Worried students call for back-to-work legislation to end strike

The students at York faced a critical deadline at midnight last night, when the [CUPE 3903] strike became one week old. As of now, it’s no longer a free reading week: Every day of lost classes stands to extend the fall term and the academic year. The consequences for York students may be severe, wrote Lyndon Koopmans, a first-year business student at York University, in an opinion piece published Nov. 13 in the National Post.  

Students worry that an extended fall term will conflict with family travel plans during the holidays, participation in international exchange programs and co-op placements, wrote Koopmans. As well, students in their final year of professional programs like nursing, law and teaching worry that they will not be able to satisfy professional licensing requirements. Many students fear that the academic year will extend into the summer term, making them unable to apply to the large pool of summer jobs and internships that begin around May 1. This would be a double blow, impairing students’ ability to pay for next year’s education, and robbing them of much-needed work experience.  

A prolonged strike will have unacceptable consequences for York students. For this reason, a group of undergraduate, professional and graduate students has united to oppose any strike or lockout action at York, wrote Koopmans, a founding member and co-organizer of the Anti-Strike Group and YorkNotHostage.com. We have deliberately avoided taking a position on the outcome of the labour dispute. We do, however, take a strong position on the method by which this labour dispute should be resolved. For this reason, our group has asked the union and University administration to agree to end the work stoppage and enter binding arbitration. To date, only the University administration has agreed to this approach.  

It is true that a negotiated settlement is always the best way to resolve a labour dispute, continued Koopmans. Forcing a union and employer into binding arbitration seems at odds with the fundamental values of the collective bargaining process. But the education of 50,000 University students hangs in the balance, and we see no signs of progress in the negotiations. We have lost faith that negotiation is the best way to resolve this particular dispute. Even though back-to-work legislation is extraordinary and unfortunate, we feel that it is necessary in this case, Koopmans concluded.  

  • News that a coalition of student groups wants the province to end the strike at York University was broadcast Nov. 12 on radio stations around Ontario. 

Residence dilemma: should I stay or should I go?

Should she stay or should she go? That’s the dilemma facing Cassandra Stover and hundreds of other York University students who live on campus as the strike by part-time workers drags on, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 13.  

As an exodus of students moves home to save on meals and pick up work, many who’ve stayed behind say they feel increasingly isolated. "It’s completely dead on campus; most of the people on my floor have already gone home and I’m getting careful about where I walk at night because there’s so few people around," says Stover, a first-year student from the farm community of Blenheim, Ont., who lives in residence.  

For the 2,600 students living on campus at Canada’s third-largest university, the strike by teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty has disrupted their home life as well as their studies. Some have fled home, some have chosen to stay and others are struggling to do both.  

"I’m moving home to Barrie to pick up shifts at Costco four days a week in case the strike forces York to extend classes into the summer," said kinesiology major Jeff Moyle, who will return to campus for three days a week during the strike to continue a part-time job at the campus gym. He worries the strike may push the school year past the end of April, because the lease on his student townhouse expires May 1. "If that happens I’ll be out of a house and may have to commute from Barrie, which will be a real pain," said Moyle, who hopes to graduate this year and apply to grad school. "The strike can have a real snowball effect on students."  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 walked off the job a week ago in a dispute over job security, benefits and wages. The University has offered 9.25 per cent over three years and is urging the union to accept binding arbitration. The union has rejected binding arbitration and is seeking a two-year deal with richer benefits and more job security. Yet with no talks scheduled and December exams up in the air, many dorm-dwellers are pulling up stakes.  

"I’ve only seen one person in the hall since Saturday and I miss seeing my commuter friends two or three times a day between class," said Andrew Beaudoin, a first-year student in Bethune Residence. He applied for a part-time job at the Eaton Centre this week to fill in time and make some money because he, too, pays for his education himself. Like many, Beaudoin is worried about having to cover coursework in less time once the strike is over – a particular challenge, he says, in his Japanese and Chinese classes, where he already has had to learn 300 Chinese characters and two phonetic Japanese alphabets. "You can compress some courses by cramming, but with language and music it’s nearly impossible."  

Business majors Ivan Peytchev and Eric Williams say the strike has thrown into question everything – from where they will live next spring if the school year outlasts their townhouse lease, to when they will write first-term exams. "It’s so hard to keep motivated to work when there is no instruction going on. We’re in this weird state of flux," said Williams, in his final year of a bachelor of business administration degree at York’s Schulich School of Business. Peytchev hopes the strike won’t interfere with the job he has lined up for next spring. "Man, am I ever worried – it’s a job at a rather large bank," he said. "I’m wondering, ‘Will I graduate in time?’"  

  • CFRB’s “Toronto At Noon” aired a discussion with Bob Drummond, spokesperson for the University’s negotiating team, and Graham Potts, chief negotiator for the bargaining committee for CUPE Local 3903, about the strike issues, Nov. 12.
  • “Global News” reported Nov. 12 that other unions and community groups would join the CUPE 3903 strikers in a show of solidarity at a major rally at York’s main entrance at 1pm. 

