Wednesday, November 05, 2008

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.

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