Overwhelming strike mandate puts pressure on York University

TORONTO, Oct. 19 - After a four-day vote that saw hundreds of teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty cast their ballots, CUPE 3903 has received an overwhelming 86% strike mandate, the highest the local has seen in years.

Key issues in negotiations include job security for contract faculty, employment and workplace equity, tuition fees and compensation for graduate students, who often live below the poverty level.

Of particular concern to contract faculty is the question of job security. One member, Mary-Anne Coffey, asked, "I have been teaching for over 20 years on a temporary basis and yet I am not considered a permanent employee - is that fair?" Many contract faculty at York teach at twice and three times the workloads of tenured faculty and often do not know what they are teaching until one month before courses begin, which affects not only the lives of faculty themselves, but also the quality of the education undergraduate students can expect.

Teaching assistants, who make up the largest percentage of the membership, are equally insistent about the need for a better agreement.

"Folks are being asked to live, in an expensive city like Toronto, on $10,000 per year - that's less than half of  the poverty line wage in Ontario," said Baolinh Dang. "We can't sustain ourselves like this and the whole university is suffering as a result."

On its web site, the university says, "After negotiation meetings on 19 days over the last three months, CUPE Local 3903 continues to demandincreases in wages, benefits and other monetary provisions in excess of $98,000,000 or 156% over a two-year period, including wage increases of over 30 per cent each year.

"In a worsening internal and external fiscal context with already announced budget cuts of 2 per cent across the university for each of the three years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, CUPE Local 3903’s demands amount to 15 per cent of the university’s 2007-08 operating budget."

The union is in a legal strike position as of 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, November 2, 2008. Click here for updates from the  university's web site.