CUPE 3903 members will decide their own fate

York University has pulled the plug on negotiations in its ongoing strike and has used its right to force workers to vote on its latest offer – a move that could end the dispute, but not for at least seven more days, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 10.

In a surprise move yesterday, York officials left the bargaining table and announced the University was asking Ontario’s minister of labour to organize a supervised vote on its latest offer, forcing the 3,340 striking teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants to make the decision – something employers are entitled to do only once during a round of bargaining.

It is a move that removes the dispute from the hands of both York and the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, and leaves it to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to conduct the vote. If the members approve the three-year offer, the strike is over.

If they reject it, pressure will likely mount for Queen’s Park to legislate strikers back to work, the Star said.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said the University decided to use this tactic after the union refused to let members vote on Tuesday’s offer, which includes a 9.25 per cent wage increase over three years, and also failed to present a counter-offer yesterday. “We have to take this process forward, and with no counter-proposal and the union refusing to vote on our offer, time is of the essence,” Bilyk said. “We have students out there who have put their lives on hold for two months already.”

Rob Ashley, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, said it typically takes between seven and 10 days to organize the vote. He said details will be available early next week as to where and when the vote will take place, and whether all CUPE 3903 members will vote together, or whether there would be separate votes for each unit. There are 950 contract faculty, 1,850 teaching assistants and 550 graduate assistants.

During the 2000-2001 strike at York by the same union, the University called a supervised vote on an offer, which was endorsed by contract faculty, and shortly afterwards teaching assistants and graduate assistants signed a deal as well.

Union spokesperson Tyler Shipley said CUPE is disappointed the University called a forced vote. “We really don’t feel negotiations were given full shrift; we’ve only been really talking for about five days during the entire strike. Before that, we didn’t have a bargaining partner at the table.”

Shipley said the union chose not to put York’s latest offer to a vote because it was a “step back”. Of particular concern is the lack of job security for part-time contract faculty unable to secure tenure-stream positions. This despite the reality Shipley outlines, as a large number of tenured professors are expected to retire. Instead of replacing them, in some cases, by promoting experienced contract staff to tenured positions, Shipley said part-timers will remain without job security, and tenure will be traded for “McJobs, in a field that requires serious qualifications".

He said CUPE 3903 will be telling members not to vote for York’s offer, and to return to bargaining. Meanwhile, an antistrike student group is urging the province to hold the vote as soon as possible, and urging union members not to hold out for more money.

Lyndon Koopmans, co-founder of the Facebook group, said, “The ballot question must be, ‘Is this a fair and reasonable offer?’ If you believe it is, you must vote Yes. If you believe it is not, then of course you will vote No.”

  • It was a child of the ’60s, shaped by the baby boom and now staring down its 50th birthday – no wonder York University seems such a hotbed of activists, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 11.

As the sprawling campus sits suspended by labour turmoil for the third time in a dozen years, the growing buzz among students and parents is: Why is York so wild?

“It was a brand new university in the 1960s that was hiring like crazy – we even had enough for a professors’ soccer team – and this big wave of young, socially concerned newcomers had a greater impact than they would have at a university with more older, established faculty,” says University Historian Michiel Horn, who has just published a history of the University. “ York soon got the image of a bunch of lefties – even I’m not sure it’s always justified.”

“As president, I used to go out fundraising and CEOs would ask me, ‘How are you getting on with all those pinkos?’”, recalls economist H. Ian Macdonald, who served as University president & vice-chancellor from 1974 to 1984. “Remember, York began with a focus on the arts and social science and humanities – disciplines whose business is social criticism – and that’s exactly what a university is supposed to be concerned with.” He cites with pride how York kept contact with Soviet scholars during the Cold War, despite taking heat from other academics.

But Harry Arthurs, who took over from Macdonald in 1985, believes York’s strong union tradition was born of something else – a tough new provincial funding formula introduced during the 1970s recession that penalized university growth just as York was starting to boom. “ York was at the epicentre of university growth in Ontario, if not Canada – yet the economy was in trouble and we were shortchanged by a new funding formula that not only hit salaries, but meant we couldn’t even buy books for the library or fix the air circulation,” recounts Arthurs, a specialist in labour law.