In dark times, brands get light

In 1987, Ben & Jerry’s arrived on Wall Street to scoop out free helpings of Economic Crunch ice cream to waylaid and weary traders on Wall Street after that year’s crash, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 13. A British Columbia microbrewery has conjured the ghosts of Economic Crunch ice cream and concocted a beer to at least somewhat alleviate ails: Bailout Bitter, billed as "a bitter ale for bitter times."  

Humour may turn out to be the marketing trend of the downturn. "You can’t be serious all the time," said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. "You need relief." He predicted a shift to two poles – value and high quality. Some companies, such as Tim Hortons Inc., will stress value even more than usual, while others, such as Apple Inc., will push the usefulness, even in a recession, of more-expensive products like an iPod.  

Documentary revisits demerger battle in Montreal suburb

Almost seven years and dozens of hours of filming later, Ste. Anne de Bellevue’s resident Oliver Stone, Ryan Young (MES ’04), has his historical tribute to the heady days of demerger ready for the world to see, reported The Gazette in Montreal Nov. 13. 

The CEGEP John Abbott College media studies teacher and frequent Green Party candidate has edited his homage to his beloved Ste. Anne’s – aptly titled, The Village Resists (Un Village Souverain in French) – and its struggle to retain its independence. After a pre-screening in October, it is now ready for a prime time public premiere Saturday. "I’ve always been interested in Ste. Anne’s history," said Young, comfortable in his favourite village café. "I felt it was my duty to be the town’s recorder."  

And record he did – more than 70 hours worth of film. While living in Toronto and attending York University, Young saw first-hand what the implications of merging communities were. The word megacity entered the lexicon of municipal politics and with the forced fusion of Montreal suburbs, Young returned to begin what eventually became an almost seven-year obsession.  

Controversy surrounds exhibit of Dead Sea scrolls coming to ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum could find itself unearthing old controversies when it opens its $3-million, would-be blockbuster Dead Sea scrolls exhibition next June, reported the National Post Nov. 13. A history professor in the US has accused an earlier, related project in San Diego of deliberate bias and scholarly incompetence and has suggested that its curator, who is also assembling the ROM exhibition, was unqualified for the job.

Academics are divided between two principal theories regarding the origin of the scrolls. The original Qumran-Essene theory was championed for decades by the late Catholic priest Roland de Vaux, who had been appointed by Jordan to safeguard the scrolls (and refused to share them). He believed the scrolls were hidden by the Essenes, an ascetic sect some believe may have had links to early Christianity.  

Others believe the scrolls were taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and hidden for safekeeping around the time of the First Jewish Revolt, circa AD 66 to 73, and that they represent the literature of the wider Jewish community rather than an isolated sect. This theory was first put forth around 1980 by University of Chicago history professor Norman Golb, who is one of the world’s foremost Scrolls scholars.  

There is already one firm indication that exhibition curator Risa Levitt Kohn and the ROM intend to present multiple points of view. Steve Mason, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and an expert on first-century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, said Kohn approached him to give a talk during the Toronto scrolls project despite his doubts about the Qumran-Essene theory. "My response was one of surprise, and I cautioned that I might speak on the problems of the Dead Sea scrolls-Essene hypothesis," Mason wrote in an e-mail to the Post. "She [Kohn] seemed to think that was fine, though she also welcomed a talk on other issues, such as the Judaean War. "I didn’t notice the narrowness of vision that others have charged the [San Diego] exhibit with," he continued. "I only know that she has invited me, and I’ve happily accepted."  

World-renowned photographer turns his lens on home

He could be living in London, Paris or New York City. Or anywhere else in the world for that matter. He’s that good, wrote The Sarnia Observer Nov. 13. But internationally acclaimed photojournalist Larry Towell (BFA ’76) has stayed grounded by continuing to live on a little farm near Shetland, in the southeast corner of Lambton County, Ont. "I’m from Lambton County, I’ve lived here all my life," the 55-year-old explains. "It makes me feel positioned in the world, keeps me anchored."  

Raised on a farm at Beecher, in St. Clair Township, Towell attended a one-room schoolhouse until Grade 4, then moved on to East Sombra Public School. After graduating from high school in Wallaceburg, Ont., he studied fine arts at York University.

Over the years he’s made a name for himself covering conflicts in the Middle East and Central America and disasters such as the 9-11 terrorist attacks (he was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001) and Hurricane Katrina.  

Towell’s 11th book, The World from My Front Porch, has just been released. It includes many photos taken over the years of his family and his farm. A courageous journalist, he travelled to war-torn Afghanistan this fall without being embedded with Canadian soldiers. Operating with the help of two Afghan guides, he took photos that will undoubtedly show up in his 12th book.