Welcome to the CUPE 3903 Strike online HQ. This is intended to be a place to find all relevant information about the CUPE 3903 strike at York University.

We’re still working on getting everything set up so check back regularly as we will be adding more content soon


Another Letter From Agnes Whitfield to Mitzie Hunter on the State of York University

The Honourable Mitzie Hunter
Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Government of Ontario

Dear Minister Hunter,

I was very disappointed to read your comments on the situation at York University in the Toronto Star yesterday.

The appointment of Mr. Kaplan as investigator gave us some hope, because we thought he had a mandate to ask meaningful questions about how the Board of Governors is running our university. Instead, we learn that you seem to think he is just here to facilitate some sort of miraculous negotiated settlement.

Even if there could be some kind of temporary solution to this strike, this will not solve the problem at York University.

As long as the current Board is in place, there will be no progress at York University. The current distressing situation will just repeat itself again and again.

The problem at York University is its Board of Governors

1.    The problem is this Board’s complete disrespect for university rules, its sexist disregard for your own government’s legislation on equality and respect for women, its union-busting and top-heavy managerial style, and its disproportionate interest in a narrow range of business programs.

2.    The problem is that this Board is irresponsible. If this Board has been listening to the York University community, as a responsible Board does, it would never have usurped control over the last Presidential search and imposed a President supported by only 11% of York faculty. There would not be strikes.

3.    The problem is that this Board radically misunderstands its role. A Board of Governors of a public educational institution is supposed to exercise an oversight role on university affairs to make sure that public funds are used appropriately. It is not supposed to take over the running of the university itself behind closed doors. It cannot play a public oversight role and refuse itself to be accountable to the public.

4.    Your ministry funds York University using Ontario tax-payers’ hard-earned dollars but this corporate Board is not using these public funds with the respect they deserve. Instead, it is diverting funds away from teaching, research and services for students, to finance a costly and non-productive managerial structure. Since 2002 the number of high-income managers has more than doubled (https://excal.on.ca/the-rising-cost-of-high-income-administrators-at-york/)while faculty appointments, that could improve class size and enhance learning outcomes, have stagnated.

5.    The median salary in Ontario has hardly budged in the last two decades, and your government has recently adopted policies to improve salaries and ensure more stable working conditions for Ontario workers. In contrast, since 1996, senior executive compensation packages at York University have nearly doubled (https://excal.on.ca/the-rising-cost-of-high-income-administrators-at-york/) and this Board is undermining stable working conditions for all its part-time instructors.

6.    Your government has adopted policies to enhance the learning experience for Ontario students, to provide them with greater opportunities for work experience, yet this Board has cut 800 graduate assistantships for our students.

7.    The fundamental problem is that this Board is not representative of the society it must serve. It is composed exclusively of wealthy CEOs and corporate lawyers. It does not represent vast sectors of our community. It is too closely linked to three small faculties. It has no connection to the diverse range of programs in which 95% of our undergraduate students are enrolled.

The York University community is fed up with this irresponsible and disconnected Board

All across departments and faculties, the groundswell of votes of non-confidence in the Board of Governors and the administration at York University is mounting. We are fed up with this illegitimately-constituted, unrepresentative Board of Governors that is completely estranged from our university community.

As this Board so catastrophically demonstrates, the idea that the richer the Board is the better it is for students and the university is a fundamental misconception. This Board does not understand or care about the daily struggle of so many of our debt-ridden students.  It has no commitment to the creative and intellectual purposes of an educational institution. It simply does not share the aspirations of the students, faculty and staff, who all together form the living learning community of York University.

We want to find a new harmony at York University. We want to put an end to this harassing, arbitrary, closed-shop, intimidating and oppressive management style.

Mr. Kaplan, despite his good will, does not have the mandate to make these positive changes happen. The task is too great.

We need your government to put York University under government tutelage

If your ministry and your government truly have at heart the interests of York University and its students, you cannot continue ‘supporting both parties’ as you said in the Star.

Your government must take responsibility for how public funds are being used. It must hold this Board accountable for the unjust and shameful actions that are going against your own government policies and putting York University and the education of its students at risk.

We need your government’s assistance to end the injustice we are suffering under this Board. We need your support in order to restore the spirit of our university community, to renew our sense of collective purpose, and to regenerate a serene and nurturing climate of shared endeavour.

I am once again imploring to you to place York University under government tutelage.

Yours sincerely,

Agnes Whitfield, Ph.D., c. tran.
Professor/Professeure titulaire,
Department of English/Département d’études anglaises
York University/Université York, Toronto (Canada)
Founding Director/Directrice fondatrice, Vita Traductiva
Visiting Professor/Professeure invitee, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, 2017
Bilingual Joint Chair in Women’s Studies, Carleton University, University of Ottawa/Chaire conjointe bilingue en études des femmes, Université Carleton, Université d’Ottawa, 2009-2010
Virtual Scholar, Heritage Canada/Chercheure virtuelle, Patrimoine canadien, 2006-2007
Seagram Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies, McGill University/Chaire d’invité Seagram en études canadiennes, Université McGill, 2003-2004
Présidente, Association canadienne de traductologie /President, Canadian Association for Translation Studies, 1995-1999

York Students Do Deserve Better – That’s Why Instructors Are On Strike

By Dana Phillips

It’s the refrain we hear over and over again: “those poor students, caught in the middle of persistent labour disruptions at York university.”   What follows is often, as in Martin Regg Cohn’s recent Toronto Star column, a rebuke of striking union workers for being so darn unreasonable, under the thin guise of balanced journalism.  Sure, goes the argument, teaching staff have legitimate concerns, and precarious work is a problem. But why does CUPE local 3903 insist on being such a troublemaker?