“We couldn’t do a damn thing; it was awful – we were working in substandard conditions back then and that’s why unionism grew. A lot of York’s feistiness was attributable to the dire circumstances people faced; they were angry and rightly so – and you can’t erase the legacy of these problems. “A whole generation of groups can remain bitter.”

To philosophy Professor Joe Gonda, York’s personality can be traced back to the spirit of the times. “York began in the ’60s, and when you say the ’60s, what do you think of? Sex, drugs, rock and roll – and activism.” Those traits are in York’s DNA, says the philosopher. “It’s how it was born, just as people are born blond or six feet tall.”

These Sixties activists may have founded a school that can seem “chaotic” to outsiders, says Gonda, but inside, all this turmoil makes for lively dialogue, or what he says economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction". “We’re not the ‘Old Boys’ Network’ at York; we’re more like a cranky, fractious family.”

  • The ongoing strike at York University has become too much to bear for international student Ian Halstead, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 11. “Here I am not studying, paying rent and just looking for jobs to keep time. It’s not doing the best for me. People who are about to graduate are in a worse situation than we are.”

The third-year marketing student said the cost of being an international student is double that of Canadian students, which makes it crucial for foreign students to get back to their studies. An irritated Halstead said it has been a gruelling wait for foreign students who are trapped while their four-year visas burn out.

  • York University is asking the Ontario Ministry of Labour to step in and supervise a vote by striking workers on its latest offer, betting that a majority will agree to return to the classroom and end the labour dispute that has left the education of 50,000 students in limbo for more than two months, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 10.

The University’s request was made yesterday after the union, which represents contract faculty, tutorial assistants and graduate assistants, said it would not hold a vote on the offer voluntarily. The counter-offer it presented showed too little sign of progress, the University said.

“Any vote like this is a gamble,” York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said. “We have to do something, so let’s take it to the membership.”

Bilyk said the University has every intention of rearranging the academic year so that students can complete their fall and spring term, but he said if the strike continues beyond this month the summer session will be in danger.

The union, part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is advising members not to agree to the University’s proposed three-year deal, which includes a 9.25 per cent wage increase and improved benefits and job security.

“We are encouraging our members to reject this offer. It is inadequate,” union spokesperson Tyler Shipley said.

York University used the same tactic in a lengthy dispute eight years ago involving the same group of workers. At that time, the offer was accepted by contract faculty but rejected by tutorial assistants who subsequently negotiated a settlement.

The York contract is one of the most generous in the province and is widely seen by other locals as a benchmark for negotiations. The York workers also are looking for a two-year deal as part of an effort by CUPE to co-ordinate contracts on Ontario campuses to gain more clout through provincewide bargaining in 2010.

Now that a supervised vote has been requested, a representative of one student group urged union members to cast their votes.

“A good strong turnout will clarify things for everyone,” said Matthew Geigen-Miller, a spokesperson for, a group representing about 4,000 York students that has formed during the labour disruption.

He called on union members to vote on whether they believe the wage offer is fair and reasonable, rather than on a hypothetical offer that they think they can get if they remain on strike.

“Every day that they stay out, they are trampling on students, and hurting more students,” he said.

  • York University asked for the province’s help Friday in resolving a strike that has cancelled classes for 50,000 students since early November, a move that has angered the union for the striking workers, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 9.

The University requested that the Labour Ministry direct a supervised vote on offers made earlier this week – a request that cannot be denied under provincial labour law.

“There’s definitely no choice in the matter,” said Tyler Shipley, a spokesperson for CUPE Local 3903. Shipley said the union’s members are “frustrated and disappointed” the University has walked away from the bargaining table.

The University sees its request as a much-needed measure to resolving the strike.

A separate vote will be required for each of the three bargaining units of CUPE Local 3903, which represents about 950 contract faculty, 1,850 teaching assistants and 550 graduate assistants. A majority vote in favour of each contract offer would mean the end of the strike.

