Discussions Thursday between York University and CUPE 3903, the union representing striking part-time instructors and teaching assistants, failed to end a 10-week labour disruption at the university which could now last until well after Ontario’s June 7 election.
Tens of thousands of students have been affected by the strike, with those who are in their final year particularly hard hit. Some are seeing their June graduation delayed to October, while others are postponing graduate school applications until they receive their grades.
“I had a really good job lined up and I had to withdraw my application because the major requirement was a [bachelor’s] degree,” said Stephanie Khan, a student who was expecting to graduate in June. But she is missing one credit that is taught by a striking instructor. Ms. Khan is now likely to earn her degree in October. “We’re all kind of in limbo,” she said.
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The strike is also turning into a crisis for the Toronto school, increasing tensions between some departments and the university. Professors in humanities and social sciences faculties have issued motions of non-confidence in the university’s administration and its demand to settle outstanding issues through binding arbitration.
“The administration has refused to take action, insisting on arbitration or nothing,” said Manisha Joshi-Vijayan, an undergraduate student, at a joint press conference with faculty Friday morning.
But the university is now openly questioning whether the union’s bargaining team has the mandate to negotiate a deal that is supported by a majority of the workers on the picket lines.
“In the absence of any offer [or] settlement framework ... or any indication that your bargaining teams have any authority or intention to significantly alter positions or agree to interest arbitration on the red-line issues, we see no value in engaging,” the administration said in a letter Friday.
A report from a provincially appointed mediator released last month found that the union’s structure, which relies on frequent consultation with the rank and file throughout bargaining with the employer, is partly at fault for the frequency of strikes. CUPE 3903 has been on strike four times in the last 20 years, more than any other York union.
The Liberal government introduced back-to-work legislation before the writ dropped earlier this week, but the attempt was blocked by the NDP.
However and whenever the current dispute is settled, York cannot afford to continue such conflicts, others say. Faculty and union agreements should contain non-strike clauses, states a petition that has been signed by more than 200 faculty members.
“[Considering] our primary roles and responsibilities as educators of and mentors to our students, we, the undersigned York University faculty members, hereby state publicly that we will not act willfully in a manner injurious to our students’ education,” the petition pledges.
York had set a deadline of Thursday night for the union to accept binding arbitration. Without an agreement, summer courses would be reduced and many instructors now on the picket lines would not receive any summer teaching assignments, it said.
CUPE rejected the offer, stating that it would only agree to direct negotiations and independent mediation.
Students are now receiving e-mails telling them some of their summer courses have been cancelled. Others are struggling to figure out how to complete spring and winter courses. York has implemented several “remediation” measures to help students gain the credits they need, including assessing final grades based on work completed to date, or they can opt to receive a pass/fail in a course.
Those policies don’t help students applying to professional or graduate school who need numerical grades or want to take summer classes, students said.
“I can’t apply for an assessed grade because all my instructors are contract faculty, they still have to approve it,” said Alexandria Pavelich, a sociology student. Given the impact on students, Ms. Pavelich says she wants to see the university make a greater effort to speak to the union.