On Campus

York University strike is CUPE's Waterloo

You know a strike lacks support when even The Toronto Star doesn't get behind it

Thursday, on the first day of the strike, The Star‘s editorial board decided Friday’s editorial would be critical of the actions of CUPE 3903:

Union representatives say they’ll resume negotiations when the university makes a “serious offer.” In fact, the university’s final offer of 9.25 per cent over three years and other improvements was serious enough for two other campus groups – maintenance workers and clerical staff – who ratified similar contracts.

Given those recent settlements, and the fact that York’s teaching assistants already earn the highest wage in Canada, the latest offer seems in line with the tough economic times. The university’s proposal to settle the dispute through binding arbitration also seems a reasonable way to bring a quick close to this strike. The union has refused.

I wrote Thursday that the strike comes down to basically one issue: the length of the contract. CUPE wants a two year contract to position itself to shutdown most of Ontario’s universities in 2010. York U wants the standard three year agreement.

I’ve received an interesting array of comments and emails on my conclusion. A couple of people have called it conspiratorial and one person called it a ridiculous theory suggesting my opinion piece be removed.

I stand by my assessment and feel that the lack of willingness to accept arbitration by CUPE 3903 strengthens my argument.

If the dispute goes to arbitration, the union and university are well aware that an arbitator will look at the standard for agreements across Ontario. The union may get a little more compensation and may see a decrease in tuition fees for its members compared to the university’s most recent offer. In short, they will get much of what they are asking for. They only thing they are guaranteed to not get is a two year contract. The arbitrator will order a standard three-year agreement.

The only thing the union has to lose from arbitration is their plan to strike in 2010. Until the union’s two-year demand is off the table, there is no reason for the university to come to the table. Frankly, the university’s compensation offer is reasonable, and even The Star agrees with that assessment.

Most pro-union talking points include 2010 as an issue and the latest talking points I’m hearing are saying that the university is “stubborn” because it isn’t even moving on “non-monetary issues” such as length of contract.

Thankfully, for students and union members alike, the strike has a limited lifespan.

Everyone knows that the provincial government will not be able to sit on its hands and allow this strike to continue beyond January 2, 2009. The provincial legislature recesses for Christmas on December 11, 2009 and is not scheduled to return until the middle of February.

This means back-to-work legislation is likely to be introduced at the beginning of December. The only questions are when will it be introduced, will the NDP delay its passing based on principle, and will York U attempt to salvage a few instructional days prior to the Christmas break.

I do not have the answers to these questions.

I would expect the government to introduce the legislation at the last possible moment. Governments are loath to interfere in union disputes and only do so after having great pressure placed on them. The TTC strike is a rare case of the government acting quickly, and a great deal of the speed was the result of public outrage at the actions of the union.

As for the NDP, they will not vote in favour of back-to-work legislation, but will likely not interfere with the passage of a back-to-work order.

York University, if the strike lasts into December, will have to salvage as many days as they can during the Christmas break. While disruptive to Christmas break plans, the alternative is classes in May; a much worse scenario in the long term for York students.

For TAs, back-to-work legislation will result in arbitration. The only difference between arbitration now and then are all the wages and benefits they will lose during the intermediate period.

The real question is what will the rank and file TA do? Allow the union to keep them on the picket line until the government orders arbitration or force union leaders to accept the offer of arbitration? With even The Toronto Star coming out against the union, it must be clear to graduate students this strike is a lost cause; the only thing left for them to decide is how much damage they do to themselves in the process.

See also: More Maclean’s On Campus coverage of the York University labour dispute.

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