I would be the first to argue that students do deserve better, and I’m confident that my fellow CUPE members, by and large, feel the same way. Many of us are students ourselves; we are also experiencing disruptions to our programs of study, in addition to significant losses in income, and ongoing economic uncertainty. Nearly all of us work closely with students whom we care about and want to see succeed. This is no small part of the reason that we continue to stand up against an administration that is in the business of lining its own coffers at the expense of quality higher education.

Like all unions, CUPE 3903 has its own internal politics, and these have in times past been admittedly problematic (as has York’s own governance). But to suggest that the union’s grievances therefore have no merit is simply fallacious. CUPE 3903 is not an outlier, as Regg Cohn suggests—it is a sector leader.  The hard won rights of CUPE 3903 union members have set a precedent for precarious academic workers across the country at a time when the rapid corporatization of universities should be what has us all alarmed and outraged. This is why arbitration is not a good option for CUPE 3903; you can’t lead the way through a decision-making process that bends towards the status quo.

One of the biggest points of dispute in this strike relates to the job security of Unit 2 contract faculty. York argues that providing opportunities for experienced contract instructors to transition into tenure-track positions (in lieu of the usual open search process, but with the same high bar for granting tenure) threatens standards of teaching excellence for students. And yet, York relies on contract instructors in short-term, low-paid positions to teach more than a third of its classes (more than half if you count teaching assistants). If York is truly concerned about teaching excellence, one wonders why the administration is currently fighting to have more courses taught by full-time graduate students from Unit 1, who are generally less qualified than the Unit 2 contract instructors they would be replacing.  There is nothing good for students about having “professors” who are overworked, underpaid, and unsure of where their next paycheck is coming from.

CUPE 3903’s proposals for Units 1 and 3, meanwhile, focus on ensuring accessible and equitable access to graduate education for future students—i.e. current undergraduates.  While CUPE looks towards the future, however, York and much of the media remain fixated on the strike’s most immediate impacts, thereby losing sight of the deeper issues threatening public education for years to come.

One of the problems with opinions like those of Regg Cohn is that they assume that striking workers are primarily to blame for what is happening to students at York. This is nothing new; it comes up all the time on the picket lines.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that it is easiest to blame those who are out in the cold day after day, physically obstructing the way to classes, degrees—business as usual.  It seems as though these are the people that chose to mess everything up for everybody.

What, though, about the choice of York administrators to refuse to come to the bargaining table for weeks on end, while CUPE remains ready and willing to negotiate? What about the economic and educational systems that place highly educated and skilled people—the people we hope our students will become—in the position of struggling to make ends meet? The ability of these causes to remain invisible is what gives them their power and privilege.

The university and the public are rightfully concerned about the well-being of York’s undergraduate students at this difficult time. Unfortunately, they seem much less concerned about the well-being of those who provide the bulk of those students’ education, and who, in many ways, reflect those students’ own precarious future.

Statement from CUPE 3903 Member of Senate, Devin Clancy at Today’s Senate Meeting

I’m Devin Clancy, a student, teaching assistant, and senate representative for CUPE 3903.

First, I’d just like to express my gratitude to the Senate Executive for booking a room that can accommodate the public. It’s too bad that it took a student reclamation of the senate chambers in order for these meetings to even be open and accessible, but I’m nonetheless glad I don’t have to fight off a headlock from security to be here today.

I have a question for President Lenton and the executive, but it requires a little bit of context so bear with me.

While Rhonda has been expensing luxury headphones and first class accommodations, this institution has been under attack, an attack that is painted by the executive as “business as usual.”

But what is “business as usual” for York University?

Recent history suggests that it means cutting 800 GA jobs without warning, and unilaterally tearing $5,400 of TA funding out of our protected Collective Agreement.

It means offering an incoming MA student a unionized job with health benefits, only to deny it once they’ve accepted. It means this student is forced to drop out because of uncovered health costs, and it means that FGS now demands this student payback their fellowship.

It means denying students’ summer pay.

It means empowering a Bargaining Team who doesn’t understand that 2 conversions is less than 8.

It means a final offer that is full of concessions.

It means systematically failing to meet with our union’s health and safety committee and an accessibility office at Glendon that isn’t wheelchair accessible.

It means taking four weeks to respond to complaints of asbestos in our workplace.

It means failing to notify the community of bomb threats and hate graffiti.

It means inviting a dozen toronto police onto campus to violently detain someone using rubber bullets.

It means kicking someone out of Ross in the dead of night in winter for trying to sleep in a sheltered space.

It means a library roof that has leaked for years, a mouse and cockroach problem in Vari Hall, and an unpaid water bill.

It means an administration that spends hundreds of thousands on anything but bargaining in good faith with CUPE 3903.

It means meeting with the crisis management PR firm Navigator to mislead the public and tarnish CUPE 3903’s reputation.

It means purchasing radio ads that misrepresent our union’s bargaining positions and it means buying the back page of Excalibur for months.

It means charging CUPE3903.com to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, a website currently under investigation by the ministry of labour for redirecting web traffic to York’s own labour webpage.

