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3,000 York University academic workers go on strike | CBC News

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Some 3,000 academic workers at York University walked off the job Monday after the union representing them and the school failed to reach a deal on a new collective agreement.

The contract instructors, teaching assistants and graduate assistants officially went on strike after midnight, with picket lines set up throughout the morning and a rally scheduled for later outside York University subway station. The members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903 teach more than 50 per cent of classes at the university, which is located in north Toronto and has a student body of more than 55,000.

Erin McIntosh, spokesperson for CUPE 3903 and a PhD student at York, said Monday the school did not bring an updated offer to the bargaining table over the weekend after union members voted in favour of strike action on Friday.

“We offered to stay late into Friday. We offered to meet over the weekend to see if we could get a deal. But still we did not receive any proposals from the employer even after our strike vote,” McIntosh told CBC News, adding that the university began locking out union members from their online teaching modules on Sunday.

“It really felt like we had no option but to take strike action starting today,” McIntosh said.

WATCH | Thousands of academic workers at York University strike for better wages:

Thousands of academic workers at York University strike for better wages

Around three thousand academic workers at York University walked off the job on Monday after their union and the school failed to reach a deal on a new collective agreement. Union members are calling for wages that they say reflect the current cost of living.

The primary issues for the union are wages that reflect the cost of living in Toronto and job stability, according to McIntosh. The reality for many teaching and graduate assistants in particular has reached a “breaking point,” she added.

“Workers cannot keep up with the cost of living, grocery prices, the cost of housing, even education itself is getting further out of reach for workers at York University,” McIntosh said.

In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for York University said the school offered proposals on Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 that “addressed crucial items,” including increase in rates of pay.

“The University is ensuring that students learning needs remain the top priority. Contingency plans for all other aspects of university operations are in place and will be activated as required and we will continue to work toward a swift, equitable, and sustainable agreement with CUPE 3903,” the statement said.

Members of CUPE 3903 picket on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.
About 3,000 contract instructors, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at York University went on strike Monday. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Given the teaching load handled by members of the union, there will be many classes and courses cancelled due to the strike, McIntosh said.

“We are hopeful to stop the strike as soon as we can,” McIntosh said.

Ashley D’Souza, president of the York Federation of Students, the largest undergraduate students’ union in Canada, said most members he has spoken with support the striking workers, about half of whom are students themselves.

“I think CUPE 3903 is simply trying to get a deal done that allows folks to survive, in a city that is getting increasingly difficult to survive in,” he told CBC News.

The roughly 3,000 academic workers at York University represented by CUPE 3903 teach more than 50 per cent of classes.
The roughly 3,000 academic workers at York University represented by CUPE 3903 teach more than 50 per cent of classes. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

“As a student, I can see that their working conditions are ultimately going to be our learning conditions. If they aren’t able to work, then that is going to impact our education experience.”

The latest labour action comes just over five years after a five-month-long strike at the university that only ended after Premier Doug Ford’s government passed back-to-work legislation. During that labour dispute, communication between the school and the union completely broke down.

Around the same time, the province also passed Bill 124, which restricted many public sector wage increases to one per cent for three years. The government officially repealed the legislation last week after two courts ruled it was unconstitutional.

“That law was subsequently struck down by the courts because it was unconstitutional, but York has yet to address the imbalance it created,” CUPE 3903 said following the strike vote on Friday.

Students concerned about the semester

Several York students who spoke to CBC News said they worry about how long the strike could last and what it could mean for their semester.

“I’m just concerned about whether they are ever going to be able to bargain. Last time it took five months,” said Thomas Politano, a sophomore in environmental studies for urban planning.

“All of the classes are cancelled, so now I’m just waiting around for the strike to end. And it sucks because people are paying for an education they’re not even getting,” he added. 

Elina Ashrafi, a first-year business student, said all she had heard thus far is that some of her classes were cancelled.

“I don’t know what is going to happen with my classes. I don’t know if they’re going to figure something out — are we going to pass? Are they going to make us drop the courses?” she said “So that’s a little bit confusing.”

Ryan Posidis, who is in his second year studying emergency and disaster management, said he does not support the strike action.

“I think it is unfair to students, especially those who aren’t involved with it at all. And I personally think that [teaching assistants] are asking for too much. I think it just screws all of us,” he said.

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