York University rejects counter-offer from CUPE, strike continues

Around 3,000 employees at York University took to the picket lines Tuesday for the second time in three years.

Around 4 in 10 classes have been suspended due to the strike

Striking workers at York University blocked off entrances to the university on Tuesday. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

A counter-offer made by the union representing striking staff at York University has been rejected by the school's bargaining team.

Hours after contract faculty and teaching assistants walked off the job CUPE 3903, made an offer through a conciliator on Monday to try to resume talks on a new deal.

In a statement issued by the school on Tuesday, York said the union's overture included demands that were beyond the university's reach.

According to a statement released by York, the union proposed that 30 contract faculty get full-time positions in each year of the collective agreement, with 20 of those jobs being tenured-stream positions that would be filled without an "open collegial search," which is the current practice in universities across Canada.

York's statement also added that the counter-offer proposed a 3.5 per cent wage increase per year, which it claims is roughly double the Ontario university average increase.

While the two sides have not resumed talks, the school urged CUPE 3903 to respond with a realistic counter-offer, saying "it's In the best interests of the entire York community, especially our students."

In a statement released by CUPE 3903, the union responded by saying they are ready and available to meet with the school on short notice.

"The place to resolve this dispute is at the bargaining table but York needs to be across the table for that to happen," said Devin Lefebvre, chairperson of CUPE 3903.

Contract workers at York University have taken to the picket lines for the second time in three years.

Around 3,000 contract faculty, along with teaching, research and graduate assistants, are taking part in the job action, which was set into motion when CUPE 3903 members rejected the university's latest offer Friday.

The union is demanding better job security; better funding for assistant positions; improved equity and accessibility in the workplace; and for the school to replace at least some of the 800 jobs that were recently cut.

"I've seen all the proposals and sat in the room, and heard 'No, no, no, no, no,' that's not how you negotiate," said a frustrated Maija Duncan, who works as a teaching assistant in the social sciences department.

Social sciences teaching assistant Maija Duncan says York has not been willing to negotiate. (CBC)

Standing at a road blockade set up by her striking colleagues, Duncan said the university has not yet come to the bargaining table in good faith.

"I want an employer where we can actually talk, where we can actually negotiate," she said.

'I learn everything from tutorials'

Four out of every 10 classes at York have been suspended by the strike, while the rest are operating as usual, according to the university.

Second-year mechanical engineering student Aryaman Doctor has had his labs and tutorials cancelled, since they are usually run by assistants.

"It is annoying that we have to wait," he said, expressing concern that the strike could drag on deeper into the semester.

"Feedback is really important to us, and we're not able to get that and that makes it a lot harder to know if we're on the right track."

York student Marwane Elsawi said he's frustrated by the strike, but he supports the TAs. (CBC)

Other students echoed those worries, and said the loss of assistant-led lessons will have a profound effect on their studies.

"I learn everything from tutorials," said Marwane Elsawi.

While Elsawi said the suspension of those courses has been irritating, he's also backing the union members in their demands for better pay and security.

"Administration is horrible, they don't help us at all," he added. "The TAs are right, I agree with the TAs."

York offer 'the best in Ontario'

Administration at York University refute the claims being levelled by union members.

Instead, the university says its latest offer made several improvements to areas including wages, pensions, benefits, child care funds, professional development and job security.

"We're really proud that we've put forward an excellent offer, it's actually the best in Ontario in the sector," said Barbara Joy, York's director of media relations.

York University spokesperson Barbara Joy calls the school's offer 'the best in Ontario.' (CBC)

The university — the third largest in Canada with some 53,000 students — says CUPE 3903 has not yet tabled a counter offer.

Joy says the school would also be open to a binding arbitration process with the union.

"We really just want to get a deal and end the strike," she said.

While the strike continues, York is advising students to monitor the school's website for updates on the negotiations and class schedule. The school has also set up a hotline for students with urgent questions.