Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to work legislation proposed in York strike.

Original here.


On Wednesday, I asked Ontario's top labour mediator, Reg Pearson, to make one final attempt to resolve the ongoing labour dispute at York University. Since that time Mr. Pearson has met with both sides and worked to resolve the strike through mediation and discussion.

Earlier today I was advised by Mr. Pearson that there is no reasonable prospect of a negotiated settlement between York University and CUPE Local 3903. The sides are in a clear deadlock, and despite our best efforts to bring the sides together, that has not changed.

The strike is also at the point where the academic year is in jeopardy for York students. In challenging economic times, when we need all our people at their best, we simply cannot afford to delay the education of 45,000 of our best and brightest young people.

Having exhausted all other options, I will be recalling the legislature as of Sunday at 1 pm for the purposes of introducing back to work legislation. I am asking MPPs from all parties to provide unanimous consent for immediate passage of the bill so that students can get back to school this week.
Here's hoping three things. First, CUPE 3903 defies the order. (See here for how.) Second, the NDP do what they can to block the order. (Although I'm not holding out a ton of hope. The ONDP MPPs seem to wilt under the slightest public pressure and thus give up their commitment to collective bargaining. Which makes one wonder what kind of commitment it really is.) And, third, McGuinty loses a Charter challenge. (See This last would be particularly entertaining.)


Skinny Dipper said...

1. I think Sid Ryan will make a lot of fuss. However, I don't think he will have his members defy back-to-work legislation.

2. The NDP will make a fuss in the legislature for one day. The NDP MPPs won't block legislation.

3. As for a charter challenge, I'm guessing that the union would have to demostrate that that the university bargained in bad faith and the government imposed an unfair settlement. If the government provides an arbitrator who is deemed to be impartial and fair, the union will have a tough time convincing the Supreme Court or another court that it has been unfairly treated.

ADHR said...

(1) It's not Sid Ryan's problem, though. He can't stop CUPE 3903 members if they decide to defy the order. Well, he can complain and probably do some complicated procedural thing. But as a practical matter, if CUPE 3903 members are angry enough to wildcat strike, I don't see what he can do in response.

(2) That's about what I anticipate, although I suspect the fuss will be far shorter than one day. They should block legislation, though, as a matter of principle. I'm thinking of going to the ONDP leadership convention in March just to chew them out if they don't.

(3) My understanding of the current status of the Charter, which according to Doorey is in flux, is that the union needs to show that there has been interference in the collective bargaining process where there was no threat to life, health and/or safety of the public, or the business of the government. The union could also argue that the freedom of association provisions in the Charter should be read to include an implicit right to strike (which is a tougher argument to make, but seems to follow current trends in decisions and would be a more direct problem for back to work legislation than the right to collective bargaining argument). The government would then have counter-argue that the legislation was justified in a "free and democratic society", and I don't know enough about Charter jurisprudence to determine how that argument would run. But the issue of bad faith and impartiality doesn't seem relevant.

Chrystal Ocean said...

The NDP is going to block it, at least for as long as they can. Which is good. Post-secondary institutions take advantage of TAs and adjunct staff big time, both here and in the US. They've been getting away with it b/c the future careers of TAs and adjuncts are in the control of those in power all the way down the line: their profs, their dept chairs and their university faculties.

ADHR said...

I'm not sure that universities actually want to do it. Not that I'm trying to let them off the hook. But I think that, given the option, universities would rather have more full-timers who can be relied upon to stick around, year after year, and can produce research and thus increase the profile of the university (and thus increase donations). Government underfunding coupled with their unwillingness to allow universities to raise tuition to make up the shortfall has pretty well forced the issue. How can you educate 50,000 students (York's approximate undergraduate enrollment) effectively when you don't have enough money to do what everyone knows is best: small classes taught by experts in the field? The answer, of course, is that you have massive lecture sections taught by underpaid and exploited grad students and adjuncts.

Of course, the government is refusing to admit its complicity as well as the university administration is. The university admin could push for more government funding, or for relief from the tuition cap, in order to reduce their reliance on contract faculty and TAs. But they don't. The government could increase its funding of universities. But they don't -- instead, they want to force TAs and contract faculty to work in conditions they've clearly indicated are not acceptable. (And, indeed, are not acceptable to anyone save crazed ideologues and people who seriously believe they'll end up in the ever-smaller pool of full-timers.)

I'm entirely serious when I say, as I've said a few times on the blog, that I'm considering walking away from the academy when I'm done my degree. There's no will anywhere to improve the conditions for the workers or the students, so what's the point?

Chrystal Ocean said...

ADHR, I think you give the universities too much credit. Or rather, the staff which have tenure. Was a graduate at three universities - two here and one in the US - and at each, was deeply involved in their graduate student associations. Thus, I had a chance to talk off the record with a LOT of graduate students and faculty.

There are good people on the faculties who themselves are scared to say anything, since their own careers could also be threatened. Professors with public reputations can exert a HUGE influence on the universities.

Re your last statement about leaving academe, that was my choice. Got all the way to within a year of completing a double PhD. One of my fields was Philosophy - of which Ethics is a major area. I just couldn't stand the hypocrisy anymore. It literally made me ill.

ADHR said...

Possibly I do give them too much credit. I may not have a sufficiently broad sample of folks to tell whether universities/tenured folks would use extra money effectively or not. That said, I've never been at a university where there was anyone with a public reputation -- one of the fringe benefits of being in philosophy -- so no faculty member wielded all that much power over others.

That said, I still think the government needs to come in for a big chunk of blame. After all, they could earmark funding specifically for creating more tenured positions and/or tenuring (or otherwise improving the working conditions of) people who have been teaching at the university/universities for years. Which would subvert any role that tenured faculty might try to play in exploiting grad students and contract faculty. Not that they wouldn't try to find new ways to do it, but that avenue could be closed by fiat.

I don't think I could just quit my program. I take your point about the hypocrisy. During this strike, I saw an open letter from a prof who works in argumentation, and yet he couldn't pen a two-page letter without almost half a dozen formal fallacies. Not to mention the number of faculty members and grad students who are making terrible anti-union arguments -- yet reject the need to provide the sort of systematic, careful argument that should typify philosophy. But I find that this sort of thing appeals to my (cynical, contemptuous) sense of humour. ;) YMMV.