Striking union, University talk again briefly

An attempt to reopen talks to end the weeklong strike at York University was short-lived Thursday, with both sides remaining far apart and a growing group of undergraduates calling on the province to take action, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 14.

Representatives of striking teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants met with the University administration yesterday afternoon, the first sign of progress in the labour dispute since it halted classes last week at the country’s third-largest campus.

The negotiations broke off after a few hours, with both sides expressing disappointment and the University repeating its request for binding arbitration. "Binding arbitration is the quickest way to get our 50,000 students back to class," University spokesperson Alex Bilyk, director of media relations, said.

Christina Rousseau, chair of Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the striking workers, said the union hopes to set up more meetings early next week. The union’s main demands are better wages and job security.

With the strike in its second week, make-up classes will be required for half-year and condensed courses, the University’s senate said on Wednesday in a written notice from its executive committee.

The sprawling Toronto campus has been a ghost town for the past seven days, with many students heading home, fearing a prolonged strike reminiscent of the one that shut the University for 11 weeks when the same union went on strike in 2001.

Several Facebook groups have sprung up since the strike began, including one anti-strike group that has reached more than 1,600 members. Students also have created a Web site,, and are planning a rally on Monday. They have asked the province to end the strike with back-to-work legislation, calling the work stoppage "an irresponsible means of resolving the current labour dispute."

The University’s last offer was a 9.25 per cent increase over three years; the local is asking for 11 per cent over two years.

  • The strike at York University has entered its second week with no end in sight after a hastily called meeting yesterday between the school and striking teaching assistants broke down after two hours, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 14.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 had asked for the meeting to present a "framework for moving forward" to end the strike that has cancelled classes since Nov. 6 for 50,000 students.

But York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said last night the union "did not modify a single one of its economic proposals or amend any of the 150 outstanding demands on the table. We want to express the strongest disappointment that the union raised the expectation of all parties," he said, adding that York continues to urge the union to turn the dispute over to binding arbitration, something it has rejected.

But union officials said they will continue to work on new proposals to break the logjam, "and hope to meet again early next week with the University," said union Chair Christina Rousseau.

  • As the strike at York University extends into its second week, one student group is calling on both the administration and the union to return to the bargaining table immediately, wrote Nov. 13.

"There’s been no negotiations and a lot of people are starting to panic," said Nora Kharouba, a second-year psychology student, who joined the Student Rally for a Solution (SRS) group, hoping for a quick resolution to end the week-old strike.

With no further talks scheduled, Kharouba said that SRS will be holding a rally Monday morning at Vari Hall to put pressure on the administration and union to start taking the negotiations seriously. "Everyone’s main goal is to get back (to school)," she said, noting many students have come forward with their concerns about what problems an extended strike could cause.

They include those with disabilities whose income support funds are only provided during the regular school year. International students face visa issues. Nursing graduates won’t be able to write mandatory tests to be certified if their graduation is postponed.

And students like Kharouba who have jobs lined up in May could lose them if the school year is extended into the summer, which would also mean they might not be able to afford to pay for school the following year. "I can go on and on about the different stories," she said.

While the SRS group has stated that it remains neutral on its Web site, the members are asking that the strike be resolved through binding arbitration so the 50,000 undergraduate students can get back to school as soon as possible.

  • "The mediator has advised both parties that in his assessment there would be no productive use of further meetings at this time," said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, on Thursday evening, wrote the National Post Nov. 14. According to Bilyk the union had not changed any of its demands for wage raises or contract terms despite asking for a meeting earlier in the week.

Christina Rousseau, chair of CUPE 3903, said the union didn’t bring anything new to the table but instead they were hoping to get a response to some of the smaller proposals the union had made and some of the things the union had not been able to discuss with the employer prior to the strike.

"We want to express our strong disappointment that the union falsely raised expectation among all parties," Bilyk said.

“Unfortunately they rejected the proposals we presented, and haven’t offered us anything in terms of a counter-proposal or anything of a counter-proposal even from the last offer they gave us. They still haven’t given us anything and it still looks like they are not willing to negotiate with us but we’re working with the mediator to get something set up for earlier in the week," Rousseau said.

The union also continued to reject binding arbitration, something the University has been seeking. Rousseau hopes bargaining will begin again early next week. The union has a general membership meeting planned for this weekend according to its Web site.

Rousseau said no new talks are scheduled at this point and, while it is impossible to put a timeline on the strike, she said the soonest it could be over at this point is the middle of next week.

"It’s really, really frustrating. I mean we’ve been asking for meetings with the administration all week and they kept on saying they didn’t want to meet with us. And then finally yesterday evening or yesterday afternoon they did say yes and so we were really hopeful that they were ready to negotiate with us, but unfortunately that was not the case," she said.

"We continue to repeat our offer of binding arbitration as the quickest way to get our 50,000 students back to class," Bilyk added.

  • Numerous radio and television stations across the country continued their coverage of the progress of the dispute Nov. 13.

York prof’s work helps relaunch the AGO

There are thousands of artworks to take in at the newly renovated AGO. But as a whole, what do they mean?, asked the National Post Nov. 13. Senior Toronto artist Tim Whiten, visual arts professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, who installed a new work specifically for the relaunch, sees it as community – and by extension, perhaps, a kind of communion. Here, he tells Leah Sandals about the delicate art of spiritual reconstruction.

Q: You have a long tradition of addressing spirituality in your work, and that comes across strongly here. Why do you have this interest?

A: Well, as a human race we’ve lost our contact with the spiritual concerns of life. The churches are less full than before. People aren’t committed to something that’s beyond themselves, and they’re treating each other horribly.

One of the things that’s really important about the spiritual aspect of this building being renewed is it reconnects community. For the first time in the history of this area, the nature of this community is particularly related to the artist and the participation of art in the larger realm. That’s why I’m honoured to be a part of this; it’s a first for bringing the community together in this way.

‘Generosity remains resilient even in tough times’

The most recent Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating released in 2006 found that Canadians made charitable donations worth almost $9 billion in 2004, wrote Paul Marcus, president & CEO, York University Foundation, and Bruce Mitchell, foundation marketing & communications specialist, in an article for the Association of Fundraising Professionals published in The Globe and Mail, Nov. 14. Additionally, the survey found that in one year, one billion hours of volunteer labour were offered – the equivalent of one million full-time jobs.

The current economic downturn certainly necessitates a note of caution about these numbers. However, heart can be taken from the fact that, historically, generosity remains resilient even in tough times – an especially important fact considering that it is precisely at these times when people most need help.

The conclusion may be drawn, then, that the charitable sector, long applauded for its good works, also provides a focal point for the decency of Canadians. And its continued health, most especially amidst the current economic turmoil, provides heartening reassurance that philanthropy remains one of the very best things holding us together.

Ensemble Vivant features York grad

The old saying that variety is the spice of life perhaps never had a better advocate than Catherine Wilson, wrote the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Nov. 14. The founder, artistic director and pianist behind Ensemble Vivant has never been one to be pigeonholed when it comes to enjoying all there is to relish in music. The acclaimed performer not only teaches classical piano in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, but also ragtime.