bulk of the undergraduate teaching and are also wasting precious time walking a picket.

Classes were cancelled on Thursday after 3,350 teaching assistants and contract faculty walked off the job. Everyone involved must guard against letting this disintegrate into the type of bitter battle that left York University students suffering through disrupted classes during an 11-week strike in 2001.
That makes some sense. A little light on details, but a good sentiment.

The two sides remain far apart. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 says it was "forced" on strike because the university wouldn't agree to an 11 per cent wage hike over two years, enhanced benefits and more job security. The university says the union's overall demands add up to a "totally unrealistic" 41 per cent hike.
The university says a lot of things. Occasionally, they say something true, but that seems to occur by accident rather than design.

Union representatives say they'll resume negotiations when the university makes a "serious offer." In fact, the university's final offer of 9.25 per cent over three years and other improvements was serious enough for two other campus groups – maintenance workers and clerical staff – who ratified similar contracts.
Relevance? Maintenance and clerical workers are already better paid than TAs and have greater job security that contract faculty. It's a blatant apples and oranges comparison. Moreover, the university only offered a contract at parity with other campus employees on the final day of bargaining before the strike. That's a serious offer?

Given those recent settlements, and the fact that York's teaching assistants already earn the highest wage in Canada,
Irrelevant, as TAs are generally underpaid.

the latest offer seems in line with the tough economic times.
Uh huh. And yet President Shoukri's contracted salary increases are also, I suppose, "in line with the tough economic times", not to mention the 15% salary increase given this year to the university's chief negotiator.

There's always an excuse as to why the university "can't afford" what TAs and contract faculty ask for.

"It's not the industry average."

"You're already well-paid."

"The university budget is tight."

"We have a deficit."

"It's a recession."

"You're replaceable."

And so on and so forth. None of it is meant seriously; it's pure PR spin. The union knows it. The university knows it. Apparently, the Toronto Star does not. The fact of the matter is that if the university was in a serious financial bind, they would be making across the board cuts. Exhibit A: Trent University.

On March 11 of this year, a budget bulletin was released to staff from the VP (Admin), including this:
As a means of addressing the deficit, a comprehensive benchmarking of Trent’s expenditures compared to other Ontario universities was undertaken. Based on these benchmark comparisons, managers have been requested to reduce their operating expense budgets by 5% to11% in an attempt to balance the operating budget for 2008/09. All departments will be participating in this budget reduction plan. In order to meet these targets, and considering salaries and benefits represent 85% of the University’s overall operating budget, it is expected that employment levels will have to be reduced. Managers have been asked to submit their plan to reduce expenses (or increase revenue), accompanied by appropriate business cases, towards the identified targets to their Senior Officer by March 19.
Trent is also restructuring and streamlining the upper-level administration.

York's solution to their "budget problems" (which are nowhere near the scale of Trent's) is to force the supposedly essential front-line academic workers to take effective paycuts. And like it. The point is that the university is trying to cover up their mismanagement of their budget by blaming it on "astronomical" proposals -- and they are only proposals, I note, nothing has been signed as the university has stopped bargaining -- from graduate students and contract faculty.

Onward with the editorial....

The university's proposal to settle the dispute through binding arbitration also seems a reasonable way to bring a quick close to this strike. The union has refused.
I suggest that the next time the Toronto Star's editors are looking for a salary increase, the matter be delegated to myself as a neutral third-party. In these tough economic times, it would be unreasonable for a newspaper editor to negotiate his or her own salary with management.

Wait a minute....

It's difficult to see how CUPE hopes to win public sympathy or do better for its members by keeping 50,000 students out of their classes.
Especially with editorial boards buying university spin hook, line and sinker. (Though, I suppose that means that York's PR kids are earning their upper five-/low six-figure salaries. Maybe we could cut those to save some money and give it to the TAs? Oh, of course, a silly idea, forget I mentioned it.)

That said, the longer CUPE 3903 stays out, the more desperate things will become for the university. They need new students coming in and paying new tuition dollars. They also need new monies coming in from the province which, AFAIK, are tied to student enrollment. The longer the union stays out, the less money the university gets from both these sources. Maybe then President Shoukri will have to take the bus like the rest of us....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Anyone seen what CP24 is doing?

They're actually having an online poll on whether TAs, contract instructors, etc. should have the right to strike.


