York Strike

You’re in your final year of school. Graduation is just a stone throw away. You wake up at night hopeful, nervous and excited about the possibilities that lie ahead, only there’s one problem. Your school is on strike.

If you live anywhere in Toronto, you have probably heard about the York University strike. Teaching assistants, graduate and contract faculty are all on strike demanding more than York is willing to offer. Now, there’s been a lot of rhetoric going around about who is right and who is wrong. I find frequently, just watching the news doesn’t really give you a good picture. Most news sources have some sort of bias, or leave out vital facts that really are needed to make an informed decision. I’ve tried to collect some information that I think is necessary to make a reasonably informed opinion. As far as I can tell there are three main issues:

1) Length of the collective bargaining agreement
It seems the union wants a 2 year contract instead of a 3 year contract, so that it ends at the same time as similar collective bargaining agreements at other schools. I don’t think there is any contention from either side that this demand will give them better leverage to bargain a new deal in 2 years.

2) Length of contracts for contract workers
Apparently, contract workers (e.g. lecturers) are only given a 8 month contract (I think one school year of teaching). If they want the same job they have to re-apply again the next year. The union wants a 5 year contract length.

3) Wages and Graduate student funding
York is offering 9.25 over 3 years whereas the union seems to want wage and cost of living allowances that adjust to the cost of living. They want total graduate student funding to not fall below the the minimum in Toronto ($22,653). I found this post on Facebook outlining the facts about graduate student funding at York.

I think this information should give you a better idea about the issues than most newspaper articles.

One comment I hear very often is that the unions are not doing what’s best for the students who can’t go to school. I find it amusing that anyone would think that the union cares about anything more than the benefit of its members. The union’s purpose is to reach the best collective bargaining agreement they can for their members. Let’s not kid ourselves here, if they can get a million dollar salary for all their members they would — regardless of how it affects the undergraduate students. But what do you expect them to do? This is their purpose. Unless they thought that there was a chance that either York would fire all of them or go under, they probably wouldn’t settle for anything significantly less than their demands.

On the other hand for York, it’s not clear that they are doing what’s in the best interest of the school. Their job should be to provide the best schooling to all of their students in the long term. On one hand, this means getting students back to school as soon as possible — even if it means meeting the union’s demands. On the other hand, if they give in to the demands of the union, it may take away resources so they can’t provide top quality education to their students. This would be much more clear cut if it were a corporation whose sole job is to make money for its share holders. York as a quasi-public institute has a blurred role.

So by now — probably regardless of the facts — you have formed an opinion. I have one too but I don’t think it really matters. People like to form opinions and try to convince you that they are right. The real question is how we can get these students back to school with a high quality of education. I haven’t heard any constructive solutions. I just hope the students can wake up at night being nervous about tripping on stage at convocation instead of whether or not they’ll graduate.