It means spending thousands of dollars on private security to surveil and intimidate striking workers, and students that have reclaimed the senate. So much so, that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reached out to President Lenton, imploring her to end these tactics immediately.

It means trying to ban metal gates and firebarrels on the picket lines, instruments that are essential to ensuring the safety of our members as they exercise their legal right to strike.

It means reinterpreting the York Act to disempower collegial governing bodies, and it means transforming the Senate Executive into a hollow mouthpiece for an unrepresentative corporate Board of Governors.

It means hiring Hicks Morley, a union busting law firm that gives lectures to employers on how to avoid liability in cases of critical injury or death of workers.

It means forcing workers out in the cold on strike for 40 days. And it means only coming back to the bargaining table for 1 day, only to walk away and force a bogus ratification vote.

And it means providing the ministry of labour with fake employee emails and incomplete membership rolls.

To be honest, I didn’t even know a president could be so corrupt and incompetent.

But let me tell you, workers are fed up with a profit driven corporation that uses “academic integrity” as a rhetorical shield while deepening academic precarity and exploitation.

And we’re fed up with a University that appropriates the language of social justice as a marketing tool, only to entrench unjust working conditions on 60% of the educational workers at York.

This union destroyed your bad offer, and voted 85% to reject the administration’s attempt to impose neoliberal austerity measures on our membership.

And now the Liberal government has abandoned your desire to impose back-to-work legislation.

You’ve lost Rhonda.

You’ve lost the strike, you’ve lost the confidence of the community, and you’ve lost the Senate, literally.

Don’t be foolish enough to lose the summer semester too.

So I ask: President Lenton, when will York University return to the bargaining table?

Another Open Letter to the Minister of Advanced Education from Agnes Whitfield about the State of York University

April 10, 2018

The Honourable Mitzie Hunter
Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Government of Ontario

Dear Minister Hunter,

I am writing to you again, as a woman with a government led by a woman Premier, to urge you to restore legitimate governance at York University.

The Board of Governors is operating outside its By-laws. It has imposed a President whom only 11% of faculty approved, and has now usurped the powers of the university Senate.

I have held tenured appointments at two Ontario universities since 1980 and been a visiting professor at two other Ontario universities (University of Ottawa and Carleton) as well as at McGill University in Quebec. I have never ever seen a situation like this.

Students offered grades ‘on the cheap’ but pay full fees

Over 75% of courses at York University have not been given since the beginning of March, over five weeks ago! My students do not know where to turn.

For so many of them, obtaining advanced education is already a challenge. They have to work part-time or full-time to pay their fees. They have young families or family care-giving responsibilities. For many it is a daily struggle to pay for housing and food. Under these conditions, meeting assignment deadlines is already challenging and they do not have the time to do their best work. I know, because I encourage my students to communicate their situation to me so that I can provide whatever assistance I can to help them complete their courses successfully.

But what are York students to do now? They have plans for graduating, for applications to other programs, for summer employment. Everything is on hold. They have paid full fees for their courses with their hard-earned money. Why should they have to pay all their fees when they don’t have timely access to all their courses?

The University administration is suggesting they take a grade for 60% or 70% of their work, that they accept some kind of grade ‘on the cheap.’ Will future employers look down at their York diploma? Will they still be able to get jobs? Why is the administration degrading its own degrees?

A Board of Governors completely disconnected from students, staff and faculty

This dire situation has arisen because a small group of people from big business and big banking have taken control over the Board of Governors and are usurping powers normally held by the President and the University Senate.

The Board runs the show behind closed doors according to its own hidden agenda, consulting only with union-busting lawyers and corporate public relations firms. There is no discussion, no dialogue, no respect of rules, no sense of community, and no sense of what a university is. This is not how a university should be governed. What kind of example is this for our students?

I received a shameless email yesterday from info@yorku.ca. The email wasn’t signed. I don’t know who wrote it. As a faculty member, I simply receive these anonymous emails from ‘above.’ Often the messages, addressed to us by our first names, are intimidating or contain misleading information.

I have never ever in 38 years of university teaching in Ontario seen such a radical disregard and disrespect on the part of a university Board and administration for its university’s students, staff and faculty. I have never seen such havoc and injustice wrought on a university because of a Board so completely disconnected from the people and principles of the university it is supposed to foster.

A Board of Governors in breach of its By-laws: No representation for vast sectors of the public

I wrote to you on March 19, 2018 to draw your attention to these grave governance issues at York University. I pointed out the Board of Governors’ disrespect by of its own By-laws requiring broad community representation on the Board, the Board’s failure to ensure gender equity on the Board, and the Board’s lack of representation of approximately 95% of York students and their programs.  My email was copied to the Secretary of the Cabinet.

I received no response from you or your Ministry. I can understand that this is a busy time for you, since elections will be held on June 7. But I don’t see how your government can sit by and allow such hardship to continue at Ontario’s second-largest university, with 46,400 undergraduate students and 5,900 graduate students, and 7,000 faculty and staff (http://about.yorku.ca/).

A Board of Governors opposed to equity for women

Your government is to be commended for having taken important steps to ensure gender equality and to prevent violence against women. Your program ‘GET ON BOARD – Ontario’s Implementation Plan to Promote Women in Corporate Leadership’ has set targets for the number of women on corporate boards.

Many Provincial Boards and Agencies have surpassed the 40% Target, achieving over 50% representation of women (https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-board-ontarios-implementation-plan-promote-women-corporate-leadership#section-5).

