Forty thousand York University students are not in class this morning after the university suspended classes following the decision by the school’s non-contract faculty to strike.
It is the first strike at York in seven years, but already students on social media were raising the spectre of the last labour disruption by teaching assistants and non-tenure track faculty. That strike, in 2008, lasted three months and ended with provincial back-to-work legislation. Coming so late in the school year, the strike threatens to derail students’ graduation timelines.
The pickets at the campus came only a day after 6,000 teaching assistants at the University of Toronto also went on strike over a deal they say did not address the amount of funding they receive as graduate students.
Many graduate students have said the minimum amount of $15,000 is not enough to live on in Toronto and they take other part-time jobs in contravention of university guidelines on how many hours students are supposed to work.
U of T has emphasized that teaching assistants are full-time students and that its offer increased their wages to $43.97 an hour from $42. But TAs picketing at the downtown Toronto campus said the offer fixes the wrong thing.
“We are not saying wages are not high enough, but that our overall funding is insufficient,” said Dominic Alford-Duguid, a PhD student in philosophy.
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The university will not discuss its overall funding of grad students as part of labour talks. It offered a new pot of money for scholarships to which students could apply.
“The funding package is made up of grants and scholarships, and no university collective agreement in Canada includes that,” said Cheryl Regehr, vice-president and provost at U of T.
Key issues between the York union and the administration have been job security for contract faculty and tuition costs for international graduate students. About half of York’s faculty are part-time instructors and about 3,700 teaching instructors belong to the union. Seventy per cent of union members voted in favour of the strike.
For now, classes are continuing at U of T, said Dr. Regehr. The university has no plans to alter assignments or change the length of the term because it believes it can keep classes running.
TAs dispute that, arguing that they do most of the marking and much of the teaching at the school.
There is no end in sight in either case. U of T said it expects the union to present its offer to the entire membership, a condition the union says it cannot meet.
Once an initial meeting of the membership votes down a deal, the executive committee can’t overturn that decision and present an agreement to everyone in the union, said Erin Black, chair of CUPE 3902.
“We underestimated the anger of the membership in having the funding package frozen since 2008,” Ms. Black said.
More than 100,000 undergraduate students attend the two schools.