Are the university CUPE strikes in Toronto “worth it?”

ASHRAY JANI, FRANCES TACARDON

March 16, 2015

The Editorial section of the Panther Press will reflect the intended nature of the editorial, which is an opinion piece that takes a position on certain topics. As always we are open to feedback and suggestions. If you would like to contact us, please email executiveeditor@pantherpress.ca or submit a comment at http://pantherpress.ca.

Just recently, on the 3rd of March, all three bargaining units of York University’s Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 commenced their strike at the university’s gates. The union is composed of teaching assistants (TAs), contract faculty, and graduate and research assistants. The reason for the strike is that on the 2nd of March, the union rejected a collective agreement offered by York University regarding work contracts. As the union strives for improving tuition and funding for graduate students, as well as obtaining security and stability for contract faculty, it claims that the offered agreement failed to provide wage hikes and job security. As a result, many classes were suspended, and about 5000 undergraduate students signed a petition in which they refused to cross picket lines if classes were to resume. After Unit 2 of CUPE representing contract faculty, however, agreed to a three-year contract, some classes at the university were resumed. For the education workers who are still on strike, the demand for frozen tuition fees of graduate and international students, and more commitment to employment equity for LGBTQ employees is key to the remaining issues and demands. All in all, the debate around this issue concerns the effectiveness of the strike, taking into account the history of previous strikes at York University and the overall repercussions for students and faculty.

For one to state that the current strike is an ineffective method for employers to come in agreement with university administrators concerning work contracts, one might take into account previous strikes at York University. In 1997, an eight-week professors’ strike at York University actually caused the school year to end in May, which was later than usual. At the time, this was known as the longest strike to occur in an English-speaking Canadian university. Consequently, this took away approximately a month worth of students’ summer earnings because they had to make up for their classes. Based on a study done at the time, the estimated loss of these summer earnings turned out to be $12 million, or about $630 per student. Additionally, the union for the education workers ended up accepting an inadequate collective agreement from the university.

Also in support of claiming that the current strike will prove to be unsuccessful for the education workers, one may refer to its negative repercussions.  Some may claim that the strike actually affects the university students the most because they are not receiving the proper education they deserve. Unlike the staff, students are not even earning a salary, but are still affected because they are not receiving the education for which they worked hard to pay. In the 1997 strike at York University, however, 86% of students claimed to not have any problems actually finishing their courses despite the delay.

The editorial team of the Panther Press believes the current strike of TAs, and graduate and research assistants at York University is necessary in order to develop, and negotiate a collective agreement regarding work contracts. Why? Well, the minimum funding package of a graduate student is $15 000 a year, which is below the $19 307 poverty line for an adult living in Toronto. Even after negotiation, U of T has not made a single change to this amount. Yes, increasing the funding package just above the poverty line does not solve this financial problem entirely, but it won’t hurt to start a change for the better. Also, after U of T offered to pay graduate students $43.97 an hour from $42.05, the university also changed the number of annual working hours from 205 to 180. With this in mind, graduate students would actually make $8 231.18, compared to the initial $8 956.06. This amount of money makes it even harder for the students to balance out payments for school, and the cost of everyday living. Nonetheless, the TAs deserve job security. Like most, if not all, workers, TAs deserve to have a stable job in order to provide for themselves, and their families. Despite the results of past strikes, and the strike’s inevitable repercussions, it is necessary for the staff to voice their opinions in this manner. We believe that all the demands are reasonable considering the current state of the striking education workers.