York is taking a stand to protect its academic and financial future, says Shoukri

Striking teaching assistants and contract faculty at York University have voted to reject a three-year deal, leaving in limbo the fate of 50,000 students who have been out of class for more than two months, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 21.

The vote, requested by the University and supervised by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, was greeted as a major victory by the union, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The union had recommended rejecting the deal. A total of 69 per cent of its 3,300 striking members cast a vote, with a total of 63 per cent voting no.

"We’re obviously pleased," union spokesperson Tyler Shipley said. "This is a very clear indication from our membership across all three units that the offer on the table was inadequate."

For students, the rejection certainly means more uncertainty and missed classes. The union is asking for a return to the bargaining table by 1pm today, but the demand was flatly rejected by the University’s president last night.

"We are not going back to the bargaining table…. York is taking a stand to protect its academic and financial future," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, speaking at a press conference with union members pounding at the door, some shouting "shame." Police had to be called in when University staff and union members got into a shoving match.

The president said that those who believe a no vote would lead to concessions by the University are "seriously mistaken", and that the University would not resume bargaining until it sees significant movement from the union.

"I believe that we are at an impasse and the full summer [academic] term is now in jeopardy," he said, before leaving through a back staircase. "I do urge CUPE Local 3903 to step back from the brink…. We have nothing to offer."

Shoukri has been criticized for his low profile during the strike. He said he’s held two public meetings and been on campus daily, since the strike began.

The labour action has damaged the school’s reputation and resulted in a 15 per cent drop in the number of high-school students selecting it as their first choice for university in September.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk, director of media relations, 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.

Each of the three striking units voted down the contract last night. Teaching assistants voted 61.7 per cent against the deal, contract faculty 59.3 per cent against and research assistants 70 per cent against.

As the dispute drags on, students and their parents have become increasingly frustrated. Several online groups have formed, some urging the province to pass back-to-work legislation.

"Obviously we are not happy that the strike is continuing, but we accept that the members have voted," said Matthew Geigen-Miller, an undergraduate student and spokesperson for YorkNotHostage.com, a group representing about 4,000 York students that formed during the labour disruption.

The group is now calling for intense bargaining to a set deadline that could include binding arbitration. If a contract isn’t reached in one week, Geigen-Miller said, his group will begin pushing for back-to-work legislation. "It’s Day 76 of the strike, and the idea that this could drag on for even a handful of weeks at this point is something that students just can’t accept," he said last night.

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 coordinate contracts on Ontario campuses to gain more clout through provincewide bargaining in 2010.

  • School is still out at York University after striking staff rejected a settlement offer from administrators, wrote the National Post Jan. 21.

The president & vice-chancellor of York, in a rare public appearance, said he does not expect it to return any time soon. "We’ve reached an impasse," Mamdouh Shoukri said. "We cannot improve the offer without jeopardizing our academic and economic position."

A total of 1,466 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, which represents teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty, voted no to the University’s offer – a margin of 63 per cent. All three units rejected the deal.

A small group of members erupted in cheers when Tyler Shipley, the union spokesperson, announced the results. "It’s a clear statement to the University that this offer was inadequate and the process was disrespectful. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve wasted 10 days of our time," he said. "I’m proud of our members for standing up to the pressure they faced from the administration. We’ll be waiting for them at the bargaining table at 1pm tomorrow."

But York University will not be meeting him there. "There will be no negotiations for the sake of appearances," Shoukri said. "CUPE members who believed a no vote would cause York University to bow to their demands are mistaken." He said the summer term is now in serious danger.

The University claimed the deal, which includes a wage and benefits increase of 10.7 per cent, represented a reasonable offer, especially in light of the current economic situation in Canada and around the world. But CUPE dismissed it, highlighting what they see as inadequate job security for contract faculty, who must reapply for positions at the start of each academic year.

Under the terms of the offer, in the next three years, the University promised to create 17 new teaching positions with five-year contracts plus five tenure-stream conversions. CUPE asked instead for 15 of the more prestigious and better-paid tenure conversions in the next two years.

Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, says students are worried about the damage the strike has done to the reputation of the University, as well as the more personal impact it has had on their finances and education. "We just want to get back to school," he said. "It’s been so frustrating for all the students. Nobody thought it would ever get into an eleventh week."

  • It is now either up to Queen’s Park to take the unusual step of ordering strikers back or both sides to reach a bargaining breakthrough that has eluded them for months, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 21.

"All we can ask is that the government step in. There is no other option now for students," said kinesiology major Catherine Divaris, co-founder of a student anti-strike Facebook group. "This strike has already gone on 76 days and I’m afraid this strike could go till the end of the year," Divaris said last night.

Sixty-nine per cent of union members turned out for the two-day vote, which was requested by the University and conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

"This is a clear indication across all three units that the offer from the University was inadequate," said CUPE spokesperson Tyler Shipley. "We expect the University to meet us back at the bargaining table at 1pm Wednesday, so we can bargain a settlement that is fair for our members and secondary education."

Progressive Conservative Party Leader John Tory last night demanded the Liberals immediately step in and end the strike. "If McGuinty had one minute of consideration for the students and their families he would be convening the legislature immediately and making sure that classes were back on stream on Monday, not later."

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri said last night the union vote almost certainly means the academic year will stretch into June or July.

Tension broke out when union members tried to force themselves into his press conference following the vote. Police were called in, but no charges were laid.

Shoukri called the vote "a major disappointment that only prolongs the uncertainty for our students and their families." He said the University will not return to the bargaining table today, despite the union’s invitation to do so. "I believe we are at an impasse," said Shoukri in his first public statement since the strike began Nov. 6, "and the full summer term is in jeopardy now and fall and winter terms likely will extend into June and even July. I realize this will have a negative impact on the ability of our students to earn summer income."

Shoukri insisted the University’s offer of a 9.25 per cent wage increase over three years and improved benefits and job security is "our best offer." He called upon union members to "step back from the brink and settle matters responsibly," by making significant changes to their demands.

The University’s latest offer would also have enriched benefits and created a new category of teachers who would have a five-year contract, rather than having to apply for their jobs each year. However, the union said there remained too little job security and too few full-time job opportunities for the 900 members who are part-time or "contract faculty".

  • "The membership of this union has stood strong against an employer who has done the bare minimum in terms of bargaining and who has refused to recognize our key demands during a strike that has so far lasted 77 days," said a statement on CUPE 3903’s Web site last night, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 21.

The proposed contract offered increases in pay and other benefits totalling 15.8 per cent over two years.

According to the union, the main issue during negotiations has been job security for contract staff.

York officials maintained their latest offer couldn’t be stretched. "We know this is extremely hard on our students," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri in a statement posted on York’s Web site last night. "At the same time we simply cannot sacrifice the University’s long-term academic future, or its financial stability, for short-term goals. Nor are we prepared to subject our students to another strike in 2010."

  • An 11-week strike that has shut down Toronto’s York University will continue after union members rejected the school’s latest offer during a forced vote on the issue, wrote CBCNews.ca Jan. 21.

"This result is not a surprise. We told York’s administration that they were wasting everyone’s time by forcing us to vote on an inadequate offer but they insisted on putting us through this expensive and time-consuming process," Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 spokesperson, said in a press release.

The offer was nearly identical to one rejected by 90 per cent of the 500 union members who showed up to a general meeting two weeks ago, union leaders have said.

Preparations are now underway to reduce or even cancel the summer term as the two parties have reached an impasse, York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri said in a release late Tuesday.

"I will be working with the deans and…executive to prepare plans to further extend the academic calendar to ensure that students complete their fall and winter terms. This will mean reducing or, if need be, cancelling the summer term."

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday he was waiting for results of the vote before deciding whether to call back the legislature to force an end to the strike at Canada’s third-largest university.

The Liberals must intervene as soon as possible, Progressive Conservative Party Leader John Tory said late Tuesday. "Dalton McGuinty must act now," Tory said. "He should move to immediately recall the legislature, introduce back-to-work legislation and save what is left of this school year for York University students. Not doing so would be irresponsible, disrespectful and would further compromise the education these students, their parents and taxpayers have already paid for," Tory added.

