York makes plans for strike and suspension of classes for 50,000 students

York University issued the following media release yesterday:

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.

“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.

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 per cent over two years. This amount represents approximately 11 per cent of the University’s 2007-08 operating budget.

“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.

“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.

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.

“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.


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 per cent in the first year, 3.25 per cent in the second year and 3 per cent 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 per cent in each year (12 per cent over four years)
    Wage adjustments in the Canadian public sector in 2008 averaged 3.3 per cent (HRDC)
  • 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.

Total cost of CUPE Local 3903 proposals

The union is demanding wage rate increases in excess of 30 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent of the University’s 2007-08 operating budget.

University’s operating budget

The University’s three-year operating budget approved by the Board of Governors in June 2008 calls for 2 per cent 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 per cent. 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.

Employer’s current salary increase offer to CUPE Local 3903

  • Offering three-year contract.
  • Current offer (subject to further negotiations): 2 per cent first year; 2 per cent second year; 2.25 per cent 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 per cent in support of the settlement.)

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.