  • York University yesterday asked the provincial government to force a vote on its latest offer in a bid to end a 65-day-old strike by teaching assistants and contract faculty members, wrote the National Post Jan. 10.
  • Things were looking good for Ibrahim Sairafi after he received a full scholarship from the Saudi Arabian government to attend the university of his choice in Canada, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 10. The 24-year-old quickly selected York University for its good reputation in his field of study and its ideal location in Canada’s multicultural centre.

He moved to Toronto in October to kick-start his English-as-a-second-language studies, which he had to complete in December before he could be admitted into the Public Policy & Management program for a January start. His plans took a turn for the worse when York’s graduate students, contract faculty and teaching assistants went on strike Nov. 6.

“It was a new experience for me because I had never seen a strike before. I left my family and now I’m doing nothing. I cannot leave the country because I don’t know when the strike will end.”

Sairafi had to tell the Saudi government, which is paying his bills, why he wasn’t in school when classes had been scheduled to start Jan. 5. “I have a three-month deadline before they stop giving me money. I have to be doing university courses.”

The harsh Canadian winter was made worse by the strike. He has to walk across the sprawling campus, as TTC buses are not allowed past the pickets. “I come from a warm country. I had to walk everywhere from off campus to places on campus and it was freezing.”

Sairafi is looking into transferring to another school if classes don’t start soon. “My funding is for four years. If I don’t finish at a certain time, I will be paying out of my pocket.”

Unhappy as she may have been, Meagan Owen was starting to get used to the picket lines that have surrounded her Toronto residence since November, wrote The Kingston Whig-Standard Jan. 10.

That was until Thursday, when she saw a picket’s sign reading, “Quality Education.” It made her blood boil. “They’re telling people that they’re fighting for our quality of education", said Owen, 18, of Kingston. “Well, I don’t have an education right now. I haven’t been educated since Nov. 5. I’m paying for nothing. This is a really expensive vacation. I could go to Cuba for less and actually have fun.”

Owen’s feelings of frustration are widely shared among the 50,000 York University students who remain shut out of classes as a strike of teaching assistants drags on.

Freshly returned from a brief visit to family in Thunder Bay, Owen did not relish the prospect of continuing her Kingston exile.

“It’s not fun anymore,” she said. “For the first week we were all, like, ‘Oh yeah, this’ll be awesome, we’ll get a week off.’ Now it’s kind of redundant; we do the same thing every day – just wait for it to be over.”

  • In an effort to end a nine-week-old strike at York University, management is appealing to the Ministry of Labour to direct a supervised vote to members of CUPE 3903, wrote Jan. 9.
  • In the case of York University, it is difficult to see a win-win-win outcome in a strike that’s heading into its 10th week, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Jan. 12.

In this labour dispute, consumers don’t have the option of simply doing without a product or service, or seeking it elsewhere. Fees have already been paid and it’s too late in the academic year to switch schools. Students and their parents – many of whom are footing the bills – deserve to see some real movement in negotiations, some demonstrable progress toward a settlement.

The striking workers have been characterized by some in the blogosphere as greedy, given that the union rejected taking to its members the university’s most recent offer of 9.25 per cent in wage hikes over three years, benefit increases and an offer to create more full-time faculty positions. The union is pressing for more job security for contract faculty. The offer is going to a supervised vote on Friday.

The University, as a public sector employer under constant budget pressure, also isn’t winning any popularity contests, particularly with the very low-profile approach being taken by York President & Vice-Chancellor and former McMaster VP Mamdouh Shoukri.

Caught in the middle are the students – some 50,000 of them – who face huge uncertainty about how their academic year will play out as the strike grinds on.

The workers have the right to a fair, negotiated agreement. But that needs to happen sooner rather than later, given that it is the students who are losing the most through this dispute.

  • York University music student Chris Chekan has plenty of time to brush up on his saxophone skills but no professor to judge his progress, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 12.

“I came to York to study with (saxophone professor) Kelly Jefferson. The strike has prevented me from getting lessons. I can’t study with him outside of school because he would be breaking his contract.”

Chekan, 19, said all the professors are professional musicians who tour during the summer, making it difficult for the University to reschedule classes. “It’s definitely taking away from the learning experience. Two weeks without classes was okay but this is too much.”

  • Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 spokesperson, discussed the strike on 680News Radio, Radio Canada and CBC Radio (Toronto) Jan. 9.
  • Alex Bilyk, York director of media relations, and student Robert Berthiaume spoke about the strike on CityTV’s “Breakfast Television”, CTV, CP24-TV, CBC Television and Radio Canada (Toronto) Jan. 9, and on CFRB Radio Jan. 10.
  • Lyndon Koopmans, York student and organizer of, spoke about the strike on CityTV’s “Breakfast Television” and CFTO News Jan. 9.
  • Catherine Divaris, student, spoke about the strike on CFTO News Jan. 9.
  • Xavier Scott, CUPE 3903 picket captain, spoke about the strike on CityTV Jan. 9.

Election watchdog group bites back over report

Calls for municipal election campaign reform take centre stage today at Toronto City Hall, with a report on the 2006 election from VoteToronto, a volunteer watchdog group, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 12.

One highlight from the 2006 Toronto election shows a declining share of contributions from business – to less than 30 per cent in 2006 from 66 per cent in 2003 – offset by individual donors.

With the notable exception of Toronto and Ajax, the development industry was the most important financier of winning campaigns in the GTA, a key finding of a study prepared by York University political science professor Robert MacDermid.

Meanwhile, after coming under harsh attack from some members of the mayor’s executive committee last week – including a requirement that the city clerk vet its data – VoteToronto has sent a letter to the city defending the accuracy of its reports.

“Threats of censorship and suggestions of review by solicitors when citizens make public deputations before their councillors do a disservice to democracy…”, states MacDermid in the letter from VoteToronto.

  • Election campaigns in Toronto’s satellite municipalities are overwhelmingly bankrolled by corporate money, most of it from the same developers responsible for cascading sprawl in the region, new research suggests, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Jan. 12.

Robert MacDermid, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Arts, who is publishing a paper on the subject today, says the sheer amount of cash flowing from developers to incumbents – as opposed to coming from citizens who believe in a candidate’s platform – erodes the concept of democratic representation.

MacDermid contends all that money, combined with shortcomings in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act, hinder new candidates from office, especially those who oppose developers’ interests. “It reduces the choice that citizens actually have,” he said. “The difficulty with (a candidate) opposing development is that it’s hard to find enough money.”

Protesters slam ‘racist’ boycott plan

The furor over a proposed boycott of Israeli academics by the president of the province’s largest union evolved yesterday into an afternoon protest at CUPE Ontario’s head office wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 10, in a story about CUPE Ontario’s May 2006 resolution supporting boycotts, divestments and sanctions on Israeli businesses. At the protest, York University student Rachel Lichtman, 19, said, “I think it’s illegal, racist and violates a lot of parts of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

How Toronto went cold on subways

“I just don’t understand it and it’s driving me crazy,” says Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton Lawrence), who has emerged as city council’s most vocal supporter of expanding Toronto’s subway network. She frequently rides the Yonge subway to City Hall, wrote the National Post Jan. 10.

“When you think about the benefit of getting a subway for 50,000 students at York University, it blows my mind that they still haven’t started digging. They’ve spent the last two years moving hydro poles and letting contracts for stations.”

‘Stuff’ sells so well, I lose my seat

DecoRita is not trolling for hotties while picking through “antiques and uniques” at KarenFOUNDit at 588 Markham St. in Mirvish Village, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 10. But there they are, picking up a distressed white kitchen table from the ’50s priced at $75 and even the very theatre seats on which we are perched.

Proprietor Karen Wilson (BFA Spec. Hons. ’95) swears they are not ringers. Wilson is a former production designer in the film business and was responsible for getting props and building sets. Her shop is called KarenFOUNDit because she was “always finding stuff", she explains, as we paw through a selection of silver rings that her father made from old silverware.

They sell for $25 and York grad Rachel McAdams (BFA ’01) is an avid collector. Ryan Gosling, are you paying attention?

Wilson hails from Victoria Harbour, near Midland, and studied in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, painting and drawing.

Hockey team remembers York student Sanderson

Special opening ceremonies were held Friday morning prior to Game 1 of the midget BB round-robin between the host Belleville Bearcats and the Napanee Crunch at Wally Dever Arena, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Jan. 10. A commemorative No. 40 puck was dropped at centre ice by Kenzie Collecchio, stepsister of the late Don Sanderson for whom tournament organizers have dedicated this year’s event.

