York University issues a memorandum to CUPE 3903

Vari Hall at night

York University issues the following memorandum, provided through the Ministry of Labour mediator, to CUPE 3903:

Our commitment and the focus of our efforts since the outset of negotiations six months ago have been on reaching a negotiated settlement with CUPE 3903 or, in the alternative, for us collectively to agree to refer any matters that remained outstanding to an independent third party to make a fair and binding decision.

We have been clear that we see no reason for the disruptive and harmful effect of a strike on our students.

In comparison with CUPE 3903’s initial demands, which contained more than 110 proposals in excess of a 57 per cent increase in cost over the previous collective agreements, we tabled an initial set of eight proposals aiming to facilitate a better student experience and improve the terms of the collective agreements. All of this has been published on the University’s labour website.

From our first proposal package, the University offered 15 full-time faculty appointment opportunities over the term of the new collective agreement for longer-service contract faculty, including three conversions to tenure-stream positions.

CUPE 3903 rejected all eight of our proposals without exploring alternative ways of achieving their intended aim. Even when we narrowed our eight starting proposals to two, they were still rejected by CUPE 3903, without any good faith attempt at resolution.

Notwithstanding this, in the past months of negotiations we sought to better understand CUPE 3903 positions and tabled a range of counter proposals. Each move by the University has represented a positive step forward for CUPE 3903 and yet these were met without acknowledgement. Throughout the process we asked CUPE 3903 to narrow down its proposals in the interests of focusing on what was truly important to its members and yet it did not.

CUPE 3903 then set a strike deadline and indicated that the University should provide its best offers. These were tabled on March 1 at CUPE 3903’s request.

The University’s offers are comprehensive, providing increases and improvements in wages, funds, professional supports, health care, sexual violence response and equity provisions.

The Unit 2 offer on March 1 provides a minimum of 24 full-time faculty appointment opportunities over the life of the agreement, including six (6) tenure-stream positions, and improves the other existing job security programs. This offer takes the already sector-leading collective agreements and further enhances them.

While there has been much discussion from CUPE 3903 about the modifications that have been made to the Union’s proposals, the CUPE 3903 positions forwarded to us on the night of March 5, through the mediator, do not provide the basis for resolution or the resumption of negotiations, as previously indicated.

The Union continues to maintain, among others, proposals to increase wages by 3.5 per cent in each year of the agreement, increase vacation pay by 2 per cent for all employees, expand the fully paid benefit package already provided to TAs, contract faculty and GAs, and to provide members with a total of 90 full-time faculty positions over the life of the new agreement. CUPE 3903’s March 5 proposals represent a cost in excess of $23 million, or a 27 per cent increase over the previous collective agreements, again mostly taking effect in the first year of the new agreement.

A way forward

The University again requests that CUPE 3903 provide a reasonable position having regard to University norms and the parties’ own history.

For Unit 2, the primary area of our dispute appears to be the number of conversions to full-time faculty positions in each year of the agreement.

This number is negotiated in each round of collective bargaining and, over the past three contracts, the parties have agreed upon two (2) full-time faculty positions per year for five out of the past nine years. The number of eight (8) conversions to full-time faculty positions per year in the last agreement was unprecedented. The University’s offer of eight (8) positions per year made up of two (2) conversions and six (6) SRC appointments to the full-time faculty is not a concession.

We understand that CUPE 3903 has positioned our offer as a concession and has committed to obtaining more. As this is the barrier to a Unit 2 collective agreement, we ask again if the Union will accept our proposal, which provides the ability for CUPE 3903 to accept the renewal agreement and proceed to interest arbitration on this contentious issue.

For Unit 1, there are no remaining issues that should be an impediment to a settlement. The University’s offer responds to the Union’s concerns about summer funding, enabling members to receive payment of the entire minimum guaranteed funding component in the summer in equal monthly instalments when the minimum guarantee is met by the York Fellowship. Combined with Graduate Financial Assistance and Supplementary Graduate Assistance, members who elect the full minimum guarantee in the summer receive a minimum of $7,268 in summer support, in comparison with minimum summer support of $3,679 for those who receive the minimum guarantee in three instalments over the academic year when met by the York Fellowship.