In a statement posted on CUPE 3903’s strike Web site Tuesday night, contract professor Elizabeth Brule explained the logic behind her unit’s "no" vote. "We are fully qualified professors at an institution of higher learning and, despite all of our years of experience, we are still forced to reapply for every single course we teach," she said. "How are we supposed to budget for mortgage payments and child care when we have no idea what our income will be from session to session?"

  • York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri said the vote puts the summer term in jeopardy, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 20. “We made it clear before the vote that we were making a fair, reasonable and comprehensive offer to settle the contract,” Shoukri said in a release. “We know this is extremely hard on our students. I will be working with the deans and Senate executive to prepare plans to further extend the academic calendar to ensure that students complete their fall and winter terms.”
  • York President & Vice Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri spoke about the latest developments in the strike on CFRB Radio Jan. 21.
  • Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, and Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 spokesperson, discussed the current state of contract negotiations on CBC Radio Jan. 20.

Exchange students just want to talk

French exchange student Sebastien Da Silva was anxious to arrive in Canada so he could socialize with York University students to improve his English, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 21. Instead, Da Silva was shocked to find a campus resembling a ghost town rather than the vibrant social atmosphere he was planning to take advantage of during his winter semester visit to York.

Da Silva, 20, along with his schoolmate Mathieu D’archivio, 21, both arrived in Toronto two weeks ago to kick-start their studies at the York University English Language Institute, whose faculty is not on strike.

As well as taking classes, "We wanted to speak with Canadian people to improve our English, but there is not a lot of people on campus," said Da Silva, who along with D’archivio is a first-year business student from Paris-based business school Negocia.

To make things worse, the strike has robbed the University of its usually vibrant party scene and Da Silva says that’s made it harder to meet new people. "I wanted to attend a Canadian university party," Da Silva said. "The University is not what I expected. It’s a little boring."

Even full-time York students like second-year human resources student Glynis Lobo, 22, are feeling the effects of the dead social scene caused by the strike that started Nov. 6. "It’s going to affect me because right now I don’t study. It’s annoying…I think the government needs to come in right now," Lobo said.

‘I have never been so proud’

Today is the Hon. Lincoln Alexander‘s 87th birthday, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 21. No need to buy him a present. He got that yesterday. "After a day of ceremony this is the first full day on the job for a black president," the man of firsts himself [an Osgoode Hall Law School grad and York honorary degree recipient (LLB ’53, LLD ’90)] said with glee. "It is something I would never thought I would see in my lifetime."

He, and the whole world, saw it yesterday when President Barack Obama was sworn in as the United States of America’s 44th president. "You bet I am emotional," he said. "I have been emotional all week. I have never been so proud of anything," said Alexander. "You have to remember 50 years ago they were hanging black people by the neck in trees. And we couldn’t go and get a drink from the water fountain."

York grad becomes nightly news anchor

Tara Overholt (BA Hons. ’01) will move from weekend news anchor at London’s local television station ‘A’, to the 11pm time slot, Monday to Friday, beginning in February, wrote The London Free Press Jan. 21.

The St. Catharines native has been with ‘A’ since 2002, working as a sports reporter for four years before moving to news. Overholt will also be the host of a new 6pm-segment, moderating online forums on local issues. It’s designed to increase interactivity with viewers.

Overholt graduated from a joint York University and Seneca College program, receiving a bachelor’s degree in communications and sociology, as well as a diploma in radio-television journalism.

Multi-employer pension plans touted

A task force headed by Harry Arthurs, former president & vice-chancellor of York University, concluded in November that Ontario should encourage the creation of larger pension plans such as multiemployer plans, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 21. Research shows they typically have higher returns, pay lower fees on their investments and manage risk better to provide more stable funding for workers, wrote the Globe in a story about remarks on the same subject made by John Crocker, president & chief executive officer of the Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), at a pension symposium.

Future of the NHL could rest in Europe, says York prof

Detlev Zwick, a professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, sees Europe as the National Hockey League’s best hope, believing the North America sports market to be saturated, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 21.