I've dusted this old post off. Take a look about why it's a bad idea to try to take the right to strike away from anyone. (The old post is in the context of the TTC, but the point applies here, too.)

This is the kind of thing I have to deal with.

See here for a three paragraph whinge on the CUPE 3903 strike. This is the sort of thing I have to grade on a regular basis, folks. The student who wrote it actually thinks she's making sensible points and cogent arguments.

Here's the basic thing the "argument" misses: grad students also pay tuition (indeed, grad students pay a fixed level of tuition for every semester, regardless of whether they take courses or not), and grad students are also having their programs affected by the strike.

I weep for the future of humanity.

CUPE 3903 on strike.

(NB: If anyone in 3903 is following this, do you guys have a button I can put somewhere?)

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

All the world that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

North American carbon market?

It's too soon to tell if it will be a reality, but this is hopeful.

CUPE 3903 Bargaining Update

Negotiations Update – November 4, 2008.


Today was the last day that we will have negotiated with the employer before the strike/lockout deadline of November 6th at 12:01 a.m.

Tomorrow there will be a Special Consultative Bargaining General Membership Meeting (SCBGMM) at which we will consider whether the deal presented by the employer is a) worthy of being recommended for ratification or b) whether it is not acceptable and strike action will be necessary to achieve adequate gains. CUPE 3903 is committed to this special event in the bargaining process because we want to empower our decision-making processes with as much mass-mobilization involvement as possible. All members are invited to come out to this special meeting to hear a detailed report about the current offer, to engage in discussion about its relative merits and demerits, and to voice their opinions about the course of action that should now be taken by the Executive and Bargaining Committees.

The employer presented us today with a package that had little new to offer except wage increases that would be set at 3% for 2008-2009, 3.25% for 2009-2010, and 3% for 2010-2011.

While the York Administration continues to claim that this offer is “fair” and is supposedly intended to avert a strike, the total wages and benefits over three year deal equals only a 2.5% growth of our contract. This total package falls short of the sector average for 2008, and is well below the approximate 4.25% growth we gained with the 2005 collective agreement.

The University has, in the eleventh hour, finally agreed to match the wages of the other on-campus unions, but completely failed to address how University-initiated graduate growth has eroded job security and the union's complement of benefits and needs-based funds. The Employer has grown our membership without growing our funds. This is a recipe for poverty and poorer all-around quality of education for our members as students and teachers.

There will be a full report at tomorrow’s GMM concerning the details of the offer the employer has given at this point. For the time being it is informative to reconsider the major and inexcusable oversights in the administrations negotiations with us. We may have been prepared to give a little, or even a lot, on many of these issues – if only we had gotten some movement from the employer on any of them:

Poverty-line wages:

The University’s public relations campaign so far has focus on the notion that CUPE 3903 members are unduly jeopardizing the welfare of the student population at York. Furthermore, in their most recent press release, it is claimed that:

“York University's contract faculty, TAs and GAs are among the highest paid at Ontario universities with highly competitive hourly rates. GAs and TAs are full-time students, not full-time employees. They work an average of 10 hours per week. Claims by the Union that its members are paid below the "poverty line" are misleading, because these are part-time positions. Most Unit Teaching Assistants (TA's) are currently guaranteed a minimum level of funding at a rate of $63.29 per hour, which would equate to full-time annualized earnings of around $115,000 per year.”

If we are full-time students that’s because we’re supposed to be – actually, York demands of us that we only be part-time workers so that we can excel at our studies. If we were actually paid for all the work we do as students then we would be making that “annualized earnings of around $115,000 per year”, but as any graduate student will know – while we certainly work full-time hours, we are only paid for those 10 hours a week that the Administration counts as “official” work. Please! – If that’s the implication of this statement, then we’ll take it. But no, we’re being rather modest, again, seeing as how we’re only asking for a poverty-line minimum funding package. We think that will get us through okay. We don’t want to ask for the impossible.

