Striking York University workers slam back-to-work legislation

The union representing striking workers at York University says the Ontario government's back-to-work legislation amounts to a "trampling" of workers' constitutional rights. The school's students say they're happy to head back to class.

Ontario's new PC government said ending the strike was a top priority

Ontario introduced and passed a legislation to refer any outstanding issues to binding mediation-arbitration. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

The union representing striking workers at York University says the Ontario government's back-to-work legislation amounts to a "trampling" of employees' constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, the Ford government passed legislation to end the strike that has crippled the university for nearly five months.

"Trampling workers' constitutional rights is difficult to stomach," said Devin Lefebvre, chairperson of CUPE Local 3903. 

An omnibus bill dubbed the Urgent Priorities Act contained key priorities for the newly-elected Progressive Conservatives, who called back the legislature for a rare summer sitting to deal with the issues.

The job action began on March 5, when more than 3,000 contract faculty and graduate teaching and research assistants walked off the job, citing concerns over wages, job security and support programming.

The longest university strike in Canadian history will now come to an end through a binding arbitration process.

"We expected more in terms of efforts by the Ford government to bring York back to the table," Lefebvre said.

CUPE Local 3903 chairperson Devin Lefebvre said the union will consider mounting a constitutional challenge to the legislation. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Lefebvre and union members are expecting to meet with York officials in the coming days. CUPE has accused York of stalling negotiations in the hope that legislation would be passed to end the strike.

The union said it will consider mounting a constitutional challenge to the legislation, though doing so could take years.

In a statement following that legislation, York's president and vice-chancellor said the school had hoped to avoid a back-to-work order, but ultimately accepted that the two sides had reached an impasse.

"We appreciate that Premier Ford and his government have made it possible to end the strike and allow our students to return to their studies," wrote Rhonda L. Lenton.

"I am committed to working with colleagues across the university to regain our momentum as a leader in higher education," she added.

The new Progressive Conservative government said ending the strike was among its top priorities during its first months in power.

"It's not about the union, it's not about the university, it's about the students," said Labour Minister Laurie Scott on Wednesday. "The strike has more than run its course. It's time to get these students back to class."

York University student Melvin Law said he had to take extra summer courses to make up for missed classes. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

'Thank God it's over'

The ending of the strike will allow the university's 45,000 students to return to class for the fall semester without disruption.

That was welcome news to several students on campus Thursday.

"I'm glad it's over. It just really impeded everybody's education," said Cassandra Srouji.

"Thanks God it's over," added Melvin Law. "I don't know why it took them five months to reach this agreement."

Law took three classes this summer to make up for time lost due to the strike. As an international student, he said his higher tuition fees have made the last three months especially frustrating.

He also blasted the union over its recent history of job action. CUPE Local 3903 previously went on strike for nearly a full month in March 2015.

"It kind of became their routine. Like, every three years they strike once again," Law said.

With files from The Canadian Press