How then can your government accept that at York University, where 59% of undergraduate students are women, women constitute only 35% of external members on the Board and only 15% of the members of the Board’s central Executive Committee?

Chair of the Board makes sexist remarks in the Financial Post

How can your government accept that the Chair of the Board of Governors of an Ontario university has publicly expressed in the Financial Post his opposition to government legislation on gender equality and his sexist belief that if there are not more women on boards it’s because there are not enough qualified women? (http://business.financialpost.com/financial-post-magazine/ceo-of-the-year/managing-in-the-grey-scotiabanks-outgoing-ceo-reflects-on-the-state-of-financial-services-leadership)

The Board appoints its own external members. How can your government support a Board that has stubbornly refused to appoint an equal number of men and women?

A Board working against your government’s legislation on wage equity and women’s safety

Your government has put in place measures to ensure wage equity. How can it support a university Board who is actively widening the wage gap by refusing to improve working conditions for contract faculty, the majority of whom are women?

Your government has taken major steps to prevent violence against women. How can a Board that cannot even appoint an equal number of women possibly exercise appropriate oversight on university health and safety policies to prevent violence against women? Indeed, York University has a long history, under former President Shoukri and the same kind of sexist Board, of lack of concern for women’s safety.

A Board who does not represent 95% of York’s Undergraduate Students

The Ontario government funds universities through a complex formula that reflects enrollments. At York University, three faculties, Schulich (business), Osgoode (law) and Lassonde (engineering), represent about 5% of undergraduate students.

Yet, ALL the external members of the Board of Governors have degrees in these three fields. Five external Board members sit concurrently on advisory Boards at Schulich. In other words, NO external Board members represent the programs and disciplines of 95% of York University undergraduate students.

How can a Board skewed towards only three small faculties make informed and responsible decisions about programs in the eight other faculties? How can such a Board ensure that the public funds and student fees the university is receiving for these programs, where 95% of York University’s students are enrolled, are actually going towards these programs? The answer is that it cannot make, and is not making, responsible decisions for all York students.

A Board who pays lip service to experiential learning then cuts 800 graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships provide valuable professional experience to students. They are proud to put their assistantships on their résumé and their work experience at York University helps them obtain employment after graduation. Through these positions, students receive professional mentoring, participate in dynamic research projects and contribute to research at the university

Your Ministry has made strong efforts to increase Ontario students’ access to experiential learning and on-the-job training and has asked Ontario universities to outline the experiential learning opportunities they offer to students.

How can your Ministry support a Board that has outlined these opportunities to you then, behind your back, cut over 800 experiential learning positions for its own graduate students?

The Ontario government cannot allow a small, illegitimately appointed corporate Board to cause so much suffering and injustice at a public university

I believe that your government has an obligation to redress the enormous disconnection at York University between the Board of Governors and the administration it has put in place, on the one hand, and students, staff and faculty, on the other.

Students, staff and faculty at York University are under great duress. It is an exceedingly stressful situation. York University is a publicly-funded institution. Boards have an obligation to be accountable to the public they serve, but this Board at York is not answering to anyone.

I am deeply disappointed in this Board’s failure to respond to longstanding calls to respect its own By-laws and include members from a broad range of diverse sectors in society.

On the contrary, it has just infringed more regulations and laws in flagrant disregard for the very principles of mutual understanding and respect, on which universities are founded. This is not how a university should be governed.

I am deeply distressed by the inhumane actions of this Board. It has consistently and shamelessly trampled over the interests of students, staff and faculty. It has made every effort to degrade the collective intellectual and creative spirit of York University. It has not shown one iota of regret for the real suffering it is imposing on real people.

Your government has to take responsibility urgently. It must hold the Board accountable for the actions that are putting York University and the education of its students at risk. It cannot allow a handful of individuals who have appointed themselves to the university’s Board and function as a closed shop to sabotage a public institution of higher learning.

I am urging you, because it behooves you as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, to 1) place York University temporarily under government supervision, 2) disband the current illegitimate Board of Governors, 3) annul its appointment of Dr. Rhonda Lenton as President, and 4) appoint an interim Chairperson of the Board of Governors tasked with undertaking the renewal of the university’s governance structures.

Yours sincerely,

Agnes Whitfield, Ph.D., c. tran.
Professor/Professeure titulaire,
Department of English/Département d’études anglaises
York University/Université York, Toronto (Canada)
Founding Director/Directrice fondatrice, Vita Traductiva
Visiting Professor/Professeure invitee, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, 2017
Bilingual Joint Chair in Women’s Studies, Carleton University, University of Ottawa/Chaire conjointe bilingue en études des femmes, Université Carleton, Université d’Ottawa, 2009-2010
Virtual Scholar, Heritage Canada/Chercheure virtuelle, Patrimoine canadien, 2006-2007
Seagram Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies, McGill University/Chaire d’invité Seagram en études canadiennes, Université McGill, 2003-2004
Présidente, Association canadienne de traductologie /President, Canadian Association for Translation Studies, 1995-1999

York University (L)Activists Submitted Petition and Accommodation Requests to York Administration

Image Description: A small child beams at the camera from the bottom left corner. Behind them a woman can be seen breastfeeding. On the Right is a large banner that reads “Lactation Accommodation is a Human Right”

On March 29, 2018, an ad hoc group of York University students, faculty, and staff called the (L)Activists held a rally and lactation-in at Vari Hall. This was followed by a march to President Rhonda Lenton’s office to present a petition with over 650 signatories urging the University administration to provide reasonable lactation accommodations. This action followed an ongoing refusal by York University to respond to concerns by students, faculty, and staff that there is not adequate space for pumping and breastfeeding at any of the York University campuses. Most recently, this action was prompted by the lack of a response from the York University Bargaining Team in negotiations with CUPE 3903 on March 20, 2018. When the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team asked York to provide accommodations that would be accessible to all members, this request was summarily ignored.

