CUPE drops legal challenge to legislation

It’s all over but the voting, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 29. The provincial government will force an end this morning to the three-month strike at York University and allow 45,000 students to resume classes Monday with the expected passage of legislation ordering 3,340 contract professors back to work.

“We have reached a point that the only way they can get back to class is if we simply allow this to go ahead,” said York graduate student and CUPE media spokesperson Tyler Shipley. “I’m sure the students are pretty sick of being used as a pawn of a larger game.”

Even though the strike is ending, students should not expect a tuition refund. John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities, said the government is examining ways to extend student loans to those who now face a longer school year. “Right now we are working out the details with the University of how we can extend OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program),” Milloy told reporters.

York graduate student Vanessa Lehan thinks financial compensation should flow to students. “Of course we should get a tuition rebate,” she said. “It is ridiculous. ”Extending OSAP is no answer, Lehan said. “Oh, that is great. Fantastic. That helps them not at all,” said Lehan. Lehan does not have student loans, she added. Instead, she said she “just starves”.

McGuinty said in the legislature yesterday he understands York students are going to have additional costs for food, transportation and rent because of an extended school year due to the prolonged strike. “I think our responsibility is to ensure that OSAP is sufficiently flexible to meet those additional needs. I’ve made that commitment and we will find a way to make that happen,” McGuinty said.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton has also called on the government to compensate the students. Hampton questioned McGuinty about the phone call the premier made to York president Mamdouh Shoukri early Tuesday morning.

McGuinty encouraged the York president to get back to the bargaining table while the legislation is debated. McGuinty said he did speak with the York president and made it clear to him “that there was still the option open to him to sit down and continue to negotiate.”

  • Premier Dalton McGuinty said he telephoned York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri to ask him to resume talks with the union representing 3,300 teaching assistants and contract faculty who have been off the job since Nov. 6, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 29. But Shoukri was “not prepared to do that,” the Premier said, dashing any hope of reaching a negotiated settlement before back-to-work legislation becomes law today.

The University refused to discuss the conversation with the president or confirm that it had taken place. “His conversations are private. I will leave it at that,” said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations.

Some 50,000 students at York should be back in class on Monday after today’s passage of the back-to-work legislation. A potential hurdle to their return was removed yesterday when the union representing the striking workers backed down on a threat to challenge the legislation in court.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees announced this week that it had asked its lawyers to pursue legal action once the bill passes, a move that would have prolonged the strike. CUPE spokesperson Tyler Shipley said in an interview last night that deciding against the move was difficult, because the union believes it would have won in court, but he said there is no way to predict how long that would take. “We have to get our students back to class,” he said.

York officials declined to comment yesterday. In a statement this week, Shoukri blamed the union for the breakdown in talks. He said the union’s last wage demand was still more than double the University’s offer after 40 days of talks. “That is an impasse by any standards,” he said.

  • Students at York University appeared a step closer to returning to the classroom Wednesday evening, after the union representing striking teaching staff called off a legal challenge to back-to-work legislation, wrote Canwest News Service Jan. 28.

The union said late Wednesday that after waiting for more than a day and for management to negotiate an 11th-hour settlement, it was shifting gears and preparing for members to return to the classroom.

  • The union representing striking York University staff has decided not to launch a legal challenge to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-work legislation, CUPE 3903 announced yesterday, wrote the National Post Jan. 29. The union had been hoping that York would return to the bargaining table for an agreement before passage of the government’s back-to-work legislation.
  • York University’s 45,000 students are looking to return to class Monday for the first time in 12 weeks as the provincial legislature was poised to pass strike-ending legislation today, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 29.

Union spokesperson Tyler Shipley said they still feel strongly York University should be held to account for “subverting” collective bargaining but their members and students are exhausted by the process. “We’re teachers and we care about our students,” Shipley said. “And this has gone on for so long that it may just be time for us to take the high road.”

