York University’s striking contract professors and teaching assistants voted against the university’s last offer Monday, leaving tens of thousands of students anxious about how they will make up weeks of lost classes.
The vote was held after York asked the Ministry of Labour to organize a supervised vote of all union members in a bid to end a labour dispute where the two sides are still deeply split on a key issue in university governance.
Any employer can ask for a forced vote during contract negotiations if talks with a bargaining team reach an impasse. Colleges took the same step in last fall’s five-week labour disruption; their offer was also turned down by their striking instructors. Employers can only use the strategy once during bargaining.
No talks were scheduled in the wake of the vote results, in which approximately 85 per cent of those who voted cast a “no” ballot. Three-quarters to two-thirds of each of the three units represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted against the deal.
“This has been very hard for our undergraduates,” said Lina Nasr, spokesperson for the CUPE Local 3903. “We have told the university that we are ready to return to the bargaining table.”
Students said the strike – the second at the university in the last 36 months – is jeopardizing their plans. Samira Khan, a fourth-year student in the film production program, was hoping to start a new job soon, but will not be able to do so until she graduates in June. She still has to finish her portfolio and wait for it to be marked. While she has been working independently, she misses the feedback from teaching assistants and course instructors.
“Completing the course is a lot of guesswork,” Ms. Khan said. “We can’t be certain that we are doing it properly.”
Students who have completed 70 per cent of assigned work can ask to have their final grade calculated based on those marks. Ms. Khan said she has asked to do so where possible, but is waiting for confirmation.
“They seem to be very certain that they will be able to finish this semester on time and nothing will be delayed, but it’s been a month, and I can hardly imagine how they would still be able to finish,” she said.
“York University is deeply disappointed with the vote,” the university said in a statement, adding that it is talking to the government. “We are carefully considering our limited options to end the strike,” the statement said. The university has proposed that an arbitrator rule on the differences between the school and the union, an offer the union has rejected, arguing that the university has not engaged in sufficient bargaining at the table.
Ontario’s Liberal government has so far rejected introducing back-to-work legislation, a measure it eventually took to break the impasse in the college strike.
“[This] result is disappointing but the solution to this strike remains at the bargaining table,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development said in a statement.
A key disagreement between the university and the union is over how many contract instructors a year are eligible to be hired into permanent tenure-track positions. York has maintained that it must be able to conduct open academic searches globally and can only provide two such positions a year. The union has proposed that either 15 positions in this category be offered to contract employees, or that 15 per cent of tenure-track hires be contract employees.
A second dispute is about how the university restructured funding packages for master’s students that led to the union losing hundreds of members.