Gov’t rejects calls for back-to-work order in York strike

Opposition says students’ school year on verge of being lost; government says it wants negotiated solution

An Opposition demand to recall the Ontario legislature to order an end to the strike at York University was dismissed Tuesday when the government said it preferred the two sides reach a negotiated settlement.

The 3,300 striking contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at the Toronto university will vote on the latest contract offer next Monday and Tuesday in secret ballots arranged by the Labour Ministry.

Under Ontario law, employers can ask for a vote of union members on a contract offer just once in each round of bargaining – something the university asked the government for last week.

The strike, which began Nov. 6, has left some 50,000 full-time students without classes.

Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman said students can’t afford to wait another week to find out if the striking staff will accept the deal and return to work.

“The strike has to be ended now, and it has to be ended by the legislature of Ontario,” said Shurman. “This is a situation without end unless the government gets involved and ends the strike legislatively.”

However, a spokesman for Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday that the government still thinks the best contract settlement will come from negotiations, a position echoed by Universities Minister John Milloy.

“I appreciate the frustration of the parents and the students,” Milloy said in an interview.

“I’ve urged and encouraged both sides to resolve it as quickly as possible, and we continue to do that.”

Shurman said he was worried the school year could be lost if the politicians don’t step in soon to end the walkout, now in its tenth week.

“I believe that it is in jeopardy, but I can’t get anybody – and I’m well connected to the university – to give me a drop dead date,” he complained.

“It looks like we’re approaching it, and I’m talking about within the month of January.”

Shurman called the situation urgent, and said at the very least the government should force an end to the strike and send both sides to binding arbitration.

The university is working on plans to extend the school year if necessary so all the York students can complete their courses. That has raised concerns about students missing out on summer jobs and having to find apartments for a longer school year.

Milloy said it was too early to talk about any kind of help for students and he didn’t want to discuss the possibility of tuition refunds.

“If the school year is extended, we’d be happy to work with students and the university in terms of the support programs that we have,” he said.

“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves right now. Hopefully everything can be done within the current time frame.”

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 is recommending the York workers in three bargaining units reject the offers, saying they are “substandard” and take workers in the wrong direction.

The union is demanding contract faculty be awarded five-year contracts instead of the eight-month contracts they have now.

— The Canadian Press