Sanderson died Jan. 2 at the age of 21 after almost three weeks in a coma. He struck his head on the ice during a fight in Brantford while playing Sr. A hockey for the Whitby Dunlops. (He wore No. 40 for the Dunlops.)

Sanderson’s father, Michael, coaches the Bearcats midget AA team and Don, who was attending York University in Toronto, would often drive down to Belleville to help run practices and pitch in behind the bench. “Don would be proud,” said Michael Sanderson at Friday’s opening ceremonies. “You couldn’t keep him away from the rink even if he had two broken legs.”

Region plays hardball with developers

Mark Winfield, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, agreed with Halton Region Chair Gary Carr that growth doesn’t pay for itself, but not because of new project capital costs, wrote the Oakville Beaver Jan. 9 in a story about Carr’s proposed freeze on development in the region.

“It’s the ongoing operational costs that are the real problem,” Winfield said. The Development Charges Act doesn’t allow municipalities to charge developers for servicing costs more than 10 years in the future, and that’s when things start to break down and require maintenance, he explained. The municipality has no other option, but to raise property taxes or user fees to cover those costs, he added.

Are we indifferent to racism?

York University Professor Kerry Kawakami of York’s Faculty of Health spoke to CTV News host Beverly Thomson on Jan. 9, about the study of racism she co-wrote.

Kawakami: I think that there’s a dual process happening within us. You know, like you say, on a controlled, deliberative level we think we are non-prejudiced. And we act for the most part in non-prejudiced ways. But I think we still harbour these more non-conscious, negative associations with blacks.

And so, when we’re in a situation where we don’t think about racism, when we don’t think we have to control these negative emotions, they sometimes leak out and influence the way we perceive and react to racism.

I think it’s important for people to be aware that they have possibly these more negative associations with blacks. And it might have explained why in a society in which we do encourage and favour multiculturalism and egalitarianism why racism still exists almost on a daily basis for many minorities.

  • Kawakami also spoke about her study on racism on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Jan. 9 and “Quirks and Quarks” Jan. 10. The study was also discussed on Hamilton’s CHAM-AM Radio, Thunder Bay’s CKPR-TV and Lloydminster, Sask.’s CKSA-TV Jan. 9.

Webster’s a best bet for better things yet

Playing women’s university hockey seemed like a tall order at first for valley product Kelsey Webster, but she’s equipped to handle it, wrote BC’s Cowichan News Leader And Pictorial Jan. 9.

The six-foot Webster, 22, has the skills to match her physical presence and continues making great strides in her fourth year at York University in Ontario.

Home for the holidays, Webster reflected on her development since leaving the valley and taking her game to a higher level. “Being on the ice every day, you get better and better,” she said.

After graduating from Cowichan Secondary School, Webster took a year off to play hockey and joined the Pacific Steelers team in Richmond. The Steelers went to a tournament in Brampton, Ont. and that’s where York coach Dan Church discovered Webster. “I was back in Vancouver when he contacted me,” said Webster. “Here I am four years later and he’s still my coach.”

A crack of light on our city sewers

Michael Cook, then a student in human geography at York University, started in 2003, a lush and wistful Web site that continues to explore drains and more in Toronto and beyond, exchanging bureaucratic sewer designations for romantically named journeys (the Wilson Heights Storm Trunk Sewer becomes “The Depths of Salvation”), wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 11 in a story about sewers. These writers make Toronto’s sewers seem as magical as Paris’s, whether it’s a late-Victorian brick tunnel in Trinity Bellwoods, or a mid-century concrete tunnel in North York.

On air

  • Ellen Gutterman, political science professor in York’s Glendon College, spoke about the conflict in the Middle East on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” Jan. 11.
  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the housing crunch in York Region, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Jan. 9.
  • Kyle Killian, professor in York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, and Anna Agathangelou, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about their new book Intercultural Couples: Exploring Diversity in Intimate Relationships on CFRB Radio Jan. 9.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the price of things on CBC-TV News Jan. 11.