Mediator halts talks in York labour dispute

A mediator has suspended talks between York University and its striking teaching staff, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 30. The talks, which had restarted Thursday and continued Friday and yesterday, were called off last night.

The University is offering a 9.25 per cent wage increase over three years, more long-term full-time teaching appointments and improved benefits.

"The University entered the negotiations to reach a settlement and get our students back to class," said Alex Bilyk, media relations director for York University. "The union is clearly not ready to settle at this time."

Punam Khosla, spokesperson for the union, said it is seeking increased job security for contract faculty, a reinstatement of benefits to 2005 levels and "a wage that allows us to subsist at a decent level in Toronto."

Bilyk said the union’s monetary demands amount to a 28 per cent increase.

Khosla said the union told the mediator they would like to meet again on Tuesday. Bilyk said he had not been made aware of that request.

The union is seeking a two-year contract; the University is offering three years.

Lyndon Koopmans, a first-year business student and organizer of, a group of undergraduates against the strike, said he was extremely upset at the news. "We were hoping for a settlement and excited they were talking," he said. "The fact they stopped is unacceptable." He said the group has a rally planned for Tuesday and will ask the government to enact back-to-work legislation.

The standoff began Nov. 6, when CUPE Local 3093, the union representing the school’s teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty, went on strike.

  • The bitter strike – now into its fourth week – that has cancelled most classes for most of the 50,000 students who attend Toronto’s York University shows no sign of ending as talks broke off over the weekend and each side accused the other of refusing to negotiate seriously, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 1.

On Saturday, York University announced that a provincial mediator had concluded, after three days of talks, that the two sides were too far apart to warrant further negotiations.

The University accused the union of making a long list of "unrealistic" demands and of promoting a rally scheduled for Wednesday even as it sat down at the bargaining table last Friday, suggesting the union was not interested in making a deal.

Yesterday, the union accused the University of "holding up an agreement" and refusing a union request to resume talks tomorrow. A spokesperson said the University is distributing "confusing information" about the talks. "They are acting more like a private-sector, hard-nosed corporation than a public university that is supposed to be serving the public," said Punam Khosla, a union member and spokesperson for Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 3,400 York staff.

While the union said it had made its request through the provincial mediator, York University spokesperson Alex Bilyk said no talks were scheduled for tomorrow and the University had not received a request for more talks.

The University said its offer would now see the union get the equivalent of a 10 per cent wage hike over three years, but that CUPE had brought forward 120 proposals which amount to a 28 per cent increase over two years.

Khosla said the University had "misrepresented" the conclusions of the provincial mediator and had released "misleading" numbers about the union’s demands. "They are being intransigent at the bargaining table," she said, arguing York is ignoring key issues raised by the union, including overcrowded classes, job security for contract faculty and what she said is a dwindling health benefits fund.

Law students head back to class

Law students in the Osgoode Hall Law School program at York University will be resuming classes on Monday despite the continuing strike by the union representing 3,300 contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants, wrote The North York Mirror Nov. 27.

A statement by the University acknowledges that while the strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 affects all students, the law program is unique in that it is governed by "external regulations set out by the Law Society of Upper Canada and the National Committee on Accreditation." In addition, CUPE instructors teach virtually none of the classes, the statement said. "The failure to restart now would also impact community legal clinics staffed by Osgoode students, which provide services to low-income communities."

Effects of acid rain still linger in Canadian lakes

Acid rain, one of the biggest environmental scourges of recent decades, has sapped the calcium from lakes across the Canadian Shield, slowly wiping out tiny creatures that need high doses of the nutrient to survive, new research shows, wrote The Canadian Press Nov. 28.

Researchers from York University and Queen’s gathered samples of sediment from 770 lakes across the Canadian Shield, a massive horseshoe-shaped slab of bedrock stretching across Eastern Canada up to the Arctic Ocean. These regions were most affected by acid rain during the 1980s.

Herb Gray named chancellor of Carleton

Osgoode grad Herb Gray‘s remarkable list of public service achievements has received another distinction – he has been named the 10th chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, reported The Windsor Star Nov. 29.

Gray (LLB ’56) served as Liberal MP for Windsor West from 1962 to 2002, holding several key cabinet posts under former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chrétien. His portfolios included national revenue, consumer and corporate affairs, industry, trade and commerce and presidency of the treasury board.

He was deputy prime minister from 1997 to 2002, and also served as opposition house leader and opposition leader. The title Right Honourable was bestowed on him in 2002 by the governor general. He is currently the full-time Canadian chair of the International Joint Commission in Ottawa.

Gray was born in Windsor in 1931 and is a graduate of McGill University and Osgoode Hall Law School. He and his wife Sharon Sholzberg live in Ottawa.

