In search of increased job security, the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 Units 1, 2 and 3 went to strike after six months of bargaining with York University. Employees at Carleton University also recently opted to strike, advocating for pension benefits in the wake of confusion over language in the collective agreement. While CUPE 3906 is still bargaining, a strike is not off the table.
After rejecting the university’s offer, 3,000 teaching staff at York University walked off the job as part of a strike by CUPE 3903 on March 5. Although 60 per cent of teaching at York is facilitated by members of the union, the university has remained open and some classes have continued during the strike.
The strike at Carleton was led by support staff, including library and administrative employees, on March 5. On March 16, the union and university agreed to return to the bargaining table in hopes of resolving the labour dispute.
CUPE 3903 and 2424’s efforts follow a five-week-long strike by Ontario college instructors, which forced 500,000 students out of class and was ended through back-to-work legislation pushed by the province.
After rejecting the university’s offer, 3,000 teaching staff at York University walked off the job as part of a strike by CUPE 3903 on March 5.
On March 14, CUPE 3906 published letters to the unions at York and Carleton.
The letter to CUPE 2424 emphasized the union’s effort to advocate for improved retirement security and criticized Carleton’s neoliberal policies and unwillingness to acknowledge the importance of pensions for precarious support staff.
“As a local who represents primarily young workers who do not have access to a workplace pension, we find your defense of quality pensions for workers to be an inspiration,” read part of the letter to CUPE 2424.
The letter to York’s union praised its commitment to fighting issues arising from job precarity.
“Job security is an issue that we have here on campus too. Unit 1 members, specifically teaching assistants, only get four years guaranteed of teaching contracts,” said Sarah Wahab, CUPE 3906 vice president. “It’s not enough for us to complete our PhDs usually, so we’re kind of left in this limbo where we can’t find the funding we need in order to finish our dissertations.”
When asked about the likelihood that McMaster’s CUPE 3906 will go to strike after Unit 1 and 2 finish bargaining in 2019, CUPE 3906 president Angie Perez stated that it is invariably likely that, if the union is not listened to, it will call a strike vote.
The last time CUPE 3906 went to strike was in 2009, when teaching and research assistants sought increased wages and benefits from the university. This strike was short-lived, however, with 58 per cent of union members voting to accept the university’s offer after one week of striking.
“We do have a lot of issues regarding job security specifically. We’re living in a context where it’s getting harder and harder to live.”
Nevertheless, Wahab acknowledges that the union still has work to do on campus.
“We do have a lot of issues regarding job security specifically. We’re living in a context where it’s getting harder and harder to live. When that starts to happen, strikes start to happen,” said Wahab. “People need to rise up and demand what they deserve.”
Broadly speaking, CUPE 3906 sympathizes with students as they get trapped in a messy and unfortunate situation as a result of a strike. Nevertheless, they argue that students should direct their frustration to the university, not the union.
“The problem is that the narrative is controlled by the universities,” said Perez, who explains that because the university accepts students’ tuition dollars, it should be held accountable to accommodate students in the event of strike action.
Precarious employment continues to be on the rise at McMaster and across the province. As CUPE 3906’s Units 1 and 2 continue to bargain with the university, the union is standing in solidarity with the unions at York and Carleton.