York University spokesperson Alex Bilyk, responding to calls for tuition fee rebates, said there are no salary savings to be passed on to students in the form of tuition rebates. “We will be delivering on the academic programs that the students are here for,” he said.

  • Wading into a legal challenge would have just created more uncertainty for students at Canada’s third-largest university, who have already paid a heavy price, said union spokesperson Tyler Shipley, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 28. “They’ve already had to wait nearly three months to have their classes resume, and to put them in a situation where there would be more uncertainty…it just didn’t seem like the right move,” Shipley said.

About 100 York University students had rallied outside the legislature Wednesday on a snowy day to push for a speedy passage of the bill. Catherine Divaris, a kinesiology student who helped organize the protest, said she was “ecstatic” about the thought of returning to classes on Monday. “Another delay would have been detrimental to our school year,” she said. “I don’t think we could have done with another delay, and if anything, it would have just really, really hindered next year and even future careers for undergraduate students.”

The union had believed there were grounds for a legal challenge, though legal experts say it’s unlikely the courts would have granted a request that would interfere in the operation of back-to-work legislation, wrote CP.

CUPE 3903 is in its own ivory tower

This dopey, pseudo-Marxist mindset is the only reason Canada’s third-largest university has been shut down for nearly three months at ruinous cost to 50,000 students, their parents and the University’s reputation, wrote columnist Margaret Wente about CUPE Local 3903 in The Globe and Mail Jan. 29. You will have heard (from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, among others), that both sides are to blame for this sorry mess. Don’t believe it. The self-styled education premier is seeking protective cover for his unseemly delay in passing back-to-work legislation.

This strike was not about nothing. At stake are serious issues that plague universities across North America. Unfortunately, Local 3903 isn’t interested in tackling them. “The leadership of this union is very ideological and has been for many years,” says York Professor Irving Abella, Faculty of Arts, the widely respected labour historian. Rumour has it that even fiery Ontario CUPE chief Sid Ryan can’t calm down Local 3903.

Insiders say the union was spoiling for a strike from the start, wrote Wente. It issued a ridiculous set of wage demands (even though the cruelly exploited teaching assistants make $37 an hour, more than any others in Canada). It demanded that many of its part-time staff be given full-time tenure status, based only on seniority – a move that would cost millions and also strip the University of the right to hire who it wants.

The union also insisted on shortening the contract, so that universities across the province would be on the same bargaining timetable. The dream was of a general strike, circa 2010, that would cripple the entire system. “They weren’t interested unless they got what they wanted, and their goals were unattainable,” Abella says.

The long-term issue is an even bigger challenge. In the face of shrinking resources and exploding demand, what’s the best way to deliver higher education to the children of the lumpen middle class? And who, pray tell, is going to pay for it?

Meantime, as workers across Canada contemplate wage freezes and cutbacks, there’s precious little sympathy for the plight of the knowledge serfs at York. It’s our dollars, after all, that are paying them and our dollars are scarce. Only in the land of academia (and public-sector unions) could educated grown-ups be so impervious to reality.

  • As full-time faculty at York University we are distressed at the impact of this strike on our 50,000 students, who have confronted enormous disruption to their lives, finances and future, wrote York Professors Jody Berland and Ricardo Grinspun, of the Faculty of Arts, in an opinion piece published on the Toronto Star’s Web site.

The employer and much media claim that responsibility lies with a “selfish” union that advanced unrealistic wage demands during an economic recession. Reality is more complex.

York administration cries “poor” and points to the recession. However, their managerial tactics are rooted in decade-old policies of postsecondary education underfunding, market-friendly academic restructuring and shifting priorities for spending York’s money. Most damaging is the casualization of York’s faculty, which creates a “flexible” pool of expendable teaching staff.

Improving labour relations at York University and other Canadian universities will require a shift in administrative and budgetary priorities. They must relinquish the claim that a reputable, research-intensive academic institution can rely on a casualized teaching workforce. They must moderate executive salaries and shift more resources to teaching and research.

Finally, government needs to step up to the plate and appoint a task force to examine and offer solutions for the worrisome casualization of the teaching workforce in Ontario’s universities.

