York strike latest in a string at Canadian campuses

Toronto’s York University, the country’s third-largest postsecondary institution, is on strike, the latest in a string of labour disruptions at Canadian campuses this fall, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 6.

Classes for more than 50,000 students are cancelled today because of a strike by contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate students, which also is part of a province-wide effort to coordinate bargaining on Ontario campuses.

The workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, endorsed the strike at a general membership meeting last night where the University’s latest offer was presented. Members also rejected the University’s offer to go to binding arbitration to settle outstanding contract items. The local was in a legal position to strike after midnight. "Our members are unwilling to let our demands go," said Christina Rousseau, chair of CUPE Local 3903.

Late last night the University administration called for a quick resolution to the dispute. "We all need to put the educational needs of the students first and agreeing to binding arbitration would be the best solution for the University’s 60,000 students, faculty and staff," said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations. He called the union’s demands unaffordable and out of line with settlements at other Ontario universities.

This latest labour dispute comes after strikes by faculty members cancelled classes earlier this fall at the University of Windsor and at Manitoba’s Brandon University.

Rousseau said that the latest offer of a 9.25 per cent increase over three years would make York’s contract faculty and teaching assistants among the highest paid in Canada but still would not provide members with adequate wages. "It is one of the best in the country," she said of the pay levels. "If we are the best paid, the pay that we get is still not anywhere where it should be."

She said the union is looking for greater job security for contract faculty, cost-of-living provisions in the wage deal and improved support funds for items such as professional development and child care. It is also seeking a two-year contract, part of a province-wide CUPE initiative designed to coordinate bargaining at all universities across the province.

"This is something that we are mandated to by CUPE Ontario because we would like to see in 2010 all the CUPE locals in the university sector bargaining at the same time," Rousseau said.

Rousseau said such coordinated action would give workers greater leverage with the province to make major changes in areas such as tuition levels. "That’s why the two-year deal is really important to us," she said.

CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan said the plan to coordinate bargaining at Ontario universities is based on a similar approach taken by the union with provincial school boards. He said such an approach is the best way to raise wages and to "tie the politics of the province to the bargaining table." While universities in Ontario act at arm’s length from the province, since they get the bulk of their funding from Queen’s Park it makes sense to discuss contracts at the provincial level, he said.

The striking York workers belong to the same group that were involved in a bitter 11-week strike in 2000-2001, the longest ever at a Canadian university.

Ryan predicted that a lengthy strike is again possible if the administration is unwilling to agree to a two-year deal. "We have already shut this University down before," he said. "If the Board of Governors wants to play hardball over the length of the collective agreement, no problem."

Earlier this week the University’s custodial, grounds and maintenance staff ratified a three-year deal that included a 9.25 per cent increase over the term of the contract.

  • York University students face picket lines and empty classrooms this morning after 3,350 contract faculty and teaching assistants walked off the job at midnight, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6. Classes have been cancelled, disrupting the schedules of the 50,000 undergraduate students who attend the sprawling suburban campus.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903 voted late last night to reject the University’s final offer. "It’s clear that the University administration is pushing us to go out on strike," said union chair Christina Rousseau in a release. "Over the last three years, our members have had to work harder with less job security and fewer resources."

Rousseau said she was not prepared to accept the University’s latest offer of a 9.25 per cent raise over three years because it fails to provide job security to contract faculty and does not tie wage hikes to the rising cost of living. According to the union, their membership does more than 50 per cent of the teaching at York.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk, director of media relations, said the University is committed to resolving the strike as soon as possible. "We all need to put the needs of students first and agree to a binding arbitration that would be the best solution for the University’s 60,000 students, faculty and staff," he said, adding that the next move lies with the union.

University officials have said they believe their offer is fair and note it is the same deal York’s custodial and maintenance workers – members of another CUPE local – voted to accept earlier this week. "Currently, the union’s demands are unrealistic and unaffordable and completely out of line with other settlements with other universities in and around Ontario," Bilyk said.

