11/17/08

Strikers keep York University shuttered

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College students get a lesson in collective bargaining

As I write this, we are about to begin the second full week of the CUPE 3903 strike (hereafter, “Strike” or “TA Strike”). Initially, most of us at Schulich could not help but feel relieved at the prospect of a break. There is suddenly time to catch up on work, sleep, and friends. This applies to most students here at York University, but if we can, for one second, avert our minds from the obvious short-term benefits of “NO SCHOOL!” and consider the implications of a prolonged strike, the whole situation turns sour instantaneously.

The uncertainty of the TA strike alone is enough to drive someone mad. I personally do not know how urgently I must tend to my work, whether or not to cancel my plans for winter vacation, when my final exams will take place, along with a whole host of other issues which take a toll on my mind. Naturally, many students I have spoken to about this issue feel the same way. What is this all for? Bitter TAs who somehow feel that it is appropriate to disturb an academic institution as large as York to fill their pockets. These are the same TAs who are the highest paid in Canada for their profession.

I personally feel that TAs do provide a very essential service, paramount to the success of any university. This however, does not justify them knowingly putting the education of 50,000 students on hold in order to pressure the university into providing them with a ridiculous 41% increase in pay (all demands factored in) over two years. As I waited at the picket lines with my car, a union member approached me and claimed that they are concerned about the welfare of the students and would like to see this resolved as soon as possible. I find this very hard to believe as they each had a vote regarding whether or not to go on strike, and an overwhelming majority voted yes. How does this show concern for the students? There was the option to arbitrate the matter behind closed doors, but instead the union decided to leverage our education, or lack thereof at this stage, to pressure York into succumbing to their demands.

CUPE 3903 is well aware of the unhappiness that they have caused the majority of the school and it seems that they are having trouble rallying support from anyone outside of the union. On one occasion when I was stopped at the picket lines and approached by yet another union member, I greeted him with a normal “hello”, which aroused the surprising reply of, “Oh wow! You’re so nice!” This led me to deduce that they have been receiving a less than warm reception from the rest of the university.

I wonder sometimes, what are they complaining about? In my mind, TAs are, for the most part, students who have a part-time job. The TAs at York are paid more generously than others in the same field within Canada and receive several benefits, and yet, they feel that they have been treated unfairly? One of their major concerns has been that their payments do not cover a living wage after tuition. This is unfair? They are students! Most graduate students are up to their necks in loans, working part-time elsewhere to maintain living expenses, and are not privileged to the same set of benefits which TAs are entitled to. The union members should feel lucky that they are able to pay tuition without having to worry about loans, but instead they are bothering us with their selfishness and greed. This sort of indignation serves no one but themselves, and their claims of concern for the students should not be expressed by any of them since it truly is misleading.

There are of course two sides to the story. The union has its own opinions, and some of you may even support them. My biggest issue is not with the demands, however absurd or realistic they may be (they did say they meant 11%, not 41% - and here we were getting angry for no reason!). What I find irresponsible is the fact that they have put an entire university on hold in order to serve the wishes of these select few, and while the university offers some sort of a compromise, CUPE 3903 is content with flatly rejecting anything that does not come near its asking terms. In my mind, winter is presenting her beautiful arrival as the temperature goes down and blistering winds begin to blow, and that might just give CUPE 3903 a new reason to settle this issue sometime soon so that those of us who wish to study may finally go back to doing so.

(insidermediagroup.com)

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