York Response to CUPE 3903's May 14 Letter

Last night, the University responded to a letter received from CUPE 3903's bargaining team on Monday, May 14th. Click below to read both the full letters.

York Letter to CUPE 3903

CUPE 3903 Letter to York

York Letter to CUPE 3903 Bargaining Teams

May 15, 2018

Dear Devin and the CUPE 3903 bargaining teams,

Re: CUPE 3903 and York University

Thank you for your letter of yesterday afternoon. We appreciate your acknowledgement of the “difficult and unfortunate” situation that this labour disruption has created for your members and our students and community. We share the view that it is in everyone’s best interest to end the strike expeditiously. Toward that end, the University has continued in good faith to be as clear as possible in our positions about a path forward for a settlement in the renewal of the CUPE 3903 Collective Agreements.

Our lens for settlement since September has been to provide fair increases in wages, funds and benefits, more evenly distributed Unit 1 funding over the academic year, including an increase in summer funding, and an ongoing conversion program consistent with numbers in our prior collective agreements rather than the anomalously high numbers contained in the 2014 – 2017 collective agreement. Our conversion proposal was paired with other proposals to increase Unit 2 job protections that would continue to lead in the sector in terms of job security.

The Appendix attached to your letter of yesterday (“Appendix A”) begins with a section headed “We Are Not Far Apart” and suggests “that there is no impasse between the two parties.” On its face, however, your letter reinforces the conclusion reached by William Kaplan in the Industrial Inquiry Commission Report that there are substantive differences in our positions on key issues and, unfortunately, does not appear to map out a path to resolve what is clearly an impasse.

Your summary of outstanding issues in Appendix A is silent on increases in wages and academic funding. CUPE 3903’s current position is that the wage increases ought to be 3.5% in each year of the new collective agreements. The University’s offer of 2.1% in year one, 2.2% in year two and 2.3% in year three is already sector leading. This difference in our positions is significant. Moreover, Appendix A does not address the outstanding requests for increased funds and benefits which also have significant costs over and above the increases already provided.

The summary of Unit 1 issues begins with an acknowledgement that the University’s most recent offer shows movement in addressing a “major issue identified by Unit 1 members” (“clarity” on the awards that may be offset against the York Fellowship) but, at the same time, maintains a Unit 1 proposal to embed the York Fellowship in the collective agreement and alter the way in which merit-based awards satisfy the Minimum Guarantee funding amount.

Since the Minimum Guarantee’s inception in the Unit 1 collective agreement over two decades ago, merit-based awards have been one of the sources of funding that may count toward satisfying the Minimum Guarantee. There have never been restrictions on how much of an award may satisfy the Minimum Guarantee. Your Unit 1 proposal would place restrictions on the value of awards that can be offset against the York Fellowship when satisfying the Minimum Guarantee. This is a substantive change to a two-decades-long provision and one to which the University is not prepared to agree. In addition to the proposal’s monetary impact, aspects of the proposal also represent an untenable crossing of boundaries between the collective agreement and academic funding.

The summary of Unit 2 job security issues ends with the opinion that CUPE 3903 does not consider its proposals to be “controversial” and describes the revised conversion proposal of 8 per year to be “the status quo.” It has never been the case since the inception of the conversion program that the Employer has bargained a minimum or status quo number of conversions. The number is bargained anew in each round of negotiations and has fluctuated over time with a typical number around two appointments in a given year. This number reflects the fundamental principle that conversions were conceived as rare exceptions to the normal collegial search process.

CUPE 3903’s expressed position on conversions brings us no closer to resolving the impasse on this issue. We have been clear that the high number of conversions over the life of the 2014-2017 CA was unique, with the number of 8 negotiated in only 2 other years historically, followed in each case by a return to the more traditional range. In contrast, CUPE 3903’s proposal seeks to establish the unique level of the past collective agreement as a floor for the number of conversions. We also note that undertaking a conversion exercise for the 2017 – 2018 academic year is no longer practical.

Without going into the particulars of the other outstanding Unit 2 job security issues, significant differences also remain between our respective positions in regard to certain of these issues, including what the summary describes as “specific terms” of the SRC program and “improvements to the Continuing Sessional Standing Program (CSSP).”

