The Red and Black Star Shines Brightly in the Night as CUPE 3903 Goes On Strike
by Dhruv Jain Basics #11 (November 2008)
At 10.39 pm on November 5th 2008 a cheer erupted in Curtis Hall I at York University as the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 in consultation with its members decided to go on strike. The membership voted, in a demonstration of union democracy at a ‘Special Consultative General Membership Meeting’, 71.7% to recommend to the Union’s Bargaining Team and Executive that they reject the ‘final offer’ of the Employer. The Executive and the Bargaining Team accepted the recommendation of the membership unanimously.
CUPE 3903 represents approximately 3,350 members who work as Teaching Assistants (TA’s), Contract Faculty, Graduate Assistants (GA’s) and Research Assistants (RA’s). The Union last went on strike in 2000-2001 when York University attempted to make the Union concede the tuition rebates it had won in previous rounds of bargaining. The long strike was finally won by the Union after 76 days, the longest strike in the education sector. Picket lines will go up at both the Keele and Glendon Campuses at 7 am and come down at 7 pm starting 12.01 am November 6th, 2008.
The Union is striking this time over poverty wages for its workers; better job security for contract faculty; increases to funds that reflect the increases in membership in the last several years; and a 2-year contract. York University for its part has been unwilling to move on any of the demands seriously and has offered wage increases over 3 years that fall far below the projected inflation rates in the next 2 years. Furthermore, the University has refused to give better job security despite the fact that the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) and CUPE 3903 have agreed upon an outline for a proposal. The University’s counter-proposals regarding funds available to members were considered insulting by nearly all in the room, including a paltry $1500 dollar increase for childcare. And the cherry on the top of this cake is the University’s refusal to accept a 2-year contract that would allow CUPE 3903 to bargain in 2010 as has been mandated by the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee, a sub-committee of CUPE Ontario, so that all education sector locals will be able to engage in ‘coordinated bargaining’. The University has similarly brushed other demands such as serious movement on tuition rates, health benefits, and smaller class sizes. The University claims that the demands of the Union are “unreasonable” despite the fact that the same University has been willing to give 15.6% wage increases to their own corporate bigwigs.
The ball is now in York University’s court to actually make a deal that the Union could seriously consider. As tired and sleepy CUPE 3903 members boarded the 196 Rocket from York University to Downsview Station, past midnight, they sang loudly, clearly, energetically and enthusiastically, “We’ll go all the way!” And they sang it once more on the long subway ride home.