Ontario labour organizations respond to PC plans to halt York University strike

Published On July 18, 2018 | By ajeffrey | News

York University’s strike has been ongoing since March 5, the longest university strike in Canadian history. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Andrew Jeffrey

York University’s ongoing faculty strike may soon reach its end after more than four months on the picket line.

But several labour organizations across the province are working to oppose the expected legislation, advocating for continued negotiations.

The new Ontario PC government announced the Urgent Priorities Act, earlier this week. This omnibus bill, amongst other intentions, would enact back-to-work legislation which would return the nearly 2,000 striking teaching and graduate assistants at York to their jobs.

The act would terminate the ongoing strike and send any outstanding issues to a mediator-arbitrator. This current strike is the longest in Canadian post-secondary education history. The Ontario government estimates that approximately 37,100 students are enrolled in at least one course that’s unable to progress so long as the work stoppage continues.

“This strike has gone on for over four months now, and the employer should be ashamed of themselves,” said Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley. “The two parties have only met for 15 minutes since March 5. That’s no way to negotiate.

“That tells me that the employer, York University, had no plans to sit down and have meaningful discussions, have meaningful collective bargaining,” he said. “They knew as they let this drag on that sooner or later the government of the day would legislate these workers back to work.”

The strike originally began on March 5, with workers advocating for improved job security, funding protection and equal pay for equal work.

“It comes back to the fact that these are individuals who are giving us hopefully a high-quality education, but they’re not able to when they’re balancing multiple jobs,” said Nour Alideeb, the chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario.  

“They can’t answer students’ questions or their emails when they’re working two or three part-time jobs across the city,” she said. “This really does come back to some of the similar issues that happened in the college strike.

“No one’s asking for $300,000 a year per person like some of our administrators, they’re just asking for a living wage,” Alideeb said. “That way they can do what they love and contribute to a high-quality education.”

The government’s move to legislate an end to the strike is the same tactic used by the previous Liberal administration to end Ontario’s five-week college faculty strike last fall. Along with these two work stoppages, Western University’s teaching assistants threatened to strike and Carleton University support staff went on strike earlier this spring.

Alideeb notes this is indicative of a larger problem of chronic under-funding in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector.

“Unless we go to the root of the problem, which is chronic under-funding, and prioritize the things that make our education great, then we’re going to continue to move towards the very bottom. It’s a race to the bottom, is what it feels like,” Alideeb said.

The OFL, along with CFS and the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, which represents the striking York faculty, plan to continue to oppose this legislation’s passing. For his part, Buckley believes the government should’ve stepped in by forcing York’s administration to get back to negotiating a new deal and to bargain in good faith to reach a settlement.

“Back-to-work legislation is not a way to end a dispute,” he said. “All that does is it creates hard feelings amongst those members that are on strike and it creates hard feelings amongst the labour movement across the province of Ontario.”

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