Sunday, November 09, 2008

Support CUPE 3903!

Teaching assistants and contract faculty at York University -- that is, the members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 -- are on strike. According to one email I received, the basic issues "include wage increase corresponding with actual cost of living increase, funding guarantees for graduate students (who also form significant number of workers at York U), improved working conditions (which means improved learning conditions for students), and job security for contract faculty (some of whom have been teaching for several years on a sessional basis, carrying 1.5-2 times the load of the permanent faculty at 1/2-2/3 of the cost for YorkU)."

Here are some relevant links:
  • a detailed background on the strike written anonymously by a steward in the local, which focuses on how it is fundamentally about opposing neoliberalism in universities;
  • a summary of outstanding issues;
  • strike updates;
  • some videos about the strike;
  • and, a callout for support from a feminist activist who grew up here in Sudbury but who is currently attending York and is on strike.

One of the key things they are asking for is indications of support from the general public, as in this email:

The issues are obviously significant for the workers at York University to strike over. Their significance goes beyond York U however. These are issues facing non-permanent teaching and research workers in all universities, who are estimated to carry 40-60% of the workload at low exploitative wages and benefits, in poor working conditions and without any job security. This is the reality of labour in higher education institutions functioning as for-profit corporations (as is York U) governed by BoDs composed of representatives of other corporations (

The significance of the current strike also goes beyond York U proper. CUPE 3903 has been one of the strongest unions in Canadian universities for many years, and for many years our collective agreement has been a precedence-setting document for other workers and locals in other universities. The last successful strike at York U in 2000 was followed by strikes at University of Toronto and Carlton University, where CUPE locals were able to refer to CUPE 3903 collective agreements to support their demands for comparable contracts. Although they did not make as many gains, it is now clear that a certain base-line has been established in Canadian higher education labour relations.

York U Administration has consistently tried to weaken CUPE 3903's collective agreement and erode the baseline. This is highly advantageous to other university administrations as they face their workers' unions in their negotiations. One of the current outstanding differences with York Admin is over the length of the collective agreement. The union is demanding 2 years which would allow it to negotiate in keeping with changing economic conditions and also to join in a province-wide University-sector union initiative to improve labour conditions and increase public funding and control of the universities set for 2010. York U Admin wants to impose 3 years which would take CUPE 3903 out of this rank and lock the wages at way below CoL increases for a longer period of time.

I have been a contract faculty at York U and a member of CUPE 3903 for over 8 years. I have also taught as contract worker at Ryerson U (CUPE 3904), and currently teach at University of Toronto at Scarborough (CUPE 3902). Adding and comparing my own first hand experience in these different institutions, I know with complete certainty that the strike at York U can be of political and practical importance in other universities for other unions and workers. I would therefore like to encourage you to stand in support of members of CUPE 3903 who have been on picket lines at York University since 7 AM Thursday, Nov 6.

Please express your support by writing letters to:
Mamdouh Shoukri
President and Vice-Chancellor

Please CC your letters to:

Please email Shoukri and let him know that you support better working conditions, better learning conditions, reasonable wages, and more secure jobs for the teaching assistants and contract lecturers that make York Univeristy, and our universities more generally, work!


Scott said...

Here is the email I just sent:

Dear Mamdouh Shoukri:

I am a parent and writer in Sudbury, Ontario. I am writing to you to show my support for the striking workers of CUPE 3903. Our universities should not be run on the backs of underpaid and insecurely employed graduate students and contract faculty. I fully support their demands for wage increases that more accurately reflect increases in the cost of living and the harsh demands of our declining economy. I also support their search for greater job security, better working and learning conditions, and a two-year contract.

People far beyond the York University campus are paying attention to how you treat your workers, and we support the struggles of those workers for dignity, respect, and fairness.


Scott Neigh
Sudbury, Ontario

Matthias said...

Hi Scott. I just wanted to thank you for your important remark to This land is your land. I answered in the post's comments.

The dissenter said...

Hey Scott!

I am an employee of 3903 and out striking on the front lines. Thanks so much so posting this message - it is so necessary because what the university admin has been doing through its tactics and policies is turning students against one another, and public support is almost non-existent. The tone of our critics is that we are "selfish" in our demands, and that we are making other students "suffer" for our selfishness (check out my blog to see what I mean).

Anyway, as usual, it is a pleasure to read your blog.

Take care,


Scott said...

Hi Leyna...good to hear from you! Actually, seeing the post on your site was one of the things that inspired me to post this. I'm not surprised to hear the administration is taking that approach, though with how generous 3903 is in supporting other social movements the charge of "selfishness" rings particularly hollow in this instance. I know a number of people in 3903, so I will definitely be following the strike closely. Best of luck!!

Take care,

Scott 8)