The summary of Unit 3 issues similarly points to a fundamental difference in perspectives. We can only read the following phrasing to mean that CUPE 3903 is maintaining its position that some defined number of incoming Master’s students – 700 to 800 Master’s students on a more literal interpretation – be assigned a graduate assistantship as an element of their funding so as to bring them within the scope of the recognition clause of the Collective Agreement. You have written: “The Union wants the university to re- commit to offering job opportunities for graduate students, as was the practice up until 2016. This is not a novel demand that is out of scope, but merely an ask for a process that already existed....”.

A key principle informing the design of the York Fellowship program is that it treats graduate students as students first, promoting their ability to focus on their academic goals. CUPE 3903’s position on graduate assistantships runs counter to this principle and the best interests of our students. Furthermore, the Union does not represent Master’s students and negotiating that they be required to work or offered job opportunities as a condition of funding is out of scope.

We wish that the positions of the parties were close as you suggest. As noted in the foregoing, however, the summary of outstanding issues attached to your letter reads otherwise. Clarity is needed on the degree of flexibility and compromise you indicate each of the Unit bargaining teams is prepared to bring to the table and whether that degree of flexibility and compromise is sufficient for us realistically to meet and reach a settlement to end the strike. Meeting in the absence of this simply raises false hope and serves to sow even further confusion.

With the aim of facilitating a settlement, we need to have written confirmation that CUPE 3903 is prepared, notwithstanding your summary, to give its bargaining teams the flexibility and discretion to modify its positions on these key impasse issues to fit within the range of what we have identified above as a basis for a settlement. Alternatively, we request written confirmation that if these impasse issues remain then each of the bargaining teams is in a position to agree at the table to utilize interest arbitration to fashion fair agreements as a means to end the strike.

We give our commitment that if we receive written confirmation that you are prepared to authorize your bargaining teams to work within what we have identified as a workable basis for settlement or, alternatively, to refer outstanding issues to interest arbitration, we will agree to meet with you to resolve what we can and refer the rest to arbitration. The above requirements are a foundation of good faith bargaining and the only way forward to bring an expeditious end to the strike.

Yours very truly,

Simon E. Mortimer

Click here to download the full PDF letter.

CUPE 3903 Letter to York

Dear President Lenton and the York University Board of Governors,

We are now 70 days into the current labour dispute. This is a difficult and unfortunate situation for all members of the York University community.

We continue to believe that negotiations are the way forward and a negotiated settlement is achievable if both sides approach the collective bargaining process in a spirit of good faith and compromise.

The CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team has the authority and capacity to bargain, compromise, and work toward a settlement. We hope that York University’s Bargaining Team also has the authority andcapacity to bargain, compromise, and work toward a settlement.

On Thursday May 10, the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team invited the university administration to come back to the bargaining table. The union also indicated that we had a modified set of proposals that we were hoping to present as a framework for settlement. It was not, and is not, our intent to negotiate via email or via press releases.

Bargaining proposals and counter-proposals should be passed between the two teams in bargaining sessions. We also indicated that we would be interested in working with an independent mediator to facilitate the process.

The York University Bargaining Team indicated they were not willing to meet under these conditions and that they needed assurance the union had the authority to bargain. We find this response puzzling and disappointing. On March 26, we publicly stated that "we believe that both sides must be willing to reach compromise solutions. CUPE 3903 would be willing to discuss such compromises if York returns to the table and demonstrates a willingness to work toward a settlement."

However, if it is necessary to reiterate, let us be clear. The CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team has the authority to bargain and be flexible in order to reach a settlement with the university administration.

We have repeatedly demonstrated our capacity and willingness to be flexible on “redline issues.” Wehave moved on and moderated our proposals around these issues on numerous occasions. Our framework for settlement includes further movement. Please see attachment for further details.

Our invitation to return to the bargain table remains open.

CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team

Appendix: Summary of Remaining Bargaining Issues

We Are Not Far Apart
CUPE 3903 continues to remain perplexed as to how the union’s proposals are in contradiction to theuniversities principles and values. On the contrary, CUPE 3903 believes the union’s proposals help strength York’s mission, which is to be a “community of faculty, students, staff, alumni and volunteers committed to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education, and collegial self-governance.”

