YUFA president’s remarks to Board of Governors meeting

YUFA President Richard Wellen delivered the following remarks to the Board of Governors meeting that took place by teleconference on Tuesday, May 1, 2018:

“As you know, this is a crucial time for our University. The protracted CUPE 3903 strike has led to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety for many of our students and faculty members, and the depth of these feelings may be greater than those in any previous strike at York. Many of the courses in the Fall/Winter and Winter terms are threatened, and there is now some likelihood that there will be a diminution or full cancellation of the Summer term for the first time at our University. Faculty members and others have told YUFA that they are demoralized by the administration’s apparent refusal to resume negotiations. Many faculty members have told YUFA that they are concerned about losing their summer courses and are uncertain about increased teaching responsibilities added to their next academic term, which will negatively impact their research.

“The YUFA Executive Committee would like to urge the Board to separate the myth of CUPE 3903 radicalism from the reality of CUPE 3903 members’ bargaining concerns. In particular, we think it is important to put aside the myth that CUPE 3903 is too radical to bargain with, and instead make sure we recognize that the vast majority of CUPE 3903 members are feeling vulnerable and under-valued, and that this reflects real needs that the Board–and the entire York community–needs to grapple with. CUPE 3903 members are not deluded; rather, they support their union’s bargaining position for good reason. We think it is important that the Board give strong consideration as to how it can provide a new reasonable and fair compromise offer that would be meaningful enough to bring the members of CUPE 3903 to vote for a settlement.

“The refusal to make a new offer to CUPE 3903, along with concerns about university governance during the strike, have led to an unprecedented series of official non-confidence motions in the administration and the Board adopted by academic bodies, departments, and Faculties across our University. I have attached a summary of these motions that has been made available to YUFA. Whatever one thinks of these non-confidence motions, they surely reflect a growing sense of mainstream frustration with the approach to this labour dispute that has been taken so far. I have also attached a letter from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), summarizing motions that were unanimously passed at the CAUT national council meeting in Ottawa this past week. It is important to note that these received the assent of the representatives of nearly all faculty associations in Canada.

“This is a time that calls for constructive compromise. Many of the demands of CUPE 3903 reflect key current issues that are common to academic institutions across North America. In the current strike, these especially involve funding and the lack of secure academic employment that threatens the academic and scholarly mission of our University. The so-called ‘conversion’ program, which provides tenure-stream job opportunities to a limited number of contract faculty members, is one of the key issues in the dispute. This program has existed for more than 30 years and was initiated at a time when the administration, YUFA, and CUPE 3903 sat down together to imagine creative solutions to the University’s heavy reliance on contract faculty and how the legitimate career aspirations of those members of our academic community could be recognized. There was no strike or strike vote taken in the year this program was negotiated. Without getting into the question of how many conversion appointments should be made each year, it is important to understand that programs like this are becoming even more important as increased numbers of talented academics face conditions of insecure employment. For this reason, we see calls for programs like this increasing in the post-secondary sector. Arguably the  provision of a reasonable number of such appointments is actually an enhancement, and not a detriment, to our institution.

“This is not the place to debate all of the issues in play in the current labour dispute. Rather, I would like to emphasize the need to explore every path possible to achieve a constructive turn in labour relations and, especially, to emphasize the Board’s role in achieving this. We think it is not too late to make this happen, and I remain available if you wish to follow up on this brief report.”