Pedagogical Soundness:

Robert Drummond, a representative of the employer’s bargaining team has stated that: “We all need to put the educational needs of our students first,” Drummond said. We agree. The York University Administration apparently thinks that it has more important places to put its money than into supporting the front lines of its teaching staff – the approximately 2500 TAs and contract faculty of CUPE 3903 who do over 50% of the in-class teaching at York University. And apparently maintaining classrooms where teachers can actually have the time to engage with students, answer their questions, and help them personally with their progress doesn’t count as “putting the educational needs of our students first” either – seeing as the employer refused to discuss any of our class-size reduction proposals, nor were they agreeable to our suggestions that core in-class teaching conditions should be secured against becoming replaced by correspondence or online classes.

Catch-up and indexation of funds to membership growth:

There has been a dramatic erosion of needs-based funds caused by twenty-five percent membership growth over the past four-years, and there is an estimated future twenty-percent growth by 2010. The University has only committed to marginal increases in funds and refuses to consider the union’s proposal to develop language in the Collective Agreement that would index these finds to membership growth in order to secure against such further erosion.

We feel that at the very least the University should commit to stemming the continuing degradation of these funds – funds upon which our members rely on for basic professional development, health, and financial needs.

Job Security Measures for Unit 2:

There is an atrocious lack of job security safeguards for the contract faculty represented by CUPE 3903 – these teachers conduct nearly half of the university's undergraduate classes, but are paid at a rate far below tenure-stream professors, and are forced to re-apply for their jobs every four to eight months, even if they have worked at the University for years.

We are trying to develop some measure of serious job security improvements for these people, but despite the University’s claims, it seems that they are quite happy with the exploited working conditions of our members.

Protection against inflationary erosion of wages:

We are also seeking to achieve inflation protection by locking wages to the consumer price index. Wouldn’t it be fun to not have to worry that your wage earnings might decrease in value!?

2-Year Contracts:

We require a two-year contract in order to be capable of renegotiating in response to changing economic circumstances, and so that we can join with an Ontario-wide University-sector union initiative to put pressure on the provincial government to better fund post-secondary education.

We do not believe that any of these proposals are “unreasonable” – in fact, most involve establishing a situation in which we could merely feel somewhat comfortable in the level of financial and professional security where we currently reside (and, as many of you will attest: that’s not much).

These past weeks the bargaining team presented the employer with a number of avenues of possible settlement on these matters. Unfortunately, they declined to respond or budge on any of these points. They seem to think that what they have offered is indeed “good enough”. [AR note: And they keep pushing binding arbitration... methinks I smell a rat.]

Our union must now decide its response to what the University considers a “fair deal”. In fairness to our membership we will present the University's final offer before we make a decision on how to proceed. Obviously, we had hoped to be able to present something substantially better but given the circumstances it appears the University would rather risk a strike than come to the table and offer solutions. We implore you to come out the GMM tomorrow – get informed, get mobilized: let’s see what we can do about making York University a better place to work, a better place to earn a decent living, and a better place to study and teach… for the sake of all of us, as students and teachers and student/teachers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Response to York University press release.

(Press release can be read here.)

Full disclosure: I have been a member of CUPE 3903. I am currently not a member.

TORONTO, October 29, 2008 -- After months of negotiations, York University’s CUPE Local 3903 continues to demand wage increases in excess of 30 percent over the next two years, York University officials announced today. The Union voted in favour of a strike and will be in a legal strike position as of 12:01am on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008.
The first sentence is a lie. 3903 is willing to reduce the wage increases, as long as they keep members at the poverty line. The University wishes its supposedly essential academic workers to earn less per year than the poverty line in Toronto of $22,653.

“At this stage in negotiations both sides should be down to realistic wage and benefits proposals. With the economy worsening and the University facing budget reductions the Union's demands are simply unrealistic and unaffordable,” said Dean Robert Drummond, spokesperson for the University’s negotiating team.
One wonders, first, how many administrators are being asked to accept salary freezes or cuts; and, second, what excuse would be offered if the economy were not worsening. Is Dean Drummond seriously suggesting that if the economy were better, then the University would cheerfully pay whatever it was asked to? I sincerely doubt it, and thus I suspect Dean Drummond is being disingenuous (at best) when he says that is to blame for the University's unwillingness to even approach 3903's demands on compensation.

The Union representing the University’s contract faculty, teaching assistants (TAs) and graduate assistants (GAs) is also demanding free tuition for their members as part of wage and benefit demands which are in excess of $70 million or 112% over two years. This amount represents approximately 11% of the University’s 2007-08 operating budget.
This is simply a lie. The current tuition-related request is for a reintroduction of post-residency fees, i.e., a reduction in fees for students who have achieved their coursework requirements. "Free tuition", although reasonable (and not uncommon at world-class universities), is no longer on the table.

