York strikers seek talks with president

Striking teaching assistants and their student supporters vow to stay camped out around the clock outside the office of the York University president until he meets with them and promises to host a public forum on the strike in January, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 18.

But there seems little hope of that meeting taking place, despite the strikers who strolled around the Keele campus yesterday singing such retooled Christmas carols as I’m Dreaming of a Just Workplace, God Rest Ye Merry Union Folk and We Wish You a Fair Contract.

Armed with sleeping bags and late-night pizza, 20 to 30 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 and some student supporters have occupied the corridor outside the office of President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri since Monday afternoon. They are asking for a meeting – a request to which the president has not responded.

"We’ve seen the president on campus but he hasn’t met with us and our plan is to hang in until he does," said teaching assistant Gabrielle Gerin, a graduate student in political science, from her stakeout in the ninth-floor hall yesterday afternoon. University spokesperson Alex Bilyk has said he is not aware of any plans by Shoukri to meet with students and noted that students could have asked the president questions last week during a meeting of the University Senate.

But Gerin said the union was not invited to attend the Senate meeting and expressed concern that the Senate meeting was held on campus in the first place – something the union considers inappropriate during a strike. Moreover, "the Senate meeting was held at the same time as our membership meeting," said Gerin, "so that really didn’t give us the chance we need to have a full public discussion of the issues around the strike."

With no talks in sight and the first term already destined to drag into the new year, nearly 50,000 students at Canada’s third-largest university have little hope of a quick end to the strike that has shut down classes since Nov. 6.

The University posted a message on its own Web site yesterday, addressed directly to union members, to "clarify key issues relating to negotiations".

The bulletin denied York is "stonewalling" talks or trying to "wait out" the union but, rather, is waiting for the mediator to feel there’s been enough compromise to resume talks. Although the mediator has asked both sides to go back and sharpen their pencils, there is no sign that either the University or CUPE is busy revising its position.

The University has offered a wage increase of 9.25 per cent over three years and the union is seeking 8 per cent more over two years, plus better job security and restored funding for such benefits as child care and professional development.

Queen’s Park refused to order an end to the strike before the legislature rose for holidays last week – it will not resume until February – and the union has refused to consider binding arbitration to settle the dispute, something the University would welcome.

  • Professor Richard Wellen claims to know that the majority of the members of the faculty union support the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) strike, wrote humanities Professor Bernie Lightman, of York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the National Post Dec. 18. But two pieces of evidence as to the thoughts of the members of the faculty union seem to point to the opposite conclusion. First, we have a vote at a recent general meeting, where a motion that the faculty union adopt a "dignified neutrality" was narrowly defeated, 78 to 57. Second, we have a letter signed by 160 members of the union circulated at that same meeting supporting the notion that the union adopt a "dignified neutrality".

Professor Wellen may wish to ignore the significance of that letter but, clearly, if we look at public declarations, at least twice as many union members do not support the CUPE strike as do support it.

The issue of job security for long-serving contract faculty is very complex, wrote Lightman. But what prevents a settlement is CUPE’s totally unrealistic demands for the creation of a huge number of new appointments that would cost the University millions of dollars, with those based totally on seniority rather than on evaluative procedures.

  • What’s been forgotten in the ongoing strike at York University now entering its seventh week is this, wrote The Toronto Sun Dec. 18 in an editorial. Labour and management in this dispute – along with Premier Dalton McGuinty and the government of Ontario – are the employees of the 50,000 students who are being robbed of the education they paid for and have every right to expect.

University students today don’t just fork over ever-increasing tuition fees, courtesy of government. Most work hard throughout the year to earn money to help pay for their tuition and as wage earners, they also pay taxes.

Thus it’s a disgrace that Queen’s Park – which two years ago sat late into December so politicians could vote themselves a 25 per cent pay hike – has shut down for its "Christmas" break until mid-February, without ending this strike.

Now, York’s students are on their own, the government’s "logic" apparently being that since a strike at the same university lasted 11 weeks eight years ago, there’s no urgency to do anything now.

While that may be good enough for government work, it isn’t good enough for these students who are owed an explanation, an apology and a refund, said the Sun.

What’s happening to these innocent students is outrageous, particularly in the middle of a recession where it’s going to get harder and harder for them to find work to help pay for tuition.

This could be solved in a day if the legislature were to sit in emergency session with the agreement of all three parties, pass back-to-work legislation and send the dispute to binding arbitration, the Sun said.

  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, and York graduate students Dhruv Jain, Iain Hussey and student Aisha Akhtar, spoke about the strike by CUPE 3903, on CBC Radio’s “World Report” Dec. 17.

York grad lived as if she knew her time was limited

Kathyrn Behan "Candy" Cox (BA ’90) was an audacious woman, wrote friends Audrey Amo and Patricia Shaughnessy in a Lives Lived feature in The Globe and Mail Dec. 18. (Cox died on April 9, 2008.) She looked cancer in the eye four times over 26 years, and each time she beat it. At 6, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Candy went to live with an aunt. Her mother survived and Candy returned home but it was as if she knew she had limited time on earth and she set out to make every moment count.

Candy was a productive powerhouse throughout her working life. She started her career with the Toronto School Board, working as an assistant in the communications department. In 1980, she won the position of communications manager for the City of York’s Board of Education. There she displayed her tenacity, her ability to write clear prose in the midst of educational jargon lovers, and her calm leadership during crises.

In spite of her busy workload, Candy completed her bachelor’s degree at York University and went on to obtain her supervisory officer’s qualifications. When the Metro Toronto school boards amalgamated in 1998, she successfully made the transition to the Toronto District School Board with her sense of humour and commitment to students and parents intact.

On air

  • Perry Sadorsky, economics professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about moves by the Bank of Canada to lower interest rates to 0 per cent, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Dec. 17.
  • Nergis Canef, political science professor in Yorks’ Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration, and associate director of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, took part in a panel discussion about Turkey, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Dec.17.