Strike could be over with binding arbitration, says York

York University officials say the strike that has shut down classes for 50,000 students could be over within 24 hours if the part-time workers’ union would agree to binding arbitration, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 12.

"That’s how fast it could be over and somebody has to do something to bring the sides together," said York spokesperson Alex Bilyk.

Bilyk said the University is waiting for a response to its latest offer of 9.25 per cent over three years to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty.

But union officials agreed the strike could be over "if the University would bargain for real" and boost job security and health benefits. "Binding arbitration is useful when there are only one or two issues that can’t be settled," said teaching assistant Xavier Lafrance. "But we’re really far apart. We need to get back to the table."

The union refused York’s request yesterday to take down pickets between 10 and 11:30am to allow visitors, including war veterans, free passage onto campus for the Remembrance Day ceremony.

Instead, picketers handed out flyers honouring the veterans who gave their lives for "the freedoms we enjoy today, including the free unions that have evolved in part because of such struggles."

  • No progress in negotiations has been made between York University administrators and the union representing 3,300 contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants who hit the picket lines last Thursday, wrote Nov. 11.

"We’re sad to report there is no update," said Punam Khosla, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903. "We’re trying our best to get the University back to the bargaining table." The union will be holding another rally today (Wednesday) at the University’s main gate near York Boulevard and Keele Street, along with supporters from several campus organizations, where they have been picketing and demanding fair wages and benefits.

The wage issue isn’t the "sticking point", said Khosla, noting a larger concern is job security for contract faculty – some who have been working for 20 years on a contract basis without any offer of being tenured, which would pay more in salary. "The other thing we’re really concerned about is they’ve pulled a number of our benefits," Khosla said.

The University has maintained its offer is fair and the union’s demands for higher wages and income support programs to supplement what they currently make as teaching and graduate assistants are unrealistic. "The University is again repeating its offer of binding arbitration to the union because with that, this is one way that students can be back in class immediately," said University spokesperson Alex Bilyk. "The union has yet to make a proposal in response to the University’s settlement offer."

Khosla responded that CUPE Local 3903 isn’t interested in binding arbitration because York administrators haven’t taken the negotiations to date seriously. "They’re not interested in collective bargaining. This is our right," she said. But the union is sensitive to the concerns of the students who are worried about how the strike will affect their education, Khosla added. "We understand that because we’re students ourselves," she said. "We’re saying, look at this in the short term and long term. We’re fighting for the quality and accessibility of education."

About 50,000 undergraduate students have been out of school with most of the classes cancelled due to the strike. Some have voiced their frustration online at the ongoing labour disruption. A Facebook group called the York University Anti-Strike group with more than 1,200 members is demanding the labour dispute be resolved through binding arbitration. On its Web site at, it further stated that, "If both parties do not agree to binding arbitration, we call on the Government of Ontario to enact back-to-work legislation requiring the termination of any strike or lockout action, and requiring this labour dispute to be resolved through binding arbitration."

The group is planning to hold its own rally Nov. 17 at 10am in front of Vari Hall on York’s Keele campus to present arguments both against the administration and CUPE Local 3903.

  • Some arts events set to take place at York University have been cancelled as a result of a strike by 3,300 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 11.
  • Toronto’s CFRB Radio held a special phone-in program about the strike at York by members of CUPE 3903 Nov. 10.
  • York student Terrance Luscombe spoke about the strike on Global TV Nov. 11.

Striking display

In arguing persuasively that teaching assistants at Queen’s University should resist attempts to unionize, Philip Giurlando displays self-awareness and judicious fair-mindedness, suggesting that he must be a fine model for students and auguring well for his career in academe, wrote Professor Eric Lawee of York’s Faculty of Arts in a letter to the National Post Nov. 12.

Contrast Giurlando’s sensibilities and sound inclinations with those union members picketing in Toronto at York University yesterday, who did not even have the decency to cease their activities while University Remembrance Day ceremonies were taking place, let alone join in those ceremonies. Their self-centred obliviousness to the duty to honour those who have served in order to make liberty possible, including the liberty to strike, calls into question their fitness to serve as instructors for the tens of thousands of York undergraduates whose studies are currently being disrupted by their strike.

Space mission comes to an end

NASA’s Mars-Phoenix mission has ended, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 11. "The mission has been a success," Jim Whiteway, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied meteorological station on Phoenix, said in a press release. "We have produced a gold mine of data, and now we look forward to publishing the results – after some rest."

