On Campus

York union blasts “charade” ratification vote

University says few options left in ending two-month-long strike

The York University union that represents striking contract faculty and teaching assistants says it is frustrated and disappointed with the university for calling on the Minister of Labour to hold a supervised ratification vote on its most recent offer.

“It’s insulting,” says CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley. “We finally start making some progress, both sides start showing some movement, and as soon as it starts to look like we’re on the verge of settling on a few key issues, York walks away from the table.”

According to a press release issued by York University administration Friday, the school has asked Ontario’s Minister of Labour to direct a supervised vote on the Jan. 7 settlement offer from the university to striking employees.

Joey Coleman’s thoughts on a York strike supervised vote

See also: York students demand one-week deadline for strike deal

York offers striking workers new “enhanced” deal

Photo slideshow: Rallies at York University

The university is citing the refusal by the union’s bargaining team to take York’s last settlement offer to their membership for a vote as their primary cause for their request to the provincial government. At a meeting between the two parties today, York administration says the union did not bring forward any modifications to its positions or present a counter-offer.

Shipley says they have already put the university’s latest offer to a membership vote, which was held Thursday evening.

“We put their offer out there and asked our members what they thought. About 90 percent of the people there, at a meeting of over 500 people, said that this offer was totally inadequate,” he says.

“And now we’re going to go through this charade with the Ministry of Labour on the supervised vote on an offer that doesn’t address the needs of our members.”

According to spokesperson Alex Bilyk, a separate ministry-supervised vote would be required for each of the three bargaining units of the union, which represent approximately 950 contract faculty, 1,850 teaching assistants and 550 graduate assistants. He says the votes could be conducted as soon as they can be arranged by the Ministry of Labour, and a simple majority vote in favour of each offer would mean a quick end to the strike.

“After five months of unsuccessful negotiations, we see this as a necessary step because it will give employees in each bargaining unit a chance to vote on our settlement offers, end this strike and get our students back to class,” says Bilyk.

Talks between the University and CUPE 3903 resumed Jan. 3, and after five days of bargaining the university put forward what it said were “enhanced settlement offers” for all three units. The new offers included a 9.25 percent increase in wages plus “significant benefits and other improvements over the term of the new three-year collective agreements.”

In response to this new request by York administration, the student group YorkNotHostage.com says they are urging the Minister of Labour to not waste any time organizing and to organize the vote as quickly as possible.

“YorkNotHostage is neutral regarding the substance of the bargaining…however, we are not neutral on the strike,” says spokesperson Lyndon Koopmans, in a subsequent press release today. “Not only does it have devastating consequences for students, but at this point it threatens the school year. Students need the strike to end soon.”

He says the group has two messages for CUPE 3903 members: The first is to get out and vote, and encourage friends and colleagues to vote, as a high turnout will ensure the vote is “decisive and legitimate.” The second is to “vote your conscience” and not listen to union literature that suggests members should vote “no” in order to eventually get a better deal out of the university.

Bilyk said there are few other options left to end the strike.

“The union still has some 75 outstanding demands totalling 15.8 percent over two years that would cost the university $9.9 million annually,” he says.

York says the union has previously refused to take all outstanding contract issues to binding arbitration, which would also end the strike. It says the school has recently successfully negotiated three-year contracts with other campus unions, including CUPE 1356, which “overwhelmingly ratified” a three-year contract with a 9.25 percent wage increase plus other contract improvements.

According to Bilyk, under Ontario’s labour relations laws, employers can ask for a secret-ballot vote of union members on a contract offer. The vote would be conducted and supervised by the Ministry of Labour, with the voting location and days allocated for voting to be decided by the Ministry of Labour after input from both the employer and the union.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.