Job security is key, say CUPE strikers

It’s not about the money. It’s not about the benefits either. The real reason Rob Heynen spent Wednesday afternoon marching down Bay Street with snarled traffic at his back and biting wind in his face was something else altogether: job security, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 4.

"The uncertainty of never knowing how much work I’m going to have, how much money I’m going to make, what the courses are going to be – it’s really psychologically tiring," said the 39-year-old, who has been teaching political science, social science and geography at York University for the last six years. "Whatever I can get."

Heynen was among hundreds of striking York staff, mostly other contract faculty and teaching assistants, who gathered outside the Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities at 900 Bay St. Thursday marked four full weeks since they walked out on Nov. 6. The crowd was boisterous, the mood festive, as reggae music clapped against the walls of the Bay Street government offices and towering condo buildings. Speaker after speaker, about 20 by the time the day was over, hammered home what they said was a major discrepancy in York’s budget: Contract faculty and teaching assistants account for more than 50 per cent of the teaching at York University, and earn 7.5 per cent of total revenues.

"That’s what a lot of people went out on strike for. And a lot of people are willing to stay out until we get job security for contract faculty," said teaching assistant and union organizer Christina Rousseau.

After leading a cheer to "negotiate, not legislate," NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo told the crowd only her party voted uniformly on Tuesday to strike down a "shameful Tory bill" to legislate York teaching staff back to work.

Shortly after DiNovo’s speech, the crowd moved south on Bay Street, then west along College Street to Queen’s Park amidst heavy police presence. The rally continued on the exact same spot York students held a rally of their own a day earlier, demanding back-to-work legislation.

"Many of our members are also students and we will try to do whatever we can when we get back. I would really like to see them back in the classroom as soon as possible," said contract faculty member and union organizer Parbatti Ramsarran. "It’s unfortunate that it got this far. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to save the term, but I’d like for us to be able to give them some kind of assurance that they will complete their year and they will graduate. They have been greatly inconvenienced. That, I will acknowledge," she said.  

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk agreed after the rally that York’s 50,000 students were being inconvenienced. A mediator suspended negotiations Saturday, and no new talks have been scheduled. 

  • Lykke de la Cour will finally be able to pay off her $50,000 student loan next year, reported The Toronto Sun Dec. 4. The 54-year-old York professor says she works long hours teaching, marking papers and writing reference letters for grad school candidates. While the 20-year prof still loves her job, she says she’s now part of a new generation of "casualized" workers in the academic field.

De la Cour is one of 900 contract faculty at York University who are striking for job security and wage and benefit equity. About 200 supporters raised the issues Wednesday outside the Bay Street office of John Milloy, the minister of training, colleges & universities. "I can have one course to teach one year and four the next. It’s very unstable," said de la Cour, a health science and social science prof. "By the end of the day, I have very little time for my own research and this affects the quality of education," she added.

The union wants to reintroduce special renewable contracts (SRC) that would give a five-year job guarantee to contract faculty who have taught for more than 15 years.

  • A rally in support of York’s striking teaching assistants and faculty will be held at Laurentian University on Dec. 11 at 3pm in the R.D. Parker Building, reported The Sudbury Star Dec. 4.
  • Cheryl Cowdy-Crawford, a York contract faculty worker, spoke about the strike in a report about the Queen’s Park rally on Citytv’s “Citynews At Six” Dec. 3.
  • Punam Khosla, a spokesperson with CUPE Local 3903, talked about the outstanding issues in the labour disruption, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Dec. 3.
  • Callers discussed the strike and MPP Peter Shurman’s private member’s bill to legislate a settlerment, on CFRB’s “The Motts” Dec. 3.
  • In a series on the changing nature of work, the Toronto Star also reported Dec. 4 that universities are increasingly hiring people on contract – half the teaching at York University is currently done by contract faculty and teaching and graduate assistants.

Tories pushing false view of Canada

In a bid to save their government from defeat and prevent its replacement by a Liberal-NDP coalition with the support of the Bloc, Stephen Harper and his operatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works, wrote James Laxer, a political scientist in Atkinson’s School of Social Sciences, in an opinion piece reprinted from the Torstar Syndicate Dec. 4 in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

It begins with the bogus proposition that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives "won" the recent election and have a mandate to govern. In fact, in the recent election, the Conservatives won a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308. 

Our system of government, known as "responsible government", holds that for a ministry to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons, i.e. the support of the majority of the members of the House. In Canada, we do not directly elect our prime minister. The prime minister is an elected member of the House of Commons.  

Historian answers questions about the Ottawa crisis

Constitutional historian Curtis Cole, who has taught at the University of Western Ontario and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, answered readers’ questions about prorogation and other constitutional options Prime Minister Stephen Harper has in the face of the opposition’s non-confidence, in the Toronto Star Dec. 4.

University students embroiled over issue of free speech

A number of universities have been embroiled over the issue of free speech, particularly as it applies to anti-abortion groups, noted the National Post Dec. 4 in a story about Lakehead University’s student union attempting to ban political and religious clubs from using offensive or disparaging messages. At the University of Guelph, York University and the University of Victoria, just to name a few, anti-abortion groups have been denied status because the official policies of the student associations are pro-choice.  

At 47, fire chief studies for a law career

“What type of hockey team does your firm have?” Not a typical question during articling interviews, but one that will almost certainly be asked in the summer of 2009 when Don McClean (MBA ’98) competes for an articling position at one of the most sought after firms on Bay Street, reported Briefly Speaking/En Bref, the Ontario Bar Association magazine in its October issue.

McClean is entering his second year at Osgoode, where he is taking over as captain of the Osgoode Owls hockey team. He helped lead the team to a first overall finish in last year’s regular season, earning him the distinction of Osgoode’s male athlete of the year. 

What makes this story all the more incredible is that he has done this at the age of 47 while juggling a career as Markham’s fire chief. McClean is part of a small but growing trend of professionals who are choosing to leave a successful career behind to pursue a degree in law. 

When he started out at Osgoode in 2007 he did so as a full-time fire chief, student and athlete. He made the transition a success by getting involved in as many activities as he could, diving into everything from mooting competitions to, of course, hockey. 

In September, he hung up his helmet in the fire department. When he graduates, he will be joining a growing number of mature students that bring anything but average life experience to their first years with a firm. 

Veteran trustee elected to run Catholic school board

It’s taken him several tries, but Mississauga Ward 1 and 3 trustee Mario Pascucci (BAS ’82) has finally become chair of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, reported The Mississauga News Dec. 3. The veteran trustee, who was first elected to the board in 1978 and has been a trustee for 26 of the following 30 years, defeated incumbent Ward 7 Mississauga trustee Bruno Iannicca to win the job at the board’s annual organizational meeting Tuesday.  

A graduate of York University with a master’s degree in education from Nipissing University, the 35-year Mississauga resident is founder and president of a marketing corporation that specializes in representing food companies and importing and distributing collectible fine gifts from Europe.  

On air

  • Researchers at York University have designed a new computer game to help patients with a condition called convergence insufficiency learn to align their eyes, reported CHEK6-TV in Victoria, BC, Dec. 3.