All York University students were to be back in class and tutorials Wednesday, for the first time in a month, after teaching assistants voted Tuesday to approve a tentative deal their union has called “precedent-setting.”
The striking units of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903, whose 3,700 members walked off the job March 3, were to march back onto campus at 11 a.m. Wednesday together with students and faculty to begin catching up on missed work before the term ends.
Almost 1,000 members of CUPE 3903 participated in the ratification vote Tuesday night and the deal passed with over 90 per cent support from both striking units.
Under the new deal, York will freeze tuition for the union’s 2,700 teaching and graduate assistants and repay each of its 250 international graduate students the $7,000 tuition hike they had to pay last fall.
“This is an opportunity for the university to take ownership and attract graduate students to York,” said CUPE 3903 Chair Faiz Ahmed, who admitted the deal will cost York some $1.75 million in tuition rebates but said York has agreed to form a committee with CUPE and York’s Graduate Student Association to push Queen’s Park for more dedicated funding for tuition relief.
CUPE reached a tentative deal with York Sunday. York had cancelled all classes March 3 for consistency across campus because the union includes 1,000 contract faculty who teach classes, as well as 2,700 teaching and graduate assistants who run tutorials and labs and mark papers.
When the university reached a deal with contract faculty — one of three striking units — on March 9, York began to phase in the return of classes, although teaching assistants were still on strike. The situation divided the York community, with some students refusing to cross the picket line — as they are allowed to do by York without penalty — and some professors and departments also refusing to start classes without their teaching assistants.
“That absolutely helped us, the level of support from faculty and students,” said Ahmed. “There was a clear sense that this strike was worth it.”
Despite being instructed to resume teaching, some professors in departments such as film, political science, environmental studies, sociology and equity studies had refused to return until all striking workers had a deal.
Ahmed said the tentative deal caps tuition fees for graduate students in the union at 2012 levels and compels the university to increase funding to offset any future increases, an arrangement that he says no other university has.
Canadian-born York grad students currently pay about $4,000 to $7,000 a year in tuition, while international students had seen their tuition soar to $20,000 last fall from $13,000, a hike of more than 50 per cent. The offsetting of tuition fees is part of three “core demands” of the union, along with making sexual minorities “an employment equity group” and to increase summer funding. Ahmed said the university has agreed to all of them.
Under the new agreement, graduate students identifying as gay, bisexual or transgendered will be classified as part of an equity hiring group, just as visible minorities currently are. York is expected to implement that within three months of ratification.
York has also agreed to pay union members 100 per cent back pay for the time on strike, the union says.
For Unit 3, which represents 900 graduate assistants, York has agreed to increase summer minimum funding from $1,750 to $3,000. The union said this represents $750 more than the university’s last offer.
York has shortened the term by one week and extended classes until April 18 to give students a chance to cover material, and delayed the start of exams by a week.
At the University of Toronto, where teaching assistants returned to work Friday after a month on strike, the majority of classes were never cancelled because its contract faculty was not on strike. As a result, the university has not extended the school year.
However with some students having missed four weeks of classes because their course instructors belonged to the union, and most students having missed four weeks of tutorials and labs, many are scrambling to get extra help before the end of the year.