  • A Cape Breton student attending York University in Toronto says the University’s administration could have done a better job handling the strike that has closed classes for close to three months, wrote the Cape Breton Post Jan. 29. “I wouldn’t say it has affected my view of the professors, but my view of the University for sure,” said Karen Power, who began a master’s degree in environmental studies in September. “I don’t think the president has handled it particularly well. I thought the University could have done more, especially with a strike just a few years ago.”

“As a student, I’m getting e-mails from both sides, but I don’t really know what’s going on,” Power said. “Both sides are saying different things.”

She said the strike will have less impact on her, as a graduate student. “I think it will have more of an impact on undergraduates than for us,” Power said. “If classes go back, they’re saying all breaks would be cancelled and they would shorten the winter and fall semesters. They just told us if it is not resolved very soon, the summer semester may be in jeopardy, but I was supposed to be there in the summer anyway.”

  • Just because students are to be back in class doesn’t mean the slate is wiped clean, wrote the North York Mirror Jan. 28. There’s a long, hard road to recovery to be travelled. Hard feelings surely will take time to fade, ones further aggravated, doubtless, with the recent forced vote on the University’s most recent offer that saw the proposal rejected by a clear, yet certainly far from overwhelming, majority of those in CUPE 3903 who voted.

What was truly astonishing and disturbing about that particular exercise was that more than 30 per cent of the union’s membership didn’t care enough to vote at all. The abdication of such a fundamental responsibility was just one of many disappointments that peppered the 12-week dispute.

  • Candice Pike, York teaching assistant, spoke on CBC Radio (Cornerbrook, Nfld.)
  • York student Kathleen Smith of Yellowknife, NWT, spoke about the strike on that city’s CBC Radio affiliate Jan. 28.
  • Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 spokesperson, spoke about the strike on Ottawa’s CFRA-AM Radio.
  • CUPE 3903 members Tristan Laing and Nathan Kalman-Lamb spoke about the strike on Global TV Jan. 28.
  • York student Lyndon Koopmans, co-founder of, spoke on CityTV/CP24-TV and CTV News Jan. 28.
  • Students Frankie Chen and Coco Liu spoke on OMNI-TV’s Cantonese news Jan. 28.

Liberal finance critic cites letter to Governor-General signed by Osgoode profs

“That is something that is being spun by the Conservatives,” Liberal finance critic John McCallum told CTV News Jan. 26, when asked about the “risk” of a coalition government being formed, in a post mortem on the federal budget. “I heard the prime minister…evoking the possibility of an election. There is no constitutional possibility of an election so close to the last one. He’s never really obtained the confidence of the House, and that was published widely. [It is] very clear from constitutional experts from [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School or from McGill University or L’Université du Québec à Montréal, [that the] consensus view across the country [is] that they have no other possibility. The Governor General will have to give the Liberals a chance to govern.”

Making sure real estate tax strategy is not a house of cards

It seems like the easiest plan in the world, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 29. Buy a house or condo, rent it to someone else and have them pay the mortgage – and maybe a little extra – while you reap the benefits of equity. And it does work…. But there are some risks involved; and there are some drawbacks.

Experts have said that the current transfer tax structure has become a disincentive for investors to buy or sell rental properties. “They are locked in to their investment,” said James McKellar, professor of real property development at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “Other investors who have the resources and desire to put these properties to better use are denied the opportunity to buy and upgrade them.”

Dancer’s solo is like ‘lyrical poetry’, says York prof

Selma Odom, now head of York University’s dance program in the Faculty of Fine Arts, wrote in Dance Magazine that Deborah Hay’s solo Leaving the House “had the impact of lyrical poetry,” wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 29 in a story about the Toronto Dance Theatre’s production of Hay’s Up Until Now.

Preparing for divorce pays off

Researchers in York University’s Department of Psychology are in the midst of groundbreaking “emotion-focused couple’s therapy” with couples on the brink of divorce, many of whom have failed at traditional marriage therapy, that shows it may not just be enough to forget past “injuries”, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 29. You have to forgive.