"They have to look at Europe, and yes, there are lots of logistical problems that come into play," said Zwick. "But it’s sort of inevitable from a corporate perspective. They need to develop new markets if they want to see real growth in their league."

The NHL also has its reputation at stake as the world’s premier hockey league. It faces a direct threat from the Kontinental Hockey League, the former Russian super league that has pan-European aspirations. "They’re not going to stay in Russia," said Zwick. "They’re going to look at the wealthy markets in central Europe and Western Europe. Sooner or later they’re going to extend their reach; they’re not going to consider themselves a Russian league."

"For the NHL, growth to Europe is not just a development move but also a defensive move," said Zwick. "The NHL should…move aggressively to prevent a second league from emerging, one that has real clout, drawing players and paying salaries that are comparable, therefore taking a little bit away from the NHL. On several levels, the NHL may not have a choice if they are to maintain their premier position as the best hockey in the world."

Change is just beginning

Car crashes are typically the stuff of traffic reports. Yet the crash dominating media reports entails the entire North American auto industry and multi-billion-dollar government bailouts in the United States and Canada, wrote Bernard Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in the National Post Jan. 20.

For the industry as a whole, this crash is a cyclical phenomenon, generated in part by the loss of consumer confidence. Its roots lie in declining wealth, job losses and scarcer credit. After 9-11, consumers responded enthusiastically to the many incentives to buy – and this, in conjunction with good times in the housing and financial markets, created a boom time that has now gone bust.

For Canada, the vast majority of output is exported to the US market, so the abrupt decline in auto sales has devastated the Canadian industry. GM, Ford and Chrysler are also suffering structural problems. For years, they have been losing market share in North America to Japanese-based producers and more recently to Korean-based companies. All three have been left with substantial excess capacity. In the mid-1990s, the Detroit Three had a market share of more than 70 per cent; today it stands at just over 40 per cent, wrote Wolf.

Toronto in line for Pan Am athletes’ village if Games bid successful

The final submission for the Golden Horseshoe 2015 Pan Am Games bid is still a few months away but, if the bid is successful, the city of Toronto could be in line for one of the biggest prizes, wrote CBCNews.ca Jan. 20.

In anticipation of winning the Games, the organizing committee will release within the next few weeks a list of where the hundreds of millions of dollars for new athletic and housing facilities would be spent.

But the biggest prize would be the athletes’ village, and one source has told CBC News that the village would be built in Toronto, either on the West Don Lands or at York University.

The total cost of the village would be close to $1 billion.

The Golden Horseshoe bid is up against three South American cities: Bogotá, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela; and Lima, Peru. If the Ontario bid is successful, construction could start in the spring of 2010.

Developers dish out campaign cash

York Region has long had a reputation for being developer friendly, but a new study shows just how deeply involved the industry is in our political process, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun Jan. 16.

Campaign donations give developers too much influence in the planning of cities and towns, according to "Funding City Politics", a study released last week by York University Professor Robert MacDermid of the Faculty of Arts. “The development industry is by far the most important financier of the majority of winning candidates’ campaigns,” his report states. The pattern is not seen in the same proportions at the provincial and federal levels – where party politics dominate – raising questions about how influential developers are when planning decisions are made and how urban sprawl is perpetuated by the election process.

“This is an old problem. Should citizens worry? Yes, because if you think campaign financing reflects who councillors represent then citizens are getting the short end of the stick here. Councillors appear to be representing, if their financing is any guide, developers and not citizens,” MacDermid said in an interview. There is plenty of evidence to support his report, MacDermid said. “Time and time again I came across citizen groups that were in opposition of development plans and time and time again they were ignored,” MacDermid said.

MacDermid said while there aren’t parties in municipal politics, developers operate much like a political party. “You could argue there is a party in municipal politics and that’s the party of developers. And if you look at how developers scout out candidates they concentrate their support behind and how they create publicity around the need for development they act in many ways like a party. There’s stunning similarities there,” MacDermid said.