At the rally and lactation-in, attendees told stories about their personal experiences of attempting to receive family-status accommodations from York University. They painted a picture of an institution that has continually ignored its responsibility under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Noted guests included Professor Michele McIntosh of the Breastfeeding Friendly Campus Initiative and Dr. Jack Newman, who is a world-renowned breastfeeding specialist.

Provost Philipps received the (L)Activists petition which requests that York open at least one lactation lounge at each of the York University campuses that is accessible to all students, staff, faculty, and administration who are in need of accommodation. The petition specifies that each of the lactation lounges should adhere to the following standards of accommodation:

  1. A clean, quiet, and private (to those in need of accommodations) space that locks in order to breastfeed and/or pump. The space must have comfortable seating, and access to a power outlet.
  2. A space that is accessible at any hour in which a class may be held as well as an hour before and after those times. This space should also be accessible on the weekends.
  3. Access to a clean, dedicated refrigerator for storage of milk.
  4. A storage space for individual pumping equipment.
  5. Access to a designated sink in which to clean pumping equipment.

During the march to the Office of the President, the (L)Activists were able to make it to the 10th floor of Kaneff and eventually put a copy of the petition on President Lenton’s front desk. Provost Philipps returned to the group and committed that York will make meaningful reform on this matter. The (L)Activists have requested a response to their requests and a timeline for completion by April 17, 2018.

Image Description: In the foreground is the blank back of a banner hung between two strollers. Behind it is a circle of predominantly women.

So Many Reasons to Kill the Rat!

By Matthew Dunleavy

On March 21st 2018, CUPE 3903 filed an Unfair Labour Practices (ULP) complaint against York University. Although this complaint brought up three separate instances whereby the university clearly broke the Labour Relations Act, at its heart it was an attempt to reign in a exploitive President, bargaining team, and Board of Governors; to get them to stop their media smear campaign against CUPE 3903, get them back to the bargaining table, and finally begin to bargain in good faith. The hearing for that case is scheduled for April 4th.

Five days later, on March 25th, the CUPE 3903 bargaining team invited the employer back to the bargaining table (again) and clearly outlined the “red lines” agreed upon by our members.

Rather than see that their offer does not address the needs of 60% of the educators at the university, the employer read the ULP and our offer to bargain and, on March 27th, chose to by-pass the negotiating table to request a forced ratification vote via the Ministry of Labour.

Once news of this spread, members of the union have been posting on social media, informally talking on picket lines, and discussing at length during the SGMM on March 29th about why we should vote NO—or, in union parlance, why we should KILL THE RAT!

With over 3,000 members, we have a wide range of lived experiences as contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and research assistants (and part-time librarians who, though not on strike right now, are valued members of our collective).  Due to these individual experiences, some members may be considering a vote of yes during the ratification vote. For that reason, this post is intended to present why a vote of NO is necessary; remember, your vote is not just for yourself but for the well-being of the current members in our union and the thousands of future members that will follow in our footsteps in trying to obtain a basic standard of living through negotiation.


No Back-to-Work Protocol = No Pay, No Protection

The forced ratification vote presented by the employer currently includes no back-to-work protocol. What this means is that the university is free to remunerate us for the work we do on our return to work however they see fit. Should the university settle on a 60-70% assessed grade, we could be looking at a 30-40% reduction on a final pay cheque. Should the university extend the semester for just two weeks, we would be expected to cover all the missed materials and complete the end-of-term marking as if a strike never happened, but we could be receiving pay for just two weeks of work. Considering York gutted the summer funding for Unit 1 and many members of Unit 2 cannot guarantee contracts for the summer, some members won’t receive a full pay cheque until September. York has assured us that we will be paid when we return to work. However, without back-to-work protocol included in the ratification, there’s no guarantee that they will stick to their word and sticking to their word is not something York has been very good at recently, considering their anti-union campaign and aggressive [non-]negotiations. 

If you returned to work (SCABBED!) and undermined the unity of our union, you will also lose any protections the university could include in back-to-work protocol. SCABS will be unprotected from the sanctions laid out by CUPE National, as they decided to be unsupportive of the union, which would likely include losing all union benefits. There are numerous union members that have been proactive in collecting the data on those who returned to work during the strike, so SCABS will not be overlooked when the sanctioning process begins.

Finally, we know York has been surveilling our members each day, most notably by a private security firm hired specifically for the purpose (one of a number of issues that prompted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to attempt to intervene). We are also aware that during this strike, even as the employer pushes its “student first” narrative when discussing the fellowship model for Unit 1, York has made it clear that union members (even when also graduate students) are unwelcome on campus and do not have the same rights as other students. The current student effort to reclaim the renamed “Student and Community Chamber” has been mischaracterized by the university as a CUPE 3903 initiative, which completely undermines the efforts and political prowess of undergraduate students demanding accountability from an institution that strips them of thousands of dollars each year. Some of our members, unconnected to strike activity, have visited the chambers with messages of solidarity and thanks, in addition to some supplies. With no back-to-work protocol, and knowing the Student and Community Chamber has been surveilled, members who offered support to our students could be unprotected from employer retribution.

