Students seek end to two-month strike at York

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

York University is still in the midst of a strike. Since Nov. 6, teaching assistants, contract faculty members and graduate assistants at the school have been off the job, leaving almost 50,000 undergraduate students out of class.

In order to solve this problem a bargaining team has assembled in Toronto to try to reach an agreement. Classes cannot be resumed until the union reaches a settlement. However, according to several parties involved in negotiations, a resolution may be close.

“We started meeting with the university last Saturday and we’re still trying to be optimistic, because this week is the most often we’ve met with them since the strike began,” said Christina Rousseau, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 " which represents the striking faculty.

“Our main concerns are job security, graduate funding and health benefits. We are also hoping that the administration of York continues to meet with us so we can reach an agreement soon. We want to get the 50,000 students back in class as soon as possible,” she stated.

Officials from York have also emphasized the importance of reaching a settlement quickly, offering another deal to CUPE on Thursday for the union to vote on.

“[York University] firmly believes that these comprehensive offers for settlement of 10.7 per cent over three years are fair, responsible and sustainable " particularly in this worsening economic climate,” stated Alex Bilyk, director of York’s media relations.

“We don’t see the offer of settlement as comprehensive and have not accepted it. There is still a lot of negotiating to be done. We hope to hear feedback from our members at the next meeting. A counter proposal will be made by us on Jan. 9,” Rousseau added.

She explained York’s settlement offer has not affected the union’s standpoint.

On Jan. 4 a sit-in commenced outside of the office of York President Mamdouh Shoukri.

“The sit-in is ongoing and was formed from an equal mix of undergraduate and graduate students. We are more concerned about student issues. The administration hasn’t been communicative with the York University community,” Amrit Heer, a York graduate student and member of CUPE, said.

“The university administration has refused to meet with students and what we want is a public forum. As a group we want a fair contract for the union members, addressing the problems of equality and equal education. However, our most major concern is less about the details of the bargaining and more about reaching a conclusion,” Heer added.

According to Jay Willmot, another graduate student at York, the university has demonstrated a lack of co-operation and the sit-in is important because it allowed undergraduate students to actively participate in reaching a conclusion to the strike.

“Both sides of this strike are being a little bit ridiculous and it has had a huge affect academically. My professors refuse to talk to me about school and it is frustrating. I think the negotiations are making more progress now,” Willmot said.

“The winter semester has been shortened and our reading week is gone, but the professors will lighten the load. This has all been detrimental to students, because we are not getting the full university experience.”

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