York students return to classrooms

By Lawrence Bailey

Time stopped for York University’s 30,000 undergraduate students at 9:00 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2000. Picket lines went up, and the classrooms shut down for the second time since 1997.

An agreement reached Jan. 11 between striking graduate and teaching assistants and contract faculty returned students to class to complete their fall semester.

Major bones of contention between the two parties were wages and financial security in the form of protection against future tuition increases and employee benefits. The university’s offer did not include financial protection and only offered a two per cent wage increase. The Canadian Union of Public Employees Branch 3903 rejected this offer because it didn’t meet financial and benefit agreements negotiated in previous deals, while wage increases fell short of the 2.7 per cent projected rate of inflation.

In the end, the accepted deal is a victory for the union, as it protects teaching assistants against future tuition increases by offering tuition indexation (payments to the students to offset any increases) while graduate assistants achieved summer funding, health benefits and laid the groundwork for tuition indexation in their first contract.

Exact monetary amounts were not released in regards to salary, although CUPE stated their members received a "decent base wage." According to spokesperson Joel Harden, "This is a victory for every university student."

"There are no winners except undergraduates," York President Lorna Marsden agreed. "This is their day, and it’s taken too long," she added in reference to the two-and-a-half months the strike lasted.

Will TAs at the University of Calgary strike any time soon?

"I don’t see it happening; there’s been an attempt over the past few years to forge a working partnership, there’s an acknowledgement that we’re in
this together," said Dr. James Frideres, Dean of Graduate Studies. "As long as one has a particular attitude of understanding, it reduces the likelihood of any kind of strike action."

The U of C Graduate Students’ Association executive is a little less comfortable with the role they play in the negotiations.

"In the past few years, negotiations have been unsuccessful," said GSA President Viola Cassis. "As TAs, we’re represented by the GSA, but we have no recourse to go on strike because we’re not unionized, so the administration feels no pressure.

"It’s very encouraging to see the tuition protection [the York graduate students] received, seeing as how we’re going into our own negotiations next month."