Strike deadline looms at York

Just weeks away from its 50th anniversary, York University faces a strike by part-time academic workers that would cancel all classes for undergraduates, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 5.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 will decide late tonight whether to walk off the job at midnight in rejection of the University’s latest offer of a 9.25 per cent increase over three years for the 3,350 contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants.

"It’s regrettable and disturbing to have a strike disrupt classes," said Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, noting the stoppage still could be avoided if union members agree to seek binding arbitration to settle unresolved issues. "But if the strike goes ahead, our only hope is to make it as short as possible," he said, adding the University will attempt to make up any time lost, possibly by stretching the term into December vacation.

York, Canada’s third-largest university with 50,000 students, has said it will cancel classes for all undergraduates rather than face the confusion it went through seven years ago during an 11-week strike by the same union, when some classes were on and some were not. That strike caused York to cancel winter reading week to allow students to make up classes.

CUPE 3903 has been seeking a two-year contract, with a wage hike of 7 per cent in the first year and 4 per cent in the second year to help raise pay scales to the poverty line, said negotiator Graham Potts. Graduate student teaching assistants earn less than $1,000 a month and work about 10 hours a week, he said, while all members have seen their benefits shrink from being split among a growing number of workers.

Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario, said he would like to see the province take over much of the bargaining for all universities, the way it has with the province’s school boards. Ryan said that would be more efficient, considering the province provides the bulk of funding for universities. 

"No question it would increase our bargaining strength, but it also would provide universities with economies of scale to be able to use one carrier for insurance and health benefits for all universities in Ontario," said Ryan. He said CUPE Ontario will be making a formal proposal soon to Queen’s Park for such province-wide bargaining, the Star wrote.

Hamid Osman, president of York’s student union, said he supports CUPE’s demands, because "even though a strike will hurt 50,000 students, they deserve a wage that’s at least at the poverty line. After all, undergraduates like us will be the teaching assistants of the future."

But Drummond said the University has "made what we consider a reasonable offer; comparable with settlements ratified by other unions at York."

The union that represents York’s maintenance workers reached a tentative three-year deal last Friday that provides a 9.25 per cent raise over three years.

York students are urged to check the Web site ( for updates on the strike, wrote the Star.

  • York bumped its pay raise offer to 9.25 per cent over three years, along with improvements in benefits, paid leaves and tuition protection for graduate students, the University saidt, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 5. The wage increase is the amount accepted by the York University Staff Association recently, and York predicted in a statement that the offer "should form the basis of contract settlement with CUPE Local 3903."

York also says it would agree to binding arbitration with the union, which has so far declined such an option.

But union chair Christina Rousseau said the offer wouldn’t likely avoid a strike, saying "this deal is nowhere near where it could and should be."

The union is looking for the University to top up its benefit funds, which haven’t increased at the same pace as membership, she said. "I think people should prepare for a strike, but that decision is not final yet," Rousseau said.

The union represents about 3,350 part-time faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants.

Most of the union staff work about 10 hours a week, and York says most teaching assistants make about $63 an hour.

  • Pickets could be set up by contract faculty, teaching and graduate assistants at York University as early as 7am Thursday if contract talks end without a resolution, wrote Nov. 4. The bargaining team for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903, representing 3,300 members, has been negotiating with University administrators throughout the weekend. Discussions have been mediated by Ministry of Labour conciliator Greg Long. "So far there hasn’t been much progress," said Christina Rousseau, chair of CUPE Local 3903, noting the union has lowered its initial request of a 30 per cent wage increase over two years to seven per cent in the first year and four per cent in the second.

Rousseau said that executives from the union’s bargaining team will discuss whatever offer is on the table with the membership. After receiving feedback from union members, a decision on whether to strike or not is expected to be made by Wednesday night.

  • Robert Drummond, University spokesperson and dean of York’s Faculty of Arts; Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students; and Graham Potts, CUPE 3903 negotiator, spoke about the possibility of a strike at York, on CBC Radio Nov. 4. Most other Toronto radio and television stations also reported on the labour dispute. Many stations across Canada also carried the story.

York nursing instructor reinvented herself as a doctor

The Globe and Mail featured York alumna and former instructor Sue Dullege (BScN Spec. Hons. ’03) of York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health in a story about careers Nov. 5.

The 50-year-old is now a family medicine resident at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ont., wrote the Globe.

After working as a nurse for a decade, Dullege decided to go back to school to earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing, studying and continuing to work parttime for another five years.

The degree led to a part-time teaching job at York University, which made Dullege worry she was moving away from her first love: caring for patients. "I told my husband I was starting to have concerns and he said: ‘For heaven’s sake, why don’t you become a doctor?’ "

Plaut donates library to York

Internationally renowned religious scholar Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut has donated his extensive library to York University, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 4. A ceremony was held Sunday to acknowledge the gift to the school.

The Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth S. Plaut Library, which includes more than 4,000 books that Plaut used for his writings and sermons, has been donated to York’s Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections. The library has been certified as cultural property of outstanding significance and national importance by an independent tribunal of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The event also celebrated the donation of the Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut Intellectual Property Collection to York’s Centre for Jewish Studies. The donation includes copyright to Plaut’s published works. He is a companion of the Order of Canada and has received an honorary doctorate from York University.

Spurned Sooners lawyer up

The Quebec Junior Football League maintains that standout receiver Steven Hughes is not eligible to play in the QJFL for the Sooners, having played the entire season in the rival Ontario Football Conference, leading the league in receiving while with the Hamilton Hurricanes, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 5 in a story about a decision to disqualify the team from the league championship.

Hughes, a two-year veteran of university football, was forced to sit out the university season in order to transfer from York University to the University of Ottawa for next season. He tried to appeal that ruling and originally thought he would be eligible to suit up for the Gee-Gees in the playoffs this season.

However, that appeal was turned down in August by Canadian Interuniversity Sport officials. Hughes was MVP at York last year but left after a change in head coaches.

It’s great to be Canadian, eh?

Ashwin Joshi, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, says Canadian banks, with their big deposit bases, have obvious appeal for money managers responsible for the world’s $17-trillion pool of investment capital, wrote the National Post Nov. 5 in a story about an advertising campaign by TD Canada Trust.

"I suspect they are going to find Canadian banks attractive," says the professor, noting institutional investors like German pension funds were currently shunning big Wall Street names.

But he is skeptical about the longevity of any sudden magnetic attraction for ground-level consumers. "For a consumer walking in off the street, it is not going to mean a great deal," he says, citing a "mental block against Canada" when it comes to an industry traditionally associated with "financial savvy".

Study by York psychologist looks at recurring depression

A study by a York University professor has found evidence that emotionally needy individuals are at greater risk for recurring depression, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Nov. 5.

Myriam Mongrain, professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, studied graduate students with a history of depression, rating their levels of emotional dependence. Participants were re-interviewed 20 months later to determine the recurrence of a major depressive episode.

Mongrain found that emotionally needy individuals were at significantly greater risk of relapse than their "love-dependent" counterparts.

Researchers refer to love dependence as a type of interpersonal relationship in which one’s needs are not sacrificed and self-definition is not compromised.

"Our findings suggest that the more mature form of interpersonal dependence may actually confer protective advantages and possibly some resilience against depressive recurrences," says Mongrain.

Group sex rampant in junior hockey?

York University sports sociologist Greg Malszecki, professor in York’s Faculty of Health, says an athlete in a contact sport told him of a practice called "ugly pig" in which teammates each contribute $10 and the player that finds what they consider an unattractive woman who will have sex with the group gets the money, wrote The Canadian Press Nov. 5, in a story about the David Frost trial in which a witness alleged group sex is common among junior hockey players. "That’s not a healthy practice for people who are entering adulthood. I think there’s a lot of dysfunctional team dynamics. Prisons, the military, sports teams create a weird sexual dynamic," said Malszecki.

Tax change on investment properties would spur development, realtors say

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) wants Ottawa to defer collecting the capital gains tax and capital cost allowance from investment properties when a property is sold and the money reinvested in real estate within a year, wrote the Edmonton Journal Nov. 5. The goal would be to "unlock" properties kept off the market because owners simply don’t want to pay the tax owed.

"This is a behavioural problem, people know the taxes will be paid on their death but they simply don’t want to pay now. So they hold on to properties," said James McKellar, professor of real property at the Schulich School of Business at York University who was speaking to a CREA conference on Tuesday.

McKellar said the current tax rules are a deterrent to rebuilding our cities. Rather than paying a large tax bill, some owners prefer to board up their buildings and let their apartments run down.

It is estimated that Ottawa collects $415 million from these taxes. McKellar said not collecting that money right now would provide an immense economic stimulus for the renovation industry and would encourage denser urban development that would further reduce the number of cars on the road. "If you look at an inner-city property with a new owner, the first thing you see is a dumpster on the lawn," said McKellar. New windows, insulation and an efficient furnace are usually at the top of the list to reduce operating costs, and McKellar said renovation costs range from $35,000 to $200,000.

McKellar said the politics of other options, like the one per cent GST cut and the tax-free savings account, beat out CREA’s plan. The group hopes it will have better luck this year.

"With the way the economy is, this is the right time to do this. We are going to see a slowdown in a number of areas," he said.

  • Ottawa could help Canadians cut carbon dioxide emissions and stimulate the economy by adopting a tax-deferral plan that would allow investors to sell properties without facing an immediate tax hit if they reinvested in real estate, wrote CanWest News Service Nov. 4, in a story about comments by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

Upgrades and improvements to the existing housing stock typically follow a sale, James McKellar, professor of real estate at the Schulich School of Business at York University, said at a CREA conference. Retrofitting existing buildings is one of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

On air

  • Willem Maas, political science professor in York’s Glendon College, spoke about the US election on TFO-TV’s “Panorama” Nov. 4.