Faculty members call on CUPE strikers to accept York deal

A group of 282 current and retired York University faculty members called on striking contract staff and teaching assistants yesterday to accept York’s latest offer, saying the continuing walkout "will damage the academic reputation of the University”, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 15

The open letter calls the offer "fair and reasonable, and consistent with the most recent agreements of other unionized employees at York."

The 3,300 striking CUPE Local 3903 members will vote Monday and Tuesday.

The union has many demands, including higher wages and increased job security for long time contract instructors. York’s offer includes a 10.5 per cent increase in wages and benefits over three years.

"It doesn’t address all their demands, but gosh, the demands are so unreasonable," said humanities Professor Bernie Lightman, of York’s Faculty of Arts, one of two professors who spearheaded the gathering of signatures.

"[The open letter] does generate a lot of bad feelings, it can be divisive…but everyone’s starting to feel very sympathetic to the students and I think that now has to be our first priority."

The union shrugged off the letter, and is "wholeheartedly" recommending its members reject the deal. "Everybody’s going to have their opinion, and far be it from me to tell [York faculty] what to think," union spokesperson Tyler Shipley said.  

  • Almost 300 current and retired York University faculty members are urging their striking colleagues to accept the latest contract offer, end their 10-week walkout and save the school’s reputation, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 15.

The petition with 282 signatures is addressed to 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants off the job since Nov. 6 who are to vote on the offer Monday and Tuesday.

"The contract that they have been offered is one of the best in Canada. We think what they are getting is more than fair and equitable, given the economic circumstances," one signatory, Professor Bernie Lightman of the Faculty of Arts, said in an interview.

The petition says a prolonged strike would further damage York’s academic reputation by diminishing the perceived quality of its graduate and undergraduate degrees.

Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 is urging members to reject the offer, saying a deal should be struck at the bargaining table.

  • Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy says he’ll consider adjustments to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to help York University students if their academic year is extended, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 15.

"We’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves but what I’m saying is that if there is extension over the time frame that students need to study, that we’ll certainly look at how the student assistance can support them, the existing programs can support those students," Milloy said in a televised interview.

OSAP helps students cover tuition, books and living costs. A ministry spokesman said no details have been finalized.

The York University administration may opt to extend the school year for 50,000 students who have been out of class since early November due to a strike by contract faculty and teaching and graduate assistants, wrote the Sun.

  • The students at York University have waited long enough, wrote the Waterloo Region Record in an editorial Jan. 15.

The University administration is to be commended for having taken a gamble and asked the province for permission to bypass the union and have striking workers vote on their latest offer. That vote takes place next Monday and Tuesday, and the University is saying classes could resume as early as Thursday if it is ratified.

At what point is the province willing to intervene in this dispute? The minister responsible for universities, Kitchener’s own John Milloy, has said he doesn’t want to intervene in a dispute at an autonomous institution and that he would like the collective bargaining process to continue unfolding.

That is, on the surface, a reasonable position. So too is the union’s determination to reverse what it sees as a growing trend to "casualize" labour with short-term contracts. But the parties need to consider the harsh realities of the real world. Contract labour is a growing trend everywhere, not just for university faculty. There is a global recession on, and universities, like many other employers, are simply not able to draw on endless pots of money. Given current realities, York’s offer is reasonable. So too was its suggestion to submit to binding arbitration.

Regardless of the outcome of next week’s ratification vote, the province must ask itself if it is reasonable to sit on its hands, when it spends more than $5 billion a year on postsecondary education, and when Ontario has an interest in having an educated populace able to meet the challenges of what the ministry calls a "knowledge" society. York’s students have paid a high enough price already.

  • Three York University students used their time off Monday to stir up a heated discussion about who is to blame for the strike that has left the institution’s 50,000 students locked out, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 15.

The school looked like a ghost town yesterday with only a few students strolling down the empty hallways. With no classes to attend, fourth-year English student Jahida Siddiqui and her friends, Sulaiman Tabesh and Garry Sran, both master’s students in the economics program, converged outside Scott Library in the heart of the school to talk about the strike.

"I think it’s affecting everyone, whether they’re undergraduate or graduate students," Siddiqui said. "I’m not angry at anyone in particular. It’s just been going longer than it should."

Siddiqui said having the strike go on so long will affect the overall perception of the institution. Prospective students might be worried about facing a similar fate when another contract has to be negotiated in a few years.

"It’s like two divorcing parents and the children are placed in the middle. When we get back to classes they’re going to be cramming everything down our throats and we’re going to be suffering even more."

Tabesh said teaching assistants are also suffering from missed classes, not to mention the backlash and criticism they have faced for walking off the job. Sran said settling for anything York offers at the bargaining table could be detrimental to the leverage of the union in future negotiations.

"The decisions and actions we take are going to have a ripple effect on unions across the country," Sran said. "Nobody wants this to end faster than we do. We can’t even meet our PhD (application) deadlines anymore." 

