What is the strike about?
Education workers at York University who make up nearly 3,700 members of CUPE 3903 want undergraduate students to receive the high quality of education that you deserve. Unfortunately, as both students and instructors at York know all too well, learning conditions for undergraduates have been deteriorating, even while your tuition fees continue to rise. Your declining quality of education is directly tied to our poor wages and working conditions. Despite this, the York University administration refuses to offer CUPE 3903 members a deal that would provide the kind of job security necessary to improve students’ post-secondary education.
We take seriously the hardship and inconvenience that the disruption of classes causes undergraduate students, and it was by no means an easy decision to go on strike. However, the administration has stubbornly refused to negotiate a deal that values and respects the labour of York’s instructors and, in turn, the education of their students. At this point, a strike is our last option to convince the university to negotiate a fair deal for educators and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the quality of education for teachers and students alike.
Who is CUPE 3903?
CUPE 3903 represents the contract faculty (professors hired on a course-by-course basis or on short-term contracts), teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and research assistants at York University. It works to improve the working conditions of our membership and to defend the right to accessible and quality education for all.
To learn more about CUPE 3903, watch this short video.
Why did CUPE decide to strike?
In a unionized work environment, workers have written and legally-binding guarantees covering our wages, funding and health benefits.
Our current Collective Agreement with the university expired on August 31, 2014 – over six months ago. CUPE 3903 has been working hard over the last several months to negotiate a new contract with the university to get a fair deal for everyone.
In the event that the bargaining process completely breaks down, unions typically go on strike as a tactic of last resort. Since the administration’s offer to the union did not seriously address any of our main concerns, the members of CUPE 3903 felt that going on strike was our only option to negotiate better learning and working conditions at York.
Can York afford to meet CUPE's demands?
Our demands do not place undue burden on the university and would not result in higher tuition fees for undergraduate students. The total cost of our last contract – including all wages and benefits – was only eight per cent of all operating costs for the university. A decent contract doesn’t cause tuition fees to increase. Tuition fees increase because of government cuts to education funding.
Thirty years ago, about 80 per cent of a university’s operating budget was covered by government funding. Today, government funding only covers about 50 per cent. To make up the difference, universities have forced students to pay higher and higher tuition fees – creating massive debt for students, at the same time as threatening the quality of their education. Meanwhile, administration salaries at York have ballooned, even as the government continues to cut funding. This means that teaching assistants, contract faculty and undergraduates alike are all squeezed to make up for the shortfall.
How does the strike affect you? Why should you care?
When we negotiate with the university for a new contract, we try to improve our working conditions. Our working conditions have a direct effect on the quality of your education. The quality of your education is determined by a number of factors, including: class and tutorial size; how much time your teachers have to develop and teach courses; how much time your teachers have to grade your work and give you one-on-one instruction; what kind of resources are available to students and teachers alike; and whether your education environment is open and inclusive.
York’s teaching assistants and contract faculty are faced with poverty wages, uncertain futures, mounting workloads and ever-larger class sizes. Under these conditions, the majority of York’s teaching community is not afforded the time, security or resources that could facilitate a more meaningful engagement with students. Despite this decline in learning conditions, tuition fees continue to rise and students are repeatedly assured that it is “their time”.
How long will the strike last? How can you help end it?
We don’t know how long the strike will last. The duration of the strike is entirely up to the university administration’s willingness to offer a deal that ensures respect and dignity for the university’s education workers.
The best way you can help us all get back to classes is to lend your public support in making the bargaining process work. Together, we need to show the university that we are serious about our proposals, and that students and educational workers share the same demands for accessible, high quality education and a fair and equitable workplace. You can lend your support in a number of ways: send a letter to the administration telling them to negotiate a fair contract; join us at public rallies; or come show your solidarity on the picket lines!