Source: York University Faculty Association

On Feb. 22, in an “unprecedented turnout of members”, the York University Faculty Association (YUFA), a union representing 1,700 workers, revealed that 72 per cent of their members in attendance voted to strike if their demands were not met by the York University administration. This is the first strike mandate for the union since 1997 and it comes at a time when dozens of university and college faculties across Canada are entering a wave of strike votes and general struggle against administrations intent on clawing back wages and benefits. If YUFA takes an uncompromising militant stand against the profit-driven York bosses, it can not only benefit its own workers, but set a bold precedent for all workers facing the same generalized attacks.

York bosses aim to break the union into submission

YUFA members have been without a contract since May 1, 2021. Negotiations with the York administration began in August of the same year, with almost 20 meetings to date between the two sides. But according to YUFA, the York bosses have not budged on a single major demand.

On compensation and benefits, the York bosses have denied wage increases up to one per cent, a very aggressive approach as it is even below Doug Ford’s wage restraint legislation (Bill 124) which caps public sector salaries at one per cent. Today, Canada’s inflation rate has surpassed five per cent, the largest leap since 1991. This means that anything below five per cent is essentially a wage cut. With the proposed contract by the York bosses, YUFA says some members are set to lose up to $30,000 in income. 

Another key concern is workload and working conditions—especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which is ongoing, despite what the Ontario government has legislated recently. York bosses also plan to strip teachers of their autonomy to switch to safer modes of teaching, showing little regard for health and safety. YUFA have demanded workloads that match the agreements of other university faculties, but the York bosses refuse it, more interested in increasing the pace of work to boost their profits.

The truth is that the teachers, librarians and archivists represented by YUFA are the ones who should decide the safest and healthiest working conditions for themselves and their students, not the York bosses.

There are also a whole host of other basic demands that are being trampled on by the York bosses. These include things like equity for minority groups and the disabled; democratic governance rights where the York bosses are increasing electronic monitoring, eroding privacy rights and refusing YUFA’s union membership rights on the board of governors; eroding dispute resolution structures; and attacking retirement security. 

YUFA members have one of the weakest pension and retiree benefits packages in the sector. Many members have been forced to postpone retirement to put food on the table. The York bosses have refused even modest improvements to a retirement plan similar to those of Ryerson, Queen’s and U of T faculties. 

York bosses raking in millions in profits

As has been highlighted, the York bosses spare no remorse for going after YUFA faculty workers by refusing to budge on terrible working conditions, wages and benefits. Represented by an unelected body of millionaires, their primary goal is to increase profits at the expense of the York community. York’s cash balances tell the entire story of what is going on as it reached an all-time high in 2021! 

York University has reached a surplus of $77.5 million, greater than they even planned in 2020-21. They have so much money, they transferred $32.7 million to faculties and took part in major capital projects, rather than compensate their workers. Some senior administrative salaries received a 15 per cent raise—dipping into a savings of $38.4 million! So much for Bill 124 having any effect on this layer of wealthy elites. The university is also benefiting from increased enrollments of domestic and visa students as reflected in budgeted increases in total student fees from $762 million in 2021-2022 to $914 million in 2023-2024.

This cash hoard by the York bosses is a stark example of how arrogant the administration is in regards to negotiations with its own workers. But why do they think they can get away with this?

A bold and united stand is needed

The York bosses are emboldened by years of failed strikes at York and elsewhere. They are confident that either the YUFA leadership will eventually concede to their demands, or that they can rely on the Ontario Ford government to use back-to-work legislation in the case of a prolonged strike. 

But conditions are getting worse for workers. Workers are less and less willing to swallow defeat as inflation soars to erode their living standards while corporations get billions in handouts from governments. Rank-and-file workers across the country have shown time and again that they are ready to fight for better living conditions.

But a strike mandate is a powerful tool only if it is used properly. YUFA is already making preparations to strike by reaching out to the broader community for support through a social media campaign. They are also showing solidarity with college faculty workers at OPSEU and rank-and-file CUPE 4400 workers, some of whom are members of Fightback, who recently passed a motion with majority approval at their union meeting in defense of the potential strike. This is a step in the right direction. 

Students on the campus are also facing tuition raises of seven per cent for international students and three per cent for domestic students, imposed by the York bosses. The York Federation of Students must prepare solidarity action and use this potential strike to build the fight for free education on campus. This solidarity is vital to ensuring the York administration fails to isolate the workers.

In 2018, CUPE 3903 engaged in a prolonged strike, with no perspective of escalation; this immobilized and exhausted its members who at the beginning of the strike were prepared to go all the way to win. While the TA union has some of the most militant history in the country, it failed to produce a victory. With no perspective of defying back-to-work legislation, this allowed the York bosses to lean on Doug Ford to use legislation to end the strike and force unwanted concessions from the union. The lesson here is that a bold and determined leadership that is willing to escalate the strike is far more intimidating a prospect for the York bosses. Escalate solidarity, escalate demands, escalate tactics during a strike to increase pressure and do everything to enthuse and raise the spirits of workers that a victory is possible.

On March 21, two days before the strike deadline, York students with Socialist Fightback at York University and our member in CUPE 3903 will join YUFA faculty members on a panel to discuss the potential strike. With the growing crisis of capitalism and the general attacks against workers increasing, now is the time to take a bold stand against bosses intent on breaking us!