York staff to vote over two days

The strike at York University could end a week from tomorrow if part-time professors and teaching assistants accept the latest offer at a secret-ballot vote on Monday and Tuesday, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 14.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said yesterday that if both contract faculty and teaching assistants accept the offer next week, classes could resume as early as Thursday, with the final decision to be made by the executive committee of York’s Senate.

But leaders of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 are urging members to "kill the rat" – the "ratification" vote the province is conducting at a North York hotel among all 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants. Instead, they want to hammer out a deal at the bargaining table.

"This is a week spent waiting when we could have been at the table negotiating a settlement," said union spokesperson Tyler Shipley yesterday at a "kill the rat" rally on campus of about 60 strikers. 

  • Dr. Maliha Parveen might not get the chance to see her daughter start her first week of university classes in Canada, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 14. The mother, along with her younger daughter, made the trip from Bangladesh to see her eldest daughter, Farah Billah, 18, start her first week of classes as a first-year sociology student at York University. The family was surprised to discover on their arrival in Toronto last week that classes were on hold because of the strike at the school. When Billah attended orientation at the school last Friday, she received the heart-wrenching news that her semester might be at jeopardy.

"They (York) told us that they don’t know when the classes are going to start," Billah said. "Basically, I know there is a strike going on but I really don’t have a slight idea about it. The negative side is there is a delay in starting the classes and the positive side is I’m getting the time to get set in this environment."

Billah said she’s worried about managing when her family leaves if classes have not begun, but she remains optimistic about the year and will use her free time to learn more about Toronto. "I only applied to York University, so it’s my only option."

Her mother expressed concern about how Billah will cope when she moves into residence on an isolated and lonely York campus. The mother said it won’t be easy for her to leave when the family has to return to Bangladesh in two weeks. "I’m very much worried about when the courses are going to start," she said. "She’s under tremendous stress."

  • An Opposition demand to recall the Ontario legislature to order an end to the strike at York University was dismissed yesterday when the government said it preferred the two sides reach a negotiated settlement, wrote The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press Jan. 14.

The 3,300 striking contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at the Toronto university will vote on the latest contract offer Monday and Tuesday in secret ballots arranged by the Labour Ministry.

Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman said students can’t afford to wait another week to find out whether the striking staff will accept the deal and return to work. "The strike has to be ended now, and it has to be ended by the legislature of Ontario," Shurman said. "This is a situation without end unless the government gets involved and ends the strike legislatively."

However, a spokesperson for Premier Dalton McGuinty said the government still thinks the best contract settlement will come from negotiations, a position echoed by John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities. "I appreciate the frustration of the parents and the students," Milloy said in an interview. "I’ve urged and encouraged both sides to resolve it as quickly as possible, and we continue to do that."

Shurman said he was worried the school year could be lost if the politicians don’t step in soon to end the walkout, now in its 10th week. "I believe that it is in jeopardy, but I can’t get anybody – and I’m well connected to the University – to give me a drop-dead date," he complained. "It looks like we’re approaching it, and I’m talking about within the month of January."

Shurman called the situation urgent, and said at the very least the government should force an end to the strike and send both sides to binding arbitration.

The University is working on plans to extend the school year if necessary so all students can complete their courses, wrote the Globe.

  • Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government should recall the Ontario legislature to put an immediate end to the York University strike, Conservative MPP Peter Shurman says, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 14. But Shurman said there’s no certainty that it will be accepted and the strike will be 11-weeks-old by that point, possibly jeopardizing the school year for 50,000 students.

Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy said the government has been encouraging both sides in the labour dispute to come to an agreement. "The situation at York is very concerning; it’s obviously affecting so many students and their families," Milloy said. "Unfortunately, one of the byproducts of a collective bargaining system is that you have these disruptions but we’re going to push both sides to resolve this as quickly as possible."

Milloy did not support a return of the legislature to deal with the matter, noting that universities are independent bodies who must negotiate agreements with their staff. "That’s the way these issues are resolved," he said. "I understand how frustrating it must be for the parents and for the students involved."

  • A supervised vote on York University’s latest settlement offer has been set for next Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 19 and 20) at the Novotel Hotel near the North York Civic Centre where 3,400 union members will decide whether further negotiations are necessary to end a 10-week-old strike, wrote insidetoronto.com Jan. 13.

The University made the request last Friday to the Ministry of Labour after the bargaining team for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903, representing contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants, didn’t agree to hold a ratification vote for its membership.

But CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley said that 90 per cent of the 500 members who came out to the last general membership meeting rejected the administration’s latest offer, posted last Wednesday. "We’re still going to reject this offer," said Shipley, who attended a rally Tuesday afternoon where union members protested what they called a forced ratification vote by the administration. The picketers carried signs that read, "Kill the rat" and "Don’t ratify a bad deal" to encourage all union members to vote against the offer currently on the table

But Shipley said a vote against ratifying the current deal would send a strong message to the University. "Then I think you’ll see negotiations go very quickly," he said. "We’re doing everything we can to reach out to our members."