  • Candice Pike, teaching assistant at York, spoke about the strike on CBC Radio in Corner Brook, Nfld. Jan. 14.
  • Krisna Saravanamuttu, vice-president equity, York Federation of Students, spoke about the YFS relief fund being set up to assist students affected by the strike Jan. 14.
  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, spoke about the strike on CFMT-TV’s “Studio Aperto” Jan. 14.

York grad held out for a job in her field

When Caryl Registe (BAS Spec. Hons. ’04) moved to Canada from Dominica in 2006, she seemed to have everything going for her – on paper, at least, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 15.

She had studied business administration and management in the Caribbean and then, between 2001 and 2004, earned an honours degree from York University with a major in human resources. She went home for two years to get some HR experience before returning here in 2006 as an immigrant.

She applied for "a zillion" jobs but every door in her chosen field was closed to her. "I searched for nine months. Most of the applications, I didn’t even get a reply to." Most organizations, she says, wanted to hire from within, especially at a certain level. "They may hire an HR administrative assistant from outside but higher than that and they want someone who has grown up in the organization."

A lot of people told her she should take whatever job she could get. But Registe had been partnered with a mentor through the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council and he advised her to hold out as long as she could for what she really wanted. Meanwhile, she attended job fairs, did volunteer work – "it’s all Canadian experience," she says – and fine-tuned her resumé.

Since May 2007, she has worked in human resources for Legal Aid Ontario, a job she loves. Registe urges employers to step outside established networks and study applicants’ resumés for "the story they tell…of work ethic, tenacity and loyalty."

York prof comments on Orillia’s creative class

In a 2008 Pembina Institute study, ranking "community sustainability", one of Orillia’s downfalls was its sparse "tech index" and "creative class", Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, told the Orillia Packet & Times Jan. 15.

Stratford ‘s Shakespearean theatre festival has been the small city’s big enabler, also a conduit to a more knowledge-based and service-oriented economy, Winfield noted.

Blessed with its geography and a new university, the right attitude can help Orillians and visitors rediscover the Sunshine City in a new light, said the Packet. The Mariposa Folk Festival did just that a decade ago.

OHL institutes game misconduct, suspension for removing helmet to fight

The Ontario Hockey League has instituted a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension for players who remove their helmets or undo their chinstraps before or during fights, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 14 in a story that referred to the death of York student Don Sanderson.

The OHL previously fined a team $100 when a player took off his helmet to fight. But when 21-year-old defenceman Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops died Jan. 2 after striking his head on the ice during an on-ice fight, OHL commissioner David Branch said his league had to look at stiffer sanctions. Sanderson struck the back of his head on the ice when his helmet fell off during a fight Dec. 12. The York University student went into a coma, underwent brain surgery and was moved to life support until his death.

Artspace exhibition opens tomorrow

An exhibition by Joseph Kohnke and Karen Kazmer (MFA ’82): Hollow/Shallow opens the new year exhibition season at Artspace tomorrow, wrote The Peterborough Examiner Jan. 15. The exhibition runs until Feb. 26 at the 378 Aylmer St. N. gallery.

In Kohnke’s Hollow, 15 harmonicas are played by mechanized units resembling human lips while Kazmer’s Shallow, an inflated cloud-like sculpture, reacts to the movement of the viewer by shifting and twitching as it is being approached.

Born in the Chicago area, Kazmer studied at Loyola University, University of British Columbia and York University. Her work centres on mixed media installations and public art that address issues of the body and social spaces.

York graduate student’s study looks at racial profiling

A report calls on the Ottawa Police Service to acknowledge the practice of racial profiling, but the force’s director who oversees diversity programs says there is "absolutely and categorically" no internal policy that promotes racial profiling, wrote The Ottawa Sun Jan. 15.

While the report author applauds the police force for trying to bridge the gap between minority communities, he believes the force needs to "take more of a leadership role" in addressing perceived racial profiling. "I definitely want to see the Ottawa Police Service go from just talking to be more vigorous in their effort," Sulaimon Giwa said.

David Pepper, Ottawa police’s director of community development, said the "scourge" of racism in many community organizations, including police agencies, has been acknowledged and it’s not tolerated.

Giwa said proof of racial profiling in Ottawa comes from anecdotal accounts, including two high-profile cases that provided a springboard for the two-year research project.

Giwa, a York University PhD student who wrote the final report based on research he coordinated between 2006 and 2008, is concerned the police force might be assigning responsibility to individual officers who might racially profile rather than accepting the problem at an institutional level. "We think that’s problematic because these individuals represent the Ottawa Police Service to the citizens," Giwa said.

Giwa’s project, called Community Policing – A Shared Responsibility, aimed to foster a closer relationship between Ottawa police and minority communities. It included workshops, conferences, discussions with minority youths and questionnaires.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about his latest study on municipal election campaign financing on Oshawa’s CHEX-TV2 Jan. 14.