“The University has done, and is doing, all it can to avert a strike knowing the harm it will cause its 50,000 students. We are prepared and willing to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract. We have offered the Union binding arbitration on all outstanding contract items in order to avoid disrupting students' education. The Union has refused,” said Drummond.
The first sentence is a lie. As can be seen here, the University is making no serious moves at the bargaining table, and is relying on a (likely well-paid) lawyer to browbeat the Union bargaining team. (Would firing that lawyer help free up some money, perhaps?) The third sentence is absurd. Why should the Union agree to allow a third party to impose a contract? It only makes sense if the University is incapable or unwilling to negotiate fairly.

“This situation is regrettable. Despite its best efforts to avert a labour disruption, the University must make plans in the event that the Union calls a strike,” he said.
See above.

The deans of all faculties have, in conjunction with the Chair of Senate, agreed that academic activities (with certain specified exceptions) will be suspended in their faculties in the event of a strike by CUPE Local 3903. The University’s academic leadership is of the view that most academic activities cannot continue without contract faculty and TAs.
And yet, somehow, contract faculty and TAs don't deserve to be paid commensurate to their importance. Does no one vet these things for internal consistency?

“We want to be sure that students have advance warning so they can make preparations for the suspension of classes in the event of a strike. We will need to communicate to all students and our institutional partners what academic activities will be suspended and what activities will continue,” Drummond said.
Did it not occur to Dean Drummond that if the University made significant moves at the table, then a strike could be averted?

It has become clear to me, viewing this from the outside, that the Union is tired of being taken for granted. It has also become clear to me that the University wants to use the current economic circumstances as an excuse to grind down the already meagre compensation for its supposedly essential employees. This dishonesty on the part of the University representatives is disappointing, but not surprising. It would be easier to take, at least on my part, if there was some movement on the University's part to trim upper administrative fat, through salary freezes or cuts and possibly eliminating/amalgamting several administrative positions. Of course, this is not happening.


CUPE 3903 represents approximately 950 contract faculty; 1,850 TAs and 550 GAs.

Settlement Trends at York University and in Other Teaching Sectors

· York University Staff Association: three year agreement with salary increases of 3% in the first year, 3.25% in the second year and 3% in the third year plus additional benefit improvements

· Ministry of Education Provincial Framework Agreements (Education sector) for CUPE and OECTA: four year agreements with salary increases of 3% in each year (12% over four years)

· Wage adjustments in the Canadian public sector in 2008 averaged 3.3% (HRDC)
These comparisons are generally irrelevant. 3% of President Shoukri's $179,287 salary is $5,378.61. 3% of a TA's $12,307 salary is $369.21. (3% is also, incidentally, less than the 3.6% rate of inflation.) Clearly, there's a difference between the percentage increase in a salary and the absolute dollar increase. The question is whether the members of YUSA, etc. are making above the poverty line or not. TAs are not. Period. That's the argument, and the University doesn't want to engage with it. This is not surprising, as engaging with it would require admitting that they are trying to keep a significant chunk of their employees and their student body in poverty.

York University’s contract faculty, TAs and GAs are among the highest paid at Ontario universities with highly competitive hourly rates

· GAs and TAs are full-time students, not full-time employees. They work an average of 10 hours per week.
And yet, we are expected to complete our programs within six years, or we will be cut off from access to GA and TA positions. No other "part-time employee" at the university is required to complete unpaid work (coursework, dissertation, etc.) in order to remain employed. No other "part-time employee" at the university has a hard cutoff dictating how long they can be part-time employees. And yet, somehow, it's fair to call TAs "part-time employees" and compare their hourly wages to other hourly wages. Furthermore, it's no secret that TAs are generally underpaid. Calling York TAs "among the highest paid" (note, incidentally, the weasel "among the") ignores the fact that the sector consists of generally impoverished workers. Finally, a system in which graduate students are not able to support themselves and study simultaneously is a system that privileges graduate education for those who have independent means of support, and thus treats graduate education as a luxury item.

Total Cost of CUPE Local 3903 Proposals

· The Union is demanding wage rate increases in excess of 30% plus a cost of living allowance adjustment over a two year contract for employees represented by all three Units.

