As York University prepares to launch its summer semester without the involvement of 3,000 striking contract staff, students whose winter-term classes were disrupted are expressing frustration at the labour dispute, which is now into its eleventh week.
The strike at the Toronto university saw contract faculty and graduate teaching and research assistants walk off the job over issues of wages and job security on March 5.
Tens of thousands of students have been affected, with some raising questions about whether they’ll be able to complete their degrees on time.
Sarah Morrison, a third-year York nursing student, says she had been two months into a semester that involved a clinical placement in a community environment when the strike began.
The labour disruption has delayed that placement, an experience only available to third-year students and one that Morrison had been excited about.
“Losing that, it’s kind of losing the one thing I was really looking forward to, losing the one thing that would have probably benefited me if I was looking to get a job in public health,” she said.
Since March, Morrison has been waiting to find out when her placement will resume.
“It’s been static from our clinical mentors,” she said. “Our teachers, they’re not allowed to email us or anything.”
Morrison said she has cut down on planned work hours over the summer, in case her classes start up again, and has cancelled plans to go back home to Norfolk County for the summer.
First-year student Samantha Zurin said three of her four classes have been suspended by the university since the strike began and the instructor of the fourth course went on to cancel all classes.
The instructor “does not respond to students (and) when contacted about this class York doesn’t do anything about it,” Zurin said.
“I feel like the two sides have used the students as pawns and this could have been over — we could have finished our month of school two months ago,” she said.
York says it is working to do all it can to allow students to graduate as planned wherever possible. It also says convocation ceremonies are taking place as scheduled.
The university also said its summer term, beginning Tuesday, is expected to offer fewer courses than planned due to the labour disruption.
“We anticipate that the number of courses offered will be reduced from the original schedule as a result of the current labour disruption,” it said in a letter to students that was posted online.
Earlier this month, a commissioner appointed by the provincial government suggested the school and the union representing the striking employees enter binding arbitration.
The province’s Liberal government then introduced back-to-work legislation days before an election campaign began, but the bill did not pass as the NDP did not support it.
CUPE 3903, the union representing the striking York workers, has rejected calls for arbitration, instead asking York’s administration to continue bargaining.
CUPE spokesman Julian Arend said he sympathized with students affected by the strike but said the university was to blame for stalled courses.
“The administration is fully in control of the schedule, and they’ve been using that as a bludgeon against the union, and the students end up as collateral damage,” he said.
Martha Batiz, a union member and course director in York’s Hispanic Studies department, said many of her students were initially supportive of the strike, but are now frustrated that it’s putting their lives on hold.
“I’ve been receiving emails from students requesting help. Having to tell them that there’s nothing I can do places me in a terrible situation,” she says. “We are all in the teaching field because we care.”
“I understand why many of my colleagues do not want to accept arbitration,” Batiz added. “Having said that, I don’t see how the strike is benefiting anyone.”