Sexual Violence Survivor’s Fund = Supporting Our Members

Our bargaining team has requested $50,000 for a Sexual Violence Survivor Fund. These funds would be utilized by the Trans Feminist Action Caucus (TFAC) to support the invaluable work they do supporting survivors of sexual and/or gender-based violence. This would be money used in a way that places survivors first and gets them whatever help they need.

York has not refused the $50,000 but they wish it to be allocated to the Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO), an office that the union was not adequately consulted on and does not offer the survivor-centric model that TFAC and CUPE 3903 want to support our members and the York community.  With the money allotted to an office that is not autonomous to the institution, we cannot ensure that the needs of the institution are not put before the needs of survivors.

A vote no is a vote to support survivors.

“Tickets” = Stolen Jobs, Cheaper Labour

The most recent edition of On The Picket Lines nicely summarized the “domino effect” of more Unit 1 Course Director “tickets”. Some members of Unit 1 may have bought into the employer’s argument that these tickets offer a better job and better work experience, but what is the cost of that experience?

  1. More time away from your own research. Building a course, selecting and ordering books, designing a curriculum, lecturing each week, marking, and a variety of other jobs will take up substantially more time than your regular teaching assistantship.
  2. More money in the pocket of York University. As a Course Director working on a ticket, you will see barely any movement in your pay cheques and, considering York’s offer does not place the fellowship in the collective agreement, who is to say they would not claw-back some of that funding?
  3. Stolen jobs. Many members of Unit 2 struggle to find enough courses to teach each semester (sometimes at numerous universities) and gain any semblance of a living wage; this new contract would take 55 courses away from professors who have dedicated years of teaching at York.

So if you are a member of Unit 1 and considering a vote of “yes” to up your chances of a course directorship during your PhD, consider the three points above and remember that CUPE 3903 represents all of us.


Conversion Concessions = York Offers Non-existent Positions

A concession is when an employer takes away something from a union that was won in a previous contract. In our last negotiation we won eight conversions (per year) for contract faculty to move into tenure-stream positions. These conversions allow a small number of devoted educators to move from precarious work to secure, full-time positions. In this round, York is offering two conversions (per year) and consistently lying to our students and the public that they are not offering any concessions. I am completing my PhD in English Literature so have very little mathematics experience but, even with my limited knowledge, I can safely say that two is less than eight. Therefore, York’s offer of two conversions is (say it with me) a CONCESSION!

To fill this gap, York has offered six (per year) Special Renewable Contracts (SRC). These contracts allow the university to exploit our Unit 2 members by offering them full-time work but in a contract that is riddled with no guarantee of renewal, higher teaching loads, and lower salaries than their York University Faculty Association (YUFA) counterparts.

One of the other issues with the SRC option is that York is not even in a position to offer them. SRCs fall under the jurisdiction of YUFA and although York is offering them to us in their ratification vote, YUFA has not implemented them into their collective agreement, thereby making the offer void. YUFA has released a statement explaining that they will not accept this major amendment to their collective agreement.


Fellowship Model = Goodbye Employment

Members of Unit 1 that have earned (and been lucky enough) to receive scholarships and awards while completing their graduate studies are well aware of York’s insistence on clawing back other funding (the funding that is now allocated under the “Fellowship”). If this has impacted you, it is easy to see how a vote “no” is the best option if you want to block the administration from taking more of your money away.

If you have not received awards, you may not see why CUPE 3903 insists on having the fellowship (about $5,400) under our collective agreement. It not only protects funds from claw-backs but also allows the union to protect this funding from any other changes. What I mean by protecting the funding is that, without the fellowship being protected under the collective agreement, York is not accountable to anybody as to how it reaches the “minimum guarantee” for students, they could make unilateral changes and graduate students would be at the mercy of our merciless employer. Basically, we would have no control how graduate students receive over a quarter of their funding; York would decide when it comes, how it comes, and if it comes.

York insists that their fellowship model and their attempts to subsume more and more funding under that title is an attempt to view graduate students and members of Unit 1 as “students first”. Basically, this amounts to stripping funding from its connection to employment, which is what lost us the 700 jobs in Unit 3 since our last collective agreement.

Without giving a clear, unified NO to this forced ratification vote, we are losing our opportunity to reclaim those lost jobs for our Unit 3 colleagues, and opening the door for the same union-busting decimation to take place in Unit 1. A vote yes is a vote for union-busting.


Employee Lists and E-mail Address = Can We Guarantee a Fair Vote?

York has aggressively tried to ensure that this forced ratification vote is as undemocratic as possible. Members of the bargaining team have reported discrepancies with the list provided to the Ministry of Labour (by York) and our own list. The former list contains more employees, including many that we know to never have been members of our union. In addition to this, many members have reported receiving no communication from the university or the ministry regarding this vote as their listed e-mail addresses are inactive “employee e-mails”. York knows that, at least for graduate students in the union (the bulk of Unit 1 and 3) we use our student York e-mail address or the designated alternate e-mail address on file; we have never been instructed to set-up an employee address. Selecting these unused, inactive addresses is a clear attempt to ensure many members are unable to access the vote in time.