The University decided to cancel classes to avoid the sort of confusion that arose in an 11-week strike in 2001 when some classes continued and some did not.

Gilary Massa, a fourth-year political science student, told the Star late last night that she wants to see a fair deal quickly hammered out between the University and the union. "We need it as soon as possible so that students are not affected for a long period of time," she said.

But Massa, who is also the vice-president external of the York Federation of Students, said she believes the union’s demands are fairly reasonable. "The University has a responsibility to meet those demands," she said. "What is currently being offered to CUPE is peanuts. "As undergraduate students, our year will be interrupted and it will cause inconvenience. But we understand the struggle of having to pay high tuition fees and we’re in support of the (contract) faculty having job security."

Contract faculty must reapply for their jobs at the end of each semester, noted union spokesperson Pat Daley, often despite having taught for many years. CUPE wants the University to restore a previous five-year contract that used to be offered to longtime teachers. That five-year contract option was scrapped in 2001.

Daley said the average teaching assistant, who is also a full-time graduate student, teaches about 10 hours a week but often spends more time marking papers and preparing. Many work in the summer semester as well.

Teaching assistants earn about $17,386 per year, and pay about $3,700 a year in tuition after tuition rebates have been factored in.

The union had been seeking a two-year contract with a 7 per cent raise in the first year, and, in the second year, a 4 per cent raise or cost-of-living increase, whichever is more.

Edwin Cao, a first-year student studying biomedical science, said he will continue to study for an upcoming biology midterm examination scheduled for Sunday. "This doesn’t change my preparation for stuff like that," he told the Star last night. "They could go on strike tomorrow and settle on Friday and I’d still have a test on Sunday."

Some of his professors have anticipated the strike, Cao said, and assigned essay questions to work on for assignments due in December. "So if a strike does progress, I’ll still have work to do," he said.

Yesterday, theatre students Akosua Amo-Adem and Lindsay Stone were buoyant from opening night of their big play Tuesday night but feared it could close abruptly due to a strike. The two fourth-year acting majors said they were upset The Fire Raisers, a play they have been rehearsing for more than a month, would be cancelled. The director of the play is a teaching assistant.

  • Christina Rousseau, chair of the union representing 3,350 contract faculty and teaching assistants, said she would not recommend members accept the University’s latest offer of a 9.25 per cent raise over three years because it fails to provide job security to contract faculty and does not tie wage hikes to the rising cost of living, wrote the Star in an earlier story Nov. 6. "The offer isn’t very appealing, so at this point it looks like picket lines will be set up in the morning," said Rousseau.

University officials have said they believe the offer is fair and note it is the same deal York’s custodial and maintenance workers – members of another CUPE local – voted to accept earlier this week. "It’s regrettable and disturbing to have a strike disrupt classes," Bob Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, told the Star. "But if the strike goes ahead, our only hope is to make it as short as possible."

Fourth-year student Amanda Ricci said she is "torn" about a strike, "which would be a big deal on campus, but I also want the union members to get what they want. Teaching assistants do a lot of the work and should have a proper increase." Her sister Laura Ricci, who is in third-year psychology, fears a long strike could extend the school semester or entire year.

  • "We, the bargaining team and the executive have met and unanimously decided to go on strike," said Christina Rousseau, spokesperson for CUPE 3903, which represents the University’s teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 6. "The outstanding issues remaining are job security, restoration of funding for child care and health benefits and we want our wages tied to the cost of living so we aren’t affected by inflation. We hope they (the University) will see this strike and move quickly."

"In light of the University’s blatant misrepresentation of our demands, we are ready to set the record straight (today)," Rousseau said.

York has offered a 9.25 per cent pay hike over three years and a contract package which included a boost to dental and vision benefits and an increase in paid leaves.

"This offer (last night) should form the basis of contract settlement with CUPE Local 3903. There is absolutely no need for a strike," said Bob Drummond, spokesperson for the University’s negotiating team and dean of York’s Faculty of Arts. "The University is anxious 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 binding arbitration. We have never considered locking these employees out."