All Unit Sexual Assault Survivor Fund
In light of the #MeToo movement, the university has finally recognized the need for a fund that members can access. CUPE 3903 proposed a Sexual Assault Survivor Fund which would allow our members to access resources independent of the Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO). Our members have identified the SVRO as both limiting and problematic, particularly because it removes amember’s agency when reporting. Throughout and following the SVRO creation process we havebrought members concerns regarding the office to York’s attention. These concerns have not beenaddressed, leaving survivors within our community with few other resources. Therefore we must maintain a level of autonomy over how the funds are distributed to our members. As the university has agreed to an amount of $50,000 it is now clear that the dispute is not over the amount but rather, how the funds should be allocated. This suggests that the two parties are indeed, not far apart. The union is confident that a fair compromise, which protects survivors in our community, can be reached at the bargaining table.

Unit 1 Clawback Protection
A major issue identified by Unit 1 members was the lack of clarity on how merit-based scholarships and/or awards are clawed back. The union is pleased to see that there was movement by the administration on May 7th, albeit a minor one. This indicates what we have said all along - that there is no impasse between the two parties. Unfortunately, an amount merely protecting $5000 is inadequate, as it continues to mean that one-third of awards such as the Ontario Graduate scholarship (OGS) are clawed back from members. This has been an area of dispute that members have repeatedly identified during the length of the collective agreement and was brought to the bargaining table in October of 2017.

Unit 2 Job Security
On two of our key Unit 2 job security proposals, Conversions and Long-Service Teaching Appointments (LSTAs), we are asking for the status quo in terms of numbers of appointments per year. We are seeking 8 Conversions per year (or 10% of Tenure-Track hires per
year). That is the same number as in the past Collective Agreement. The vast majority of Tenure-Track hires would not be Conversions. We are seeking 7 LSTAs per year, the same as in the past Collective Agreement. The Employer has agreed to continuing the LSTA program at this level. Some details about the program remain to be discussed. Similarly, we are seeking the return of the Special Renewable Contracts program. The Employer has presented a counter on SRCs, and therefore they do not seem to have any objection in principle to the program. The two sides differ only on some of the specific terms of the program and the gap in appointments per year is only 3. York was offering 5 per year, CUPE 3903 recently proposed 8. We are also asking for some protections to ensure posted qualifications are reasonable for positions and we are seeking improvements to the Continuing Sessional Standing Program (CSSP). Overall, we don't think these are controversial proposals or proposals that conflict with the stated values of York University.

Unit 3 Graduate Assistant Commitment
A key issue that triggered the current labour dispute was the unilateral devastation of over 700 GraduateAssistantships (GAships). As the university themselves admit, these jobs have not been “lost” per se, butrather, transformed into fellowships. The union wants the university to re-commit to offering job opportunities for graduate students, as was the practice up until 2016. This is not a novel demand that is out of scope, but merely an ask for a process that already existed. When introducing the fellowship model York arbitrarily introduced institutional barriers to the hiring of GAs. The union wants all institutional barriers removed that inhibit principle investigators from hiring GAs - the barriers that, up until 2016, did not exist. Unfortunately, the administration did not address this issue until the end of February - shortly before the first “final offer” vote. Their response, at the very last minute, has been topropose a small Graduate Assistant Training (GAT) fund that PI’s can access to “incentivize” the hiringof GAs. CUPE 3903 continues to believe that a small fund without protection from institutional barriers will be inadequate and fail to incentivize the hiring of GAs. The union remains committed, however, in its flexibility to find a creative solution.

The Path Forward
Rather than engage in a dialogue and partake in bargaining in hopes of finding a solution and negotiating a settlement, over the last two months the university has refused to meet with CUPE 3903 unless the union capitulates to all of its demands. This is not a reasonable or sensible approach, and the tactic has only served to disrupt and isolate members of the York community. Despite our disappointment with theadministration’s behaviour, we continue to believe that the two parties are not as far apart as theuniversity claims. We remain committed and available to bargain. That path, however, must be negotiated at the bargaining table and not by an arbitrator as it “risks handing over the future of theinstitution, and the definition of a new contract for faculty, to a third party who cannot possibly appreciate the subtleties and complexities of a university such as York,” to quote the university's previous public position on arbitration.

Click here to download the full PDF letter.