No Breastfeeding and Pumping Space = Supporting Parents

On March 29th 2018, a number of mothers, parents, guardians, and supporters held a lactation-in at York University (in addition to an open-letter to Lenton) demanding that the university address the inadequate support for mothers to breastfeed and pump on campus. The university claims that it adheres to the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), but in reality, there is no space on campus that is always available to provide a clean and private area to breastfeed and/or pump. Nor is there a system in place to store milk or properly clean pumping equipment.

York pushed back on even considering any of the demands above as they claimed they were already fulfilling the demands of the OHRC; the fact that this has to even be considered in a labour negotiation and in a collective agreement is disgusting as it is a protected human right in Canada. We need to ensure the university is accountable to parents on our Keele campus, our Glendon campus, and our future Markham campus. As many new parents must return to work early at York because we do not qualify for the full maternity/paternity benefits that are a staple in Canada (because York refuses to acknowledge our labour correctly when recording our insurable hours), this is the least they can do for breastfeeding mothers (again, considering it is a right under the OHRC).
Strike To Win = Do Not Give In

The forced ratification vote will take place between Friday April 6 at 9 am and Monday April 9 at 10 am, placing the close of the vote in our sixth week of striking. The offer that we are being forced to vote upon is no different that then offer voted down to begin this strike. Should we let ourselves give in and take this offer, the weeks on the picket lines or performing the numerous other tasks that give us a unified voice demanding a fair contract from our over-paid employer will be for nothing.


We must strike to win.

We must vote no.


How to Access Your Employee Email to Participate in the Forced Ratification Vote

There are simplified instructions for how to access your employee email on the CUPE 3903 website. It is important to note that those instructions will only work if you either have access to your employee account or have never accessed it before. They are

  1. Go to http://hr.info.yorku.ca/
  2. Click on “Current Employees”
  3. If you know your employee ID and password, you can log in here. If you don’t remember your password, click on “Faculty and Staff” under “Forgot your password or username?” and follow the steps to recover it.
  4. Once you have been able to log in, click on your name at the top right of the screen and scroll down to “My Account”
  5. On the left side of your screen, you should see the email address listed.

Once you have your email address, you have to change your password before the account can be accessed. Here is how you can do that:

  1. Go to mymail.yorku.ca
  2. Type in your employee email (but do not log in — if you try to log in it will tell you your username and password is incorrect)
  3. Click on “Manage my services.”
  4. Click on “Electronic mail”
  5. Click on “Change password” and follow the steps.
  6. Wait at least one hour and up to 24 hours before trying out your new email and password.
  7. Log in to your employee email at mymail.yorku.ca


If, however, you have lost access to your employee account because you’ve forgotten your login information you will have to either email accounts@yorku.ca with your employee number and request that information. You can find instructions here.

Keep in mind that if you try and just do a password reset, they will send the reset email to the employee email that you do not have access to.

Vote NO in the Forced Ratification

This originally appeared on the CUPE 3903 website here.

York University has requested a forced ratification vote on an offer which is not meaningfully different from the one that was rejected on March 2. This offer needs to be rejected — again — in order to ensure fair contracts which include basic equity provisions and a modicum of job security for all three units, as well as proper compensation and protections once the strike ends.

The vote will be online, and will take place between Friday April 6 at 9 am and Monday April 9 at 10 am.

A quick summary of issues can be found below. For those who want more detail, follow these links:

Have questions? There are lots of opportunities to discuss any concerns or questions you may have:

  • Phone-in townhall Wednesday, April 4 from 3:00 to 4:30, more details TBA.
  • CUPE 3903 Hotline Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 1:00: 416-466-8421
  • Special General Membership Meeting, Wednesday, April 4, 5:30 to 8:30, 30 Tangiers Rd.

Why Vote NO on the Forced Ratification Vote?

Concessions Remain on the Table

The offer you are asked to vote on is not meaningfully different from the one that was rejected on March 2.

It does not protect Teaching Assistants from unilateral changes to funding or claw backs (reductions of funding) of scholarships or additional work.

It worsens job security for Contract Faculty, with no protection from unilateral changes to qualifications language, no improvements to job security programs like the Continuing Sessional Standing Program (CSSP) and Long Service Teaching Appointments (LSTAs), a Special Renewable Contract program that the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) has clearly indicated they would reject, and a Conversions program gutted to two conversions to tenure-track jobs per year, down from eight.

The offer does nothing to address the elimination of more than 800 Graduate Assistant jobs, thus severely impacting the accessibility of graduate education.

Finally, the offer does not sufficiently address equity and accessibility in the workplace, refusing key anti-racism proposals, lactation rooms, and a functional Sexual Violence Survivor Fund.

A NO vote is a vote for a fair contract that addresses job security, equity, and accessibility for all three units.

No Back-to-Work Protocol: No Pay, No Protections

A back-to-work protocol is typically negotiated at the end of a strike in order to set out the conditions of our return to work. This protocol sets out what amount of pay we can expect to receive in order to finish our contracts for the semester, and what protections from reprisals we can expect.

There is no back-to-work protocol included in York’s offer. This means that you are highly unlikely to get paid for the work that you still have left in your contract, and that you will not be protected from reprisals, either for participation in the strike or lack thereof. York may say that they will honour pay and protections without a protocol, but as we have seen again and again, if there is no negotiated agreement, signed by both parties, there is no guarantee. Even in binding arbitration, we would have more say over the terms of our return to work.

A NO vote is a vote for a negotiated back-to-work protocol that includes pay and protections.

