York and CUPE to resume talks over labour dispute

York University and its striking teaching staff plan to meet Thursday with a mediator to see whether there are grounds to resume bargaining, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 26.

In a statement posted Tuesday, York officials say they have agreed to a request from the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 to meet Thursday to discuss revised demands in the dispute that has cancelled classes at Canada’s third-largest university since Nov. 6.  

The meeting comes three weeks after the union walked out over job security, wages and benefits for 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants. "The University has advised the mediator that we will meet with the union on Nov. 27," said a statement on York’s Web site. "That date will mark the beginning of the fourth week of the strike and concern for our students must be paramount."  

But the University’s statement asks why the meeting will come a full week after union members at a general meeting gave their bargaining team the go-ahead to revise some of its proposals. "Given what is at stake for our 50,000 students, this one-week delay in getting to the bargaining table does not suggest urgency on the part of the union to reach a negotiated settlement," said the posting.  

Members of the union executive could not be reached for comment, but spokesperson Punam Khosla said she believes Thursday was the date the mediator chose for both sides to return to talks.  

It would be the second attempt by CUPE to get the University back to the table. It invited York officials to resume talks Nov. 13, but discussions broke down in less than two hours after York officials said the union had not made significant changes to its demands.  

York is offering a wage hike of 9.25 per cent over three years, a deal it says reflects settlements being signed across a number of sectors. Already York’s teaching assistants are the best paid in Canada. CUPE has asked for 11 per cent more over two years.

After two weeks of the strike, York announced all classes will require some adjustment to make up for lost time, depending on the program and the length of the strike.  

While classes are still cancelled for most undergraduates, about 200 senior students at York’s Schulich School of Business returned to class so as not to jeopardize international exchanges they are taking part in this term or in January.  

  • Alex Bilyk, York media relations director, was interviewed by “Global News Morning” Nov. 25 about resumption of classes for senior students in the international exchange program at York’s Schulich School of Business. He also told Metroland’s insidetoronto.com that the 138 students in the international exchange program must finish their courses at York before going to study abroad in January. None of the CUPE Local 3903 members teach any of the Schulich business programs, Bilyk added.
  • The CUPE 3903 bargaining team will go back with a new offer, spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah told CP24.com. But she did not say what part of the offer has changed. "We don’t want to bargain in the media," Ziadah told CP24.com.
  • York University has now been paralyzed for nearly three weeks by the teaching assistant union, unhappy with the moderate increases in wages and benefits offered by the administration. Now, University of Toronto’s teaching assistants are threatening to go on strike for similar reasons. How much longer will we tolerate being paralyzed in the name of "virtue", "solidarity" and "progressivism"? asked Mathieu Roy, a U of T graduate student, in an opinion piece in the National Post Nov. 26.    

    When I first heard the strike rumors, I decided to go to the following union meeting and express my views – a frustrating experience, Roy wrote. The union represents 5,000 members, but only about 50 people, all socialists, were present at the meeting. Who were they? Students in the departments of philosophy, political science, sociology, women’s studies – people who make it their career’s purpose to be "politically active." For most of them, organizing a strike is probably valued as a high achievement to put on their resume.
    Why do we let these people take so much room? Because we have better things to do than attend union meetings? Maybe, but then we are as responsible as they are for the mess that happens afterwards.

Wage cuts for autoworkers won’t solve recession, says prof

The global crisis quickly engulfing us threatens to become the worst since the Great Depression, and this means that past ways of doing things need to be fundamentally rethought, wrote Sam Gindin, Packer Visitor in Social Justice in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a Windsor Star opinion piece published Nov. 26. But Gord Henderson’s focus on wage cuts for autoworkers in his Nov. 20 column is the absolutely wrong way to go – that much we already learned from the 1930s, when competitive cuts in workers’ wages only aggravated the depression.  

When Henderson responds to Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza’s defence of workers’ wages with a glib, "Tell that to all those low-wage Mexican autoworkers," what exactly does this mean? In the face of the general concern that consumers are retrenching (and business consequently holding back investments), how much sense does it make to advocate autoworkers setting a pattern for lower wages and less purchasing power? And what kind of notion of progress and vision for the future does the target of Mexican wage standards suggest?  

The fact is that Canadian hourly compensation in the auto industry is now below the US, at about par with Japan and less than three-quarters of hourly compensation in Germany (US Bureau of Labour data for 2006, adjusted for current exchange rates).  

Economy: The behemoth that wouldn’t stop growing

A timely new book by York University environmental economist Peter Victor, Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster, addresses the absurdity of an economic system based on endless growth, wrote environmental activist David Suzuki in a Victoria News opinion piece published Nov. 25. Victor [a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies] also shows that the concept of growth as an indispensable feature of economics is a recent phenomenon. 

Don Mills: The model for planned communities

While Don Mills would eventually become the model for generations of Canadian residential developments to follow, experts acknowledge it was born as a money-maker, pure and simple, reported Metroland’s insidetoronto.com, on the 55th anniversary of the Toronto subdivision. "I think ultimately it was a business venture by E.P. Taylor and his companies. He had assembled all of that land. It must have been many years before they broke ground," said York University’s Douglas Young, a professor of social science and coordinator of the Urban Studies Program. "It was a business venture. He had assembled thousands of acres of land and he was going to do something with that land as a development." 

The heart of the community was the then-outdoors Don Mills shopping centre, which would eventually be converted to an indoor mall before owner Cadillac Fairview’s current controversial plans to redevelop the site. The four quadrants around the shopping centre each contained homes, a school, a park and a church. Meandering streets slowed traffic and provided safety for the countless children playing in their neighbourhoods. Where the road system discouraged vehicular traffic on local roads, a greenbelt and paths allowed pedestrians easy access to parks and other amenities. The concept seems old hat now. But at the time, it was unique in Canada, Young said. "I think it established a model of planning. It is absolutely the model," he said.  

Housing for different income levels and the deliberate placement of houses on large lots ensured that Don Mills would not be a homogenous, bland community, Young said. He praised Don Mills for its ability to attract businesses that, in theory, allowed workers to live close to their places of employment. "At its time, it was very progressive. Even today, if you look at the planning principles, a lot of them seem pretty good. There was and is a really good mix of types of housing. What is missing is non-profit housing."  

Guitarist Don Ross performs mix of styles

Heavy-wood guitar master Don Ross (BFA Spec. Hons. ’83) and singer Brooke Miller return to the Duncan Garage Showroom for Saturday’s concert, reported British Columbia’s Cowichan News Leader and Pictorial Nov. 25. Critics have called witty Ross one of Canada’s finest guitarists, and he has road stories to go with those opinions. The two-time US national finger-style guitarist has some 10 CDs on his resumé including his recent platter The Thing That Came From Somewhere created with Andy McKee. Ross will display his jaw-dropping technique often heard on his six- and seven-string guitars.  

The Ontario-based player, the son of a Scottish immigrant father and a Mi’kmaq mother, was born in Montreal in 1960 into a musical family. He experimented with solo possibilities of the acoustic guitar at age eight. By 10 he was playing in alternate tunings and exploring the finger-style technique, a right-hand discipline similar to classical guitar playing. The York University grad’s self-taught journey has encouraged him to follow his musical intuition. The result is an unclassifiable musical style that borrows from jazz, folk, rock and classical genres.