The University said the union’s last wage demand was an 11 per cent increase over two years, plus increases in income support programs for grad students and teaching assistants.

Earlier this week, York custodial and maintenance staff ratified a new deal for a 9.25 per cent wage hike over three years.

"When totalled, the union’s demands amount to a 41per cent increase in compensation that will cost the University $26 million. It’s simply unrealistic and unaffordable and it is completely out of line with the settlement trends at the University and around Ontario," Drummond said in an earlier story in the Sun Nov. 6.

  • Bob Drummond spoke about the impact of the strike on CBC Television in Toronto and radio stations CFRB-AM and CHUM-FM Nov. 5. Christina Rousseau spoke on CBC Radio (Toronto) Nov. 5. Several York students were also interviewed on radio news reports. Radio and television stations in Barrie, Halifax, London, Ont., Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto all reported on the strike.

Massive rally rips tuitions; 5,000 students march on Queen’s Park

Thousands of students across the GTA exchanged their books and pens for placards and chants yesterday to rally against rising tuition fees, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 6. More than 5,000 students from York University, the University of Toronto, Ryerson and George Brown College gathered at Convocation Hall before marching to Queen’s Park to send the province a clear message: Drop student fees. Toronto’s rally was among 14 scheduled across the province yesterday.

  • Gilary Massa, vice-president external of the York Federation of Students, spoke about the tuition fee demonstration on OMNI-TV and CFMT-TV Nov. 5.

Aspiring astronaut was ‘best daughter’

Loud sobs filled a Toronto mosque yesterday as family and friends gathered to say goodbye to 21-year-old York student Atena Arabsalmany, who was killed in a horrific car accident on Halloween night, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6.

More than 400 people attended Arabsalmany’s funeral at the Islamic Iranian Centre of Imam Ali, on Bermondsey Road south of Eglinton Avenue East. “I am a mother who lost the best daughter in the world,” Arabsalmany’s mother, Azam, told the Star. “The main reason that we immigrated to Canada was because Atena wanted to study aerospace, and there is no such field of study back home in Iran.” Her father, Mohammad, said he never imagined such a tragedy would happen to his only girl.

Atena Arabsalmany, a York space engineering student who wanted to be an astronaut, died along with her friend, Niloufar Khanverdizadeh, also 21, when the car they were in erupted in flames after colliding with a Jeep last Friday. The driver of their car, whose name has not been released at her family’s request, is in critical condition at Sunnybrook hospital with severe burns.

Yesterday, family members and friends wept as they watched more than 10 men – including Arabsalmany’s father and younger brother – carry her casket into the Islamic centre’s mosque hall. As the casket was escorted to a cemetery, friends and relatives described Arabsalmany as a loving and kind person whose passion for astronomy led her to study space engineering at York. “Her soul was vast like the sky,” said one of her classmates at York, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Khanverdizadeh’s mother, Mehri, was at the ceremony as well. She had come to Canada only a few weeks ago to visit her daughter. Khanverdizadeh’s father is on his way to Toronto from Iran to attend his daughter’s funeral tomorrow.

The tragedy has had a big impact on the Iranian-Canadian community. Many have reached out in small ways to mourn with the families, including holding a gathering at the scene of the accident on Bayview and 16th avenues on Tuesday afternoon. “People put so many flowers at the scene of the accident that it looks like a little garden now,” said Alireza Ghafarzadeh, a friend of all the victims.

  • CFTO-TV and Global TV also reported on the funeral Nov. 5

New federal minister hasn’t forgotten her Cape Breton roots

When Canada’s new minister of natural resources is officially sworn in today as the MP for Halton, her Ontario constituents will have to forgive their representative for thinking about Cape Breton Island, wrote Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Post Nov. 6.