The Deal Can Only Get Better

The fact is that this deal is the worst that we will get. The employer can only force a supervised vote once. If it fails, they will be pressured to do what they should have been doing for the past six months: bargain in good faith. Even if bargaining fails and we are legislated back to work, an arbitrator is very unlikely to settle on an agreement that is equal or worse to one that was already rejected.

A NO vote is a vote for a better deal.
A NO vote is a vote for job security, accessibility, equity, and respect.
A NO vote is a vote for our right to collective bargaining.

Student and Faculty Groups Express Concerns about York University’s Behaviour During the CUPE 3903 Strike

The Osgoode Strike Support Committee (OSSC) and both York’s own faculty association (YUFA) and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) have expressed concerns of York’s activities during the CUPE 3903 strike.

OSSC is concerned about the treatment of the Students for CUPE 3903 who are currently occupying York’s Senate Chamber. They are particularly concerned about York’s use of a private security firm,

We are in daily communication with the undergrads inside the Senate chambers. We are concerned by the university’s use of private security guards–a worrying trend we first observed during the Aramark strike in 2015. We see this as an attempt to intimidate students, and break the solidarity and support extended by workers and students from across the city. We are concerned by the blatant power imbalance between the undergrads and the university administration.

YUFA is also concerned about the use of private security,

The administration has contracted a private security firm whose guards have surrounded Senate and is closely monitoring students and visitors coming and going. These security guards are also watching and filming CUPE members on the picket line. Staff in Kaneff Tower are subject to a daily lockdown of the building and are monitored by the private security force. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has issued an open letter to President Rhonda Lenton expressing its concern about these developments and is asking for input in a questionnaire from all members of the York community. The occupation of the Senate Chamber by “Students for CUPE 3903” continues, although media have been banned from entering the 9th floor of the Ross Building.

YUFA is further concerned about how tactics used by York University during bargaining and the subsequent strike with CUPE 3903 might influence York’s bargaining tactics with YUFA’s own current contract negotiations,

YUFA is very concerned with this hard-line approach to contract negotiations and to communication in general. We are now entering bargaining to renegotiate our own collective agreement, and the tactics used against CUPE 3903, including delayed bargaining, intense public relations, a forced ratification vote, and heightened, possibly illegal security measures, may well be employed against other campus unions such as YUFA and the York University Staff Association (YUSA). In addition, the constant dissemination of aggressive administration messaging, combined with the chaos surrounding the academic term and its remediation, has become extremely stressful and divisive for members of the university community and particularly injurious to our students, according to their reports.

OCUFA is concerned about how the concessions that York is insisting on in its current proposal to CUPE 3903 will reinforce job precarity,

OCUFA stands in strong solidarity with members of CUPE 3903, who play a vital role in delivering courses and supporting the academic mission of York University, and fully supports their efforts to defend fair working conditions. The concessions that York University has put forward in its final offer will compromise the working conditions of contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants and the quality of education students at York receive. Working conditions of academic staff are students’ learning conditions. (emphasis in original)

Moreover, OCUFA is concerned about the erosion of academic integrity as York University has sought to derail attempts by nonstriking faculty to cancel their classes for the duration of the strike,

We also support the York campus community’s call for respect for policies that protect the rights of students who choose not to cross picket lines, and we echo the concerns that many faculty members and students have raised regarding the continuation of classes during the strike. In particular, we find it troubling that the administration has tried to challenge faculty members who have sought to reschedule their classes to meet standards of academic integrity and fairness to students required by the policies of the University Senate. (emphasis in original)

All three letters are well worth reading in full.


Canadian Civil Liberties Association Expresses Concerns about York U’s Treatment of Picketers and Occupying Protesters

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed concerns regarding how York University is treating striking members of CUPE 3903 and students currently occupying the senate chamber in protest to York’s actions during the strike.

The have created a survey for York faculty and students. It can be accessed here. They will be publicly releasing the results of that survey on their website.

They have also written a letter to York President, Rhonda Lenton.


Text of the letter reads

Dr. Rhonda L. Lenton

President and Vice Chancellor York University

4700 Keele Street

Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3


Dear President Lenton,

I am writing to you about disturbing reports regarding the reported activities of security personnel during the current strike at York U, including the student occupation taking place in the University Senate Chamber. While we are continuing to gather information, allegations of intimidation by security personnel and surveillance of lawful protesters have been brought to our attention.

A public university in Canada is the last place that should see civil liberty violations during a strike. The right to strike, to express oneself, to protest, to gather together in solidarity — this is the stuff of freedom in Canada.

Your office and York University is accountable for the actions of your “security” personnel -regardless of whether they are directly employed by the University or hired as contractors. They must respect eveiyone’s civil liberties during a strike and protest. They must not do anything to deter the exercise of those rights or otherwise engage in intimidation tactics, such as video-taping, questioning, detaining, or interfering with the civil liberties of strikers, protestors, observers, or passers-by.

We would like to understand the basis on which you have contracted with a private security firm during the strike. We are also seeking information about the firm’s surveillance practices, including how the information they gather is stored, retained, or otherwise used. Are they operating in compliance with York’s own policies on obtaining consent for photographs, video and audio recordings, which requires all third parties to be informed that the University is covered by F1PPA and to ask subjects for consent for video or audio recordings?

We are seeking the opportunity to meet with you for the purposes of addressing the foregoing. Every individual on York U’s campus has the power, and we have their back.


Michael Bryant

Executive Director & General Counsel