Les Greenberg, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, and clinical psychology doctoral student Catalina Woldarsky Meneses have been working with couples since 2000 to help them identify incidents or “wrongs” that may have started pushing the relationship off the rails at least two years prior and have festered – in some cases without even their direct knowledge – into a seething resentment that has badly damaged the marriage.

“Basically, we’re finding that emotion really drives both thoughts and behaviour, so we’ve really got to get to the underlying emotions and have them expressed to the partner in non-blaming ways. We’re not dealing with people who are in the crisis of just discovering an infidelity. We’re dealing with festering resentments that haven’t been resolved,” says Greenberg.

That can range from (and these are true stories) a husband who forgets to pick up his wife from surgery, to the husband (sorry, guys) who hangs up on his wife, saying he’s too busy, before she can let him know she’s in labour.

Even more damaging than age-old affairs is a new marriage threat, the researchers say: Internet “cheating” and porn. “In some ways, it’s more complicated (than a traditional affair) because there’s often repetition (and multiple online partners).

"A lot of marriage counselling traditionally takes the view, ‘Put this behind you and get on with your life’,” he adds. “We’re finding that you have to forgive first and that that has a positive affect in terms of relationship rebuilding.”

York anthropologist helps Philippine tribe enter parade

They didn’t need soot to blacken their bodies. Their dance steps were tempered and their costumes modest. But a tribe composed of real Atis stole the show during the Ati-Atihan tribe parade on Saturday, wrote the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in its online edition Jan. 20. The “Puro Ati” tribe was among the 32 groups that joined the five-hour parade contest along the capital town’s main streets, which culminated at the Pastrana Park, the town’s public plaza.

This could be the first time that a tribe composed of real Atis has joined the contest, said Professor Russ Patrick Alcedo, of York’s Department of Dance, Faculty of Fine Arts, who organized the Ati tribe to dance in the festival. Atis had previously joined the parade but not as an organized tribe in the contest. “The Atis have not been really represented in the festival and it’s unfortunate because the festival is about them,” Alcedo told the Inquirer.

Alcedo, who teaches dance anthropology at York University in Toronto, said Aklanons in Toronto and in Kalibo helped raised funds to organize the tribe for this year’s festival.

Regent Theatre documentary Saturday at library

The premiere screening of the documentary The Dreamer of Main Street – George Cook and Picton’s Regent Theatre – will take place this Saturday at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery at Belleville Public Library, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Jan. 29.

Presented by Wandering Journalist Productions, this Dale Morrisey film was produced in association with Bloomfield resident and York grad Jennifer Lester (BFA Spec. Hons. ’00). The 22-minute documentary explores the history of Prince Edward County’s Regent Theatre.

The screening is a free event and will be held Saturday, Jan. 31 from 2 to 4pm at the Belleville Public Library gallery. Admission is free. Morrisey and Lester will be available to discuss the film and answer questions, after the screening.

Lester, who was raised in Prince Edward County, wrote her thesis on the Regent Theatre, while in theatre school. Her research provides the backbone of the script.

Island performers make the political personal

Tongue and Groove is a trio of uniquely experienced Vancouver Island musicians committed to making the political personal, wrote BC’s Comox Valley Record Jan. 27.

Tongue and Groove feature Tracy Myers (vocals and percussion), Myron Makepeace (BFA Spec. Hons. ’85, MFA ’88) (bass and guitar) and Brett Hearn (congas and percussion).

Makepeace, a music and anthropology instructor at Vancouver Island University, has been a professional musician since age 15, studying and playing jazz guitar locally and across Canada. He has studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and music and ethnomusicology at York University.

On air

  • Lisa Philipps, professor of tax law in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the benefits of government tax cuts on CBC Radio’s “The Current” Jan. 28.
  • Jan Hatanaka, professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about the grief processes of the recently unemployed on Toronto’s CFRB Radio Jan. 28.