  • If money talks in normal life, it shouts in politics, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 20 in an editorial. So corporate donors can expect to be well heard when they provide 77 per cent of campaign contributions going to municipal politicians, as they do in Pickering, or 63 per cent, as they do in Vaughan.

In Toronto, only about 12 per cent of municipal election contributions come from corporate sources. But in the rest of the GTA, the figure is 54 per cent. That finding, by York University Professor Robert MacDermid, of York’s Faculty of Arts, is cause for concern.

With corporate donors – mainly developers – supporting those already in office, it is hard for new candidates to challenge an incumbent. And, although the politicians deny it, a nagging suspicion remains that the donations tilt municipal councils in favour of developers’ interests.

When it comes to campaign financing rules, Ontario in 2009 is a backwater. Renewed commitment to the principles espoused by Liberals back in 2003, when they were in opposition, would be one way to change that, at both the municipal and provincial levels.

York defence expert says Canadian firm is swimming upstream

Defence experts are pouring cold water on Viking Air Ltd.’s informal bid to build fixed-wing search-and-rescue airplanes to replace the aging Buffalos now in use by the Canadian armed forces, wrote Vancouver Island, BC’s Business ExaminerJan. 19.

And Martin Shadwick of York University’s Centre for International & Security Studies says that while Viking’s proposal will appeal to Canadian politicians because it involves several hundred manufacturing jobs in Canada (many of them in Victoria), it is problematic on several other levels.

Lending Curtis’s claim credibility is the fact that Viking has just begun manufacturing Twin Otters, having bought the rights to it and other out-of-production work planes from De Havilland.

“The Otter gives Viking instant credibility,” admits Shadwick. “But doing the same with the Buffalo would be a much more complex task. And it would be coming late into a market already occupied by well-established competitors.” Department of National Defence planners will be cautious, says Shadwick, about dealing with a company that has few other customers for a plane, since developing the Buffalo will cost far more than the Canadian government’s modest order could pay for.

Uncreative but certainly not uninteresting

New York artist Kenneth Goldsmith is pursuing a career of postmodern paradoxes and cultural collisions, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 17 in a story about the poet who collects all kinds of material for his work. His collecting habit also takes the form of the much respected UbuWeb, a carefully curated digital archive Goldsmith began in 1996 as a place to post conceptual poetry, including visual, concrete and sound poems, and which has expanded to include other forms of conceptual writing, experimental film, video and music, radio and sound art, and criticism. (The Web site’s name is a reference to Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi, whose infantile title character is often considered the progenitor of absurdism.)

Thanks to bandwidth donated by Art Mob, an experimental Canadian arts archive and server based at York University, the site includes everything from poems by Pablo Picasso to Samuel Beckett’s radio plays and sound art pieces by Fluxus, Vito Acconci and Michael Snow, providing a remarkable public source of both historic and contemporary avant-garde material. “Some people have said regardless of what books I write, the site Ubu is my greatest work. I can live with that,” Goldsmith said.

2007 death still haunts Stouffville family

Dino Raponi’s family continues to struggle with his loss two years after the Whitchurch-Stouffville man was killed in an automobile collision, wrote the Whitchurch-Stouffville Sun-Tribune Jan. 16. In 2007, his truck collided with a hydro pole in south Uxbridge, east of Goodwood. Raponi died on the way home from a get-together for a friend in Brooklin.

A graduate of York University (BA ’00), he grew up in Unionville and attended Brother Andre Catholic High School. He was 29. “When a child is taken away so unexpectedly, your life doesn’t matter any more,” his mother, Onesima Raponi said. “(I) miss his handsome smile, his music, his energy, his love – all of him, he was one of the best. We think God only takes the best.” Raponi said she has seen the autopsy report and says he wasn’t drunk and had no medical complications. A sports enthusiast who was to take over the family business, Strap Drywall, and an avid guitarist who loved rock music, Raponi’s “kingdom” was the basement of the family’s home in Stouffville.

On air

  • Stephen Newman, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the inauguration of US President Barack Obama on 680News Jan. 20.
  • Perry Sadorsky, economics professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the Bank of Canada and interest rates on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” (Toronto) Jan. 21.