Mission engineers last received a signal from the lander on Nov. 2. NASA and the University of Arizona announced Monday, Nov. 10 as the conclusion of the Mars Phoenix mission, officially wrapping up five months of experiments by Canada’s science team, led by York University. The mission included milestones such as the discovery of water-ice in the Martian soil and the Canadian discovery of snow falling from clouds in Mars’ atmosphere, wrote the Mirror.

Lecture series reflects Bata’s business ideals

The Thomas J. Bata Lecture Series on Responsible Capitalism is a collaboration between York University’s Schulich School of Business and the Tomas Bata University in Zlin, Czech Republic, wrote Nov. 11. The series reflects the ideals of Thomas Bata, a resident of the Bridle Path area, who believed business should act as a service to better the circumstances of people around the world.

Each university will host the series, funded by the Bata Shoe Foundation, in alternate years. The series will feature prominent lecturers selected by the universities and texts will be printed in English and Czech and widely distributed. In addition, each university will create a scholarship – worth $20,000 at York – that will be awarded annually to promote the study of issues relating to responsible capitalism. Each scholarship will be announced at the annual lecture series, which will continue for 10 years.

Schulich Dean Dezsö J. Horváth said Bata had a long history of supporting the school. "Thomas Bata was an enthusiastic champion, loyal supporter and friend of the Schulich School. The lecture series and scholarships will honour his two decades of dedication to the Schulich community," he said.

Rabbi’s book collection donated to York University

Friends and family gathered at York on Nov. 2 to recognize the gift of Rabbi Plaut’s library, which consists of more than 4,000 books, some of which are very rare and centuries old, said Sara Horowitz, director of York’s Centre for Jewish Studies, wrote The Canadian Jewish News in its Nov. 13 issue.

The books in the Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth S. Plaut Library, which is in the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections section of York’s Scott Library, have been shelved in the same way as Rabbi Plaut had them arranged when they were in his possession.

Horowitz guessed that Rabbi Plaut chose York over another institution with a Jewish studies centre because of his relationship with the school and the faculty members. “I know that he had a relationship with the first director of the Centre for Jewish Studies, Sydney Eisen, professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Arts, and I believe he had one with Michael Brown, professor and senior scholar in the Faculty of Arts, [another of the centre’s directors], and so I think [because of] these relationships and the way that the Centre for Jewish Studies and the Jewish Studies Program developed at York, he felt this would be an appropriate place to have this collection.”

“Among other things, the collection includes rare books of Judaica, books of biblical commentary on Halachah, books by really important Jewish thinkers that are, the books themselves, several centuries old, and they are quite rare. These are books that you would very infrequently encounter,” Horowitz said. “To just see them and be able to touch them and look at their pages is really exciting.”

Star story on worker abuse in nursing homes cites York study

"Working in Canadian long-term care is dangerous," states the opening line of a study led by Professor Pat Armstrong, of York’s Faculty of Arts, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 12 in a story about racism and working conditions in nursing homes.

Out of Control: Violence Against Personal Support Workers in Long-Term Care is the result of surveys and focus groups carried out by Armstrong’s team of researchers over the past year. They uncovered disturbing reports of violence aimed at Canadian nursing home workers "virtually every day."

Armstrong’s team carried out national and international comparisons, studying nursing home violence in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario; and in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Armstrong’s study suggests the poor working conditions in Canadian nursing homes constitute "a structural violence that originates in large measure in the way long-term care is organized and funded," wrote the Star.

York has top team – and top players

York University is basking in soccer glory, not that there’s many people left on campus to join in the celebrations, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 11. On Sunday, the York Lions men’s soccer team won its second-ever national title with a 1-0 win in the championship game over the Trinity Western Spartans from Langley, BC. A few days earlier, it also scooped both the male and female national player of the year awards, which went to Francesco Bruno and Stefania Morra, respectively.

Bruno, who made the championship tournament all-star team, set up Sunday’s lone goal with an inside-the-box pass to fourth-year midfielder David Nogaro from Richmond Hill who calmly sent the ball past the diving goalkeeper in the top right corner of the net.

A business and society student, Bruno was a member of Team Canada at the FIFA under-20 world championship in 2003. "Francesco is one of the most complete players we have in this country. He can defend, he can pass, he can dribble and he can score," said York head coach Carmine Isacco. "When you combine all of his ability with a ton of integrity, without question he is deserving of the player of the year award."