In response to the concerns raised, we have reduced our proposed increase in the number of ticket opportunities from 30 to 20, with up to 10 additional tickets if there are up to 10 courses, which have not been offered in Unit 1 or Unit 2 in the last three years. At its heart, this proposed increase seeks no more than to move toward providing an equitable number of ticket opportunities per full-time PhD student in comparison to when the current number of tickets was established over two decades ago.

If CUPE 3903 continues to disagree with us on this point, our offer provides the ability to refer this issue to arbitration while accepting the settlement for a new Unit 1 collective agreement. This cannot be the cause of a strike threatening our students’ academic year.

Arbitration provides a fair and objective dispute resolution process

In rejecting interest arbitration, CUPE 3903 has publicly indicated that it perceives it to be biased against the Union. This dispute resolution approach has been successfully used by trade unions in the University context. We proposed that we would jointly agree upon the person who would act as arbitrator or, if we could not agree upon that, have one selected for us by one of Canada’s most respected arbitrators. Moreover, it is premised on an arbitrator fashioning or “replicating” an agreement that would likely be the outcome if reached by the parties at the conclusion of the strike. We urge the Union to reconsider.

Mediation and fact finding as a path forward

If the Union will not agree to be bound by arbitration, then we propose that instead we jointly consent to appoint a non-binding mediator/fact finder to assist us both in this dispute. Again, we propose that we jointly agree upon the person who would act as mediator and fact finder or, if we could not agree upon that, have one selected for us by one of Canada’s most respected arbitrators. This mediator and fact finder could review our respective proposals and, if no mediated settlement could be reached, would issue a report on what they saw as the appropriate path forward. We ask CUPE 3903 to let us know if it agrees with this and to provide five names of labour mediators it would propose as soon as possible.

Doing the right thing for York’s 50,000 students

Something needs to change.

For there to be any meaningful negotiations, the Union must indicate that it is prepared to work within a realistic framework. CUPE 3903 has acknowledged that it already has the best collective agreements in the Ontario university sector and has acknowledged that our wage offer exceeds provincial norms.

In fairness to the students of York University, we urge CUPE 3903 and its members to either accept arbitration, agree upon a mediator and fact finder, or provide a revised proposal that can bring us all to the bargaining table to end this strike as soon as possible.

Our students are writing to us asking for classes to continue or to restart. While much academic activity continues, with over 50 per cent of courses running, we must do everything we can to bring about a quick end to the strike and minimize its impact on our students.

We therefore ask CUPE 3903 to respond to the following in the interest of negotiations for renewal agreements and to bring an end to this unnecessary strike:

1.  Will you agree to use interest arbitration for one or more of the bargaining units?

2.  Will you agree to a non-binding mediator and factfinder to assist the parties for one or more of the bargaining units?

3. If you are not prepared to agree to either of the options above, will you provide a realistic counter having regard to University norms in the history of collective-bargaining at York and norms in the larger university sector and withdraw those proposals which are not appropriate as a strike issue?

Issues arising from CUPE 3903’s March 5 proposals

To assist the process and help provide clarity on our respective positions, we have responded and commented on the Union position document presented to the University on March 5.

There are some corrections to the document provided and what CUPE 3903 has recorded in that document as the University position on March 1.

There are also several areas where the CUPE 3903 post-strike position is worse than what was presented at the bargaining table and we ask it to reconsider or correct that backwards movement.

Finally, we have noted that several of the Union’s proposals are of questionable legality and we wanted to provide the Union with an opportunity to withdraw these positions. For more information, go to: http://labour.yorku.ca/2018/03/13/memorandum-on-a-path-forward/#corrections.