It was 40 years ago this month when Osgoode grad Lisa MacCormack Raitt’s father, Colin A. MacCormack, was officially sworn in as alderman with the former city of Sydney. "It was Nov. 5, 1968, when my dad was sworn and when I was sworn in as minister last week, I placed my hand on the same Bible he used for his swearing in," said Raitt (LLB ’96), during a telephone interview Wednesday from her Ottawa office.

The youngest of Colin A. and Christina (Tootsie) MacCormack’s seven children, Raitt, 40, admits she always knew that public service and politics were in her blood. "I’m from Cape Breton where we live, eat and breathe politics," said the mother of two who was born and raised in the ethnically diverse community of Whitney Pier.

Armed with a science degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, a master’s degree from the University of Guelph and a law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Raitt is now spending her days being briefed on a host of projects and issues involving her department including the federal Crown corporation, Devco.

York striker is named national women’s player of year

York University Lions’ Stefania Morra, a second-year striker, has been named female soccer player of the year in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6.

With 18 goals for the 9-2-3 Lions, the 21-year-old is the first York player to get the award since it was launched in 1995.

  • The native of Scarborough, Ont., is the first Lion to receive the Chantal Navert Memorial Award since the inception of the trophy in 1995, and becomes the first player to capture MVP honours one year after being named CIS rookie of the year, wrote CanWest News Service Nov. 5.

Rights infringed in bust, judge rules

A young Markham couple charged with faking hundreds of passports, university degrees and government documents was acquitted yesterday after a judge ruled York Regional Police officers violated their rights when they entered their house without a warrant, and arrested them, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6.

Calling it the toughest decision of his four years on the bench, Justice Richard Blouin said the breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the officers was "so serious" he had no choice but to suppress all the evidence against Yan Shen, 26, and his wife, Ruiqiong Zhong, 27. That evidence included hundreds of forged government documents, including Chinese passports, Ontario driver’s licences, marriage certificates and diplomas for prestigious universities in Canada.

The degrees were from York University, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, Concordia, Brock, Carleton, Seneca College, George Brown College, Fanshawe College and Cape Breton University.

Grad guitarist creates music magic

York Fine Arts grad Don Ross (BFA Spec. Hons. ’83) is recognized as one of the country’s most respected fingerstyle guitarists and is noted for the intensity of his playing, as well as his use of extended technique, wrote BC’s Vernon Morning Star Nov. 4 in a story about an upcoming concert performance in Salmon Arm, BC.

He borrows from a range of musical styles and incorporates a unique hand-tapping method, an innovative percussive element he refers to as "heavy wood".

Ross studied composition in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

In 1996, he put that training to good use, managing to do what no other player has done – win the prestigious US National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship for the second time (he first won in 1988). The competition is won with immaculate technique and a high degree of emotion – both hallmarks of Ross’ style.

  • Ross studied composition at the music department of York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts with current instructor David Mott, Professor Emeritus James Tenney and Professor Emeritus Phil Werren, wrote BC’s Salmon Arm Observer Nov. 4.

Team offers to replay playoff game without former York player

The Ottawa Sooners, forced to forfeit their place in the Quebec Junior Football League championship game because the league ruled they used an ineligible player [former York Lion Stephen Hughes] in their semi-final win over the Chateauguay Raiders, have apparently been assured the game won’t be played until their appeal of the ruling has been heard, wrote The Ottawa Sun Nov. 6.

The former Sooner and York University standout had six catches for 160 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Sooners’ 34-14 win over Chateauguay Sunday at Ravens’ Field. The dispute is over Hughes’ eligibility, which is being questioned on the grounds he competed in another conference this season and did not play two regular season games in order to be eligible for the post-season.

  • Whether that game is played or not depends on the outcome of an expected appeal by the Ottawa Sooners of a league ruling made on Monday wrote The Ottawa Citizen Nov. 6. Steven Hughes, 21, of Kanata, led the Ontario Football Conference in receiving and hopes to join the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in 2009 after sitting out university football this season due to his transfer to that school. Hughes played two seasons at York University.