· The Union’s total package of proposals represents an increase in wages, benefits and other monetary provisions in excess of 112% over the two years. As a dollar amount, these proposals represent an increase in excess of $70 million over two years which is equal to approximately 11% of the University’s 2007-08 operating budget.
According to Maclean's, university presidents across Canada have enjoyed a 100% salary increase compared to 1997 rates, an increase at 4 times the rate of inflation. 3903's demands are that TAs, contract faculty, and GAs be brought up to the poverty line and their wages be indexed to inflation, to ensure that real-dollar wages do not decrease. Why is it reasonable to treat a single person -- a University President -- by one standard, and "essential" employees like TAs and contract faculty by a different one? What, exactly, is the relevant difference that justifies this?

University’s Operating Budget

· The University’s three-year operating budget approved by the Board of Governors in June, 2008 calls for 2 % budget cuts in each year of the three-year budget plan.

· Since the budget plan was approved, the impact of the global financial crisis and associated impact on financial markets has significantly worsened our financial situation. Preliminary year-to-date results as of the end of September for the pension plan and endowment funds show losses of about 10%. This represents losses of approximately $30 million to our endowment funds and $130 million to our pension funds. The October results are not available though we anticipate them to be worse.
Ignored here is a projected 5% tuition increase, which would effectively wipe out the University's proposed salary increases, assuming inflation and cost-of-living changes don't get to them first.

Employer’s Current Salary Increase Offer to CUPE Local 3903

· Offering 3 year contract

· Current offer (subject to further negotiations): 2% first year; 2% second year; 2.25% third year. (Employer made same initial offer to YUSA in their negotiations, which resulted in a negotiated settlement with a ratification vote result of 97% in support of the settlement)
Note that above they claimed the final salary increases for YUSA were 3%, 3.25% and 3%. An offer that has not been made to 3903.

Furthermore, the Union has repeatedly requested a 2 year contract. The University has yet to explain why this is not acceptable to them. The University is also making no mention here of the many other demands and concerns which remain on the table (e.g., the fact that the 3903 benefits funds are insufficient to meet the demands of a growing Union membership, even though the University continues to drive graduate enrollment higher).

There is also zero mention here of the demands made on behalf of contract faculty. Apparently, in the University's eyes, contract faculty do not exist.

Binding Arbitration: An Alternative to a Strike if a Settlement Cannot Be Achieved

· To eliminate any risk of a strike and the disruption it would cause for the University’s 50,000 students, the University continues to propose that the parties agree to binding arbitration by a neutral third party arbitrator to resolve all outstanding issues should the parties be unable to achieve a settlement prior to the strike deadline.

· Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, the parties may agree to refer all matters remaining in dispute between them to an impartial and independent arbitrator for final and binding determination and thereby avoid or end a strike.

· The Union continues to reject the offer to use binding arbitration
The Union has no incentive to go to binding arbitration, as long as the University will genuinely and in good faith negotiate with the Union. The University is refusing to do this and attempting to provoke a strike in order to drive down TA, GA, and contract faculty compensation, and thus weather their financial mismanagement on the backs of allegedly essential employees. Furthermore, the disruption to classes in the event of a strike is entirely within the power of the University to change. It is the decision of the Deans to suspend classes during a strike; the Union has no power to make that choice. Attempting to shift the responsibility for this decision onto "part-time employees" is not only absurd but insulting.

Binding arbitration -- the imposition of a contract -- should be employed as a last resort, not as a first line. But the University has been very quick to suggest binding arbitration, which implies that they were never all that serious about reaching a negotiated settlement.

York University is the leading interdisciplinary research and teaching university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada’s most international city. The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as more than 200,000 alumni worldwide. York’s 11 faculties and 26 research centres conduct ambitious, groundbreaking research that is interdisciplinary, cutting across traditional academic boundaries. This distinctive and collaborative approach is preparing students for the future and bringing fresh insights and solutions to real-world challenges. York University is an autonomous, not-for-profit corporation.
York's pretensions to international prestige will never be realized insofar as it continues to mistreat contract faculty and graduate students. Genuinely world class universities provide tuition waivers and sufficient means to live for their graduate students. York University is being asked to do this, and is simply refusing.