Meanwhile, the York Federation of Students (YFS) has created a special relief fund for any of the 50,000 undergraduate students facing financial difficulties due to the ongoing labour dispute. The YFS will allocate $40,000 into the fund with undergraduate students in financial distress eligible for up to $100 in relief.

"As a result of the current labour dispute between York University and CUPE 3903, undergraduate students have suffered financially due to the cancellation of academic activities," said Krisna Saravanamuttu, YFS vice-president of equity. "For instance, international students have had to postpone or reschedule visits back home thereby placing significant financial burdens on their lives." Students who had jobs on campus but were laid off because of the strike would also be eligible to apply for the relief fund. "The relief fund will provide greatly needed assistance to undergraduate students, but the most important thing is to get them back into their classrooms," Saravanamuttu said.

  • Tyler Shipley, spokesperson for CUPE 3903, spoke about the strike on Radio Canada (Toronto) Jan. 13.
  • Paige Eden, student, spoke about the strike on CBC Television (Toronto) Jan. 13. She and her mother also discussed the matter on Barrie’s A Channel Jan. 13.

Ontario universities expect sharp rise in applications

Demand for freshman spots at Ontario universities is expected to hit its highest level since the double cohort this year, just as schools across the province are cutting budgets, freezing salaries and putting the brakes on new hiring, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 14.

At York University, where a lengthy strike has prompted some to advise would-be students and their families to steer clear, Rob Tiffin, the school’s vice-president of students, says the administration has been monitoring application activity very closely, but so far has not seen any differences from past years.

Osgoode constitutional experts back call for single securities regulator

Based on strictly legal terms, Canada’s top Constitutional experts back Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s efforts to create a single securities regulator in Canada, wrote the Natonal Post & the Edmonton Journal Jan. 14. Peter Hogg, former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was an adviser to the Hockin panel, and he gave his approval to the panel’s draft legislation setting up the revamped scheme.

Also sharing the same view is Patrick Monahan, the current Osgoode dean. He said Ottawa has considerable scope under the trade and commerce powers contained in the 1867 BNA Act. "I don’t think there’s any doubt that the federal Parliament has the authority to establish a national securities regulator, and if it were tested in court, I have little doubt the courts would uphold federal legislation."

Largest field yet vies for Globe mug

Our university student entrant this year, Suraj Gupta, 18, an undergrad at York University’s Schulich School of Business, has picked beleaguered insurance behemoth American International Group, Inc., wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 14 in a story about its annual stock-picking contest.

"I chose AIG because after some calculations I believe their net asset value to be about $7 a share. I think the company itself is in bad shape even after the bailout, but after the amount of money the US government has invested in AIG to keep it afloat, I don’t see it going under any time soon. That being said, it is going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know if 12 months is adequate recovery time for the large investment return I am hoping for. However I am taking a gamble!"

Many newcomers have no real home

Nearly 30 per cent of immigrant owners and 38 per cent of renters were spending more than half their income on housing in 2001, higher numbers than Toronto and dramatically higher than Canadian-born families in York, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 14 in a story about a York professor’s latest study.

"These are people at risk of losing their homes," said Valerie Preston, professor of geography in York’s Faculty of Arts and first author of the study. "A rise in interest rates, a change in employment and they can no longer afford their homes.

Ninety per cent of immigrants in York Region in 2001 were homeowners, a "risky strategy", the study says. Because no rental housing has been built in 25 years and the Region has the lowest proportion of rental housing (12 per cent) in the GTA, home ownership is often the only alternative, even if it’s "unaffordable", the study said. "Many homeowners (are) doubling up, taking in boarders and still they can’t manage," said Preston.

Toronto politicians do not rely on corporate campaign donations

Toronto’s "dysfunctional" council – with its partisan in-fighting and two-day meetings – may be the best thing going in the Greater Toronto Area when it comes to separating the influence of the development industry from the floor of council, wrote insidetoronto.com Jan. 13. Those were the findings of Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in “Funding City Politics”, a paper looking at the extent to which corporations finance municipal elections.

"It’s a contrast between the suburbs and the City of Toronto itself, and it’s huge," he said. "First there’s Toronto’s greater political diversity – but it’s also from the fact that the city has led on a number of campaign finance reforms, and some members of council have led in suggesting that they didn’t want to accept corporate donations."

MacDermid said it’s important to dispense with those donations, not because he uncovered any evidence of open corruption but because developers tended to select candidates that represented their interest rather than community interests. "The danger is that what this process does is winnows the views of likely winners," said MacDermid. "It narrows the options that people have to vote for, and narrows the kinds of candidates that put themselves in front of us."

On air

  • Stephen Newman, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke on CTV Newsnet about the US Senate’s confirmation hearing for Hillary Clinton’s appointment as US secretary of state Jan. 13.
  • Kerry Kawakami, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about her recent study on racism on Radio Canada International Jan. 13.
  • Robert McDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about his latest study of campaign donations in municipal elections, on CFMT-TV Jan. 13.