  • Carleton University will welcome Herb Gray (LLB ’56) as its new chancellor, wrote The Ottawa Sun Nov. 29. Gray becomes the university’s 10th chancellor, following in the footsteps of another prominent Liberal, former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, who served as chancellor from 1969 until his death in 1972. "If I’m following in the footsteps of people like Marc Garneau and…Pearson, this makes the honour especially impressive," said Gray.

Jury out on P3 savings, says business expert

While P3 infrastructure projects have grown in popularity in recent years, an expert on the partnerships said the city would have to add to its bureaucracy just to deal with P3s – and that would likely negate any savings gained through the deals, wrote the Calgary Herald Nov. 29.

"To get the savings you anticipate, you have to build up a huge in-house team. The problem at the municipal level is that can be very costly," said James McKellar, director of the real property development program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

The jury is largely out on how well public-private partnerships work in Canada because most of them are in the early stages of what can be 30-year deals, McKellar added. But the city can reap benefits from the deals aside from saving cash, he said, because P3s often see private companies take charge of the infrastructure’s upkeep. "It’s overcoming what governments are very poor at doing, and that’s maintaining their assets," McKellar said.

Visser’s latest is worth bending at the spine

South African-born Margaret Visser, former professor of Greek and Latin at York University, has made a specialty, beginning with her 1986 bestseller, Much Depends on Dinner, of showing how richly embedded in history, religion, mythology and cultural constructs our most mundane activities are, wrote Philip Marchand of the National Post Nov. 29 in a review of Visser’s The Gift of Thanks: The Roots, Persistence and Paradoxical Meanings of Social Ritualism. In her latest, an examination of gratitude enlivened by her knack for storytelling, she explains such things as why the Japanese say, "I’m terribly sorry," when you give them a gift. (They’re sorry about all the trouble you took.)

The price of free expression

Critics charge that recent incidents on Canadian campuses are just the latest signs of the erosion of free speech at Canadian universities, wrote the National Post Nov. 29. Last summer, the student government at York University also banned a pro-life group, saying that the issue was also one of women’s rights over free speech. There have been a number of cases on university campuses of late in which it appears that political correctness is trumping free expression – and even common sense.

Transit’s quiet mandarin

It was a sunny May evening as the artistic beehive of Paper Box Studios opened on the lip of Gage Park, the first major expansion of the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts brownfield project, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Nov. 29.

It was a big day for the arts, for centre director Jeremy Freiberger and for his board. A board that includes the gifted if little-known Michael Fenn (BA ’70 Glendon, BA Hons. ’74 Atkinson).

Fenn – a Burlington resident and Metrolinx CEO who has quietly worked on some of Ontario’s biggest policy pillars – wasn’t out with the VIPs. He was labouring behind the scenes. As usual. Few outsiders know him. "My view is that a successful public servant should get their ink when they are hired and when they leave and not in between," Fenn says, in his ninth-floor office on Toronto’s Bay Street overlooking the steel river of commuters streaming east on the Gardiner Expressway. "Political leadership, quite rightly, should take the centre stage."

Boomers’ retirement dreams fade

The current financial crisis has sparked questions about the country’s Byzantine structure regarding pensions , wrote the National Post Nov. 29.

An Ontario report, written by Harry Arthurs, former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, discussed the need to get more workers into pension plans. "The best hope for maintaining, and ultimately expanding, pension coverage is to facilitate the development of large plans, to encourage cooperation among small- and medium-sized plans, and to promote benefit plans that might be affordable for Ontarians who do not now have pension coverage," Arthurs wrote, adding there is a need among governments across Canada to harmonize rules.

Painting, parenting colour his world

It started out as a summer job and hobby for Andrew Downward (BA Hons. ’94 Glendon) but has brought him much more, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun Nov. 29. Painting has given him a unique career as well as the fame that comes with working in television. Downward is a painter and colour coordinator on Home & Garden Television’s “Divine Design”, a program also shown on the W Network.

While attending university in the ’90s, Downward painted homes during summers to pay bills. He graduated in 1994 from York’s Glendon College with a degree in Canadian studies. Since the economy was in bad shape back then, he decided to keep painting until he got a "real" job, he said. After replying to an advertisement, he got a call from “Divine Design” staff and auditioned for the show in 2001. "As soon as I left painting, I got back into it," he said.

On air

  • Peter Penz, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, and York graduate student Suzanne Hurley, spoke about the humanitarian crisis in the Congo, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” Nov. 28.
  • Fred Lazar, professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about cutting costs at the Big Three automakers, on CFTR Radio Nov. 29.