Class cancelled: Students left out in the cold at York University

Classes at York University have been canceled until further notice. The university and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3903 failed to come to an agreement causing union members across the Greater Toronto Area to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m on Thursday.

By 7 a.m. students, union representatives and faculty members gathered outside the university at Keele Street and Steeles Avenue to protest.

The strike has affected more than 50,000 students and 3,340 part-time and contract workers. Yesterday afternoon the university offered a 9.25 per cent pay increase over three years in hopes of avoiding a strike.

The offer was rejected by the union, which is asking for an 11 per cent pay increase over three years and enhanced job security.

Graham Potts, the union’s chief negotiator, said “we’ve been trying to bargain with the university for four months now. The university has shown no interest in sitting down at the table and working out a fair equitable contract with us therefore, something had to be done.”

Potts said a pay increase is not the only issue. He explained job security is the main concern for union members.

“The university has been telling the media it’s all about wages. This is a PR spin,” Potts said. “The real issues on the table are job security for our members who are long term contract faculty members.”

Noa Ashkenazi, a part time instructor, was on the picket line and backs the strike. Ashkenazi is completing her third year of a doctorate in social and political studies.

“I think this is the worst offer we could have expected. I have two young kids at home and I pay child care for both,” she said. “I find it very hard to make a living. We need more support as contract workers. I put a lot of work into what I do.”

Dr. Parbattie Ramsarran, a sociology course director at York is part of the bargaining team representing the union.

“We have members who have been here for years and many times they don’t know if they will have classes to teach in near semesters,” she said. “Job security for us is not just an increase in salary. Going into next year knowing exactly what we will be teaching is what we need so we can rest peacefully till then”

Robert Drummond, the dean for the faculty of arts, said there are plans to accommodate students should the strike last long.

“We will have to extend the term to make up lost time. There is a commitment to ensure students get the instruction they are enrolled in.”

Students on the strike line were concerned for the future of their education.

Chantel Filipe, a fourth year history student, hopes the strike will end soon.

“I hope this won’t delay our term. This is frustrating because we’re weeks away from exams, final assignments, and finishing our semester,” she said. “I will take my time off to catch up on readings, put some assignments together and I will join the striking staff.”

Marianna Toste, a first year kinesiology student, also expressed concerns over the strike.

“Personally it’s nice to have a little bit of time to catch up on work. If this lasts more than a week I’ll be a bit worried because I need to make money this summer,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is attend school when I’m really supposed to be off.”

Toste also said she will use her time off wisely to study for two exams that were canceled until further notice.