An Open Letter to CUPE 3903 Leadership and Bargaining Team

Dear Bargaining Team members,

First, I’d like to thank you for taking on a largely thankless task. As a former union organizer myself for the UAW at the University of California during my PhD years, I don’t envy the position you are in today.

However, I feel I have to write to you to express my concerns about the latest bargaining update. In it, you state that you have made several large concessions to the employer: dropping your demands from a 3% annual increase to 2% and dropping the demand for a $15,000 minimum guarantee for Unit 3 to $12,500

As a unit 3 member, I am deeply disturbed by the fact that you have made these concessions at all, much less so quickly after having gone out on strike with a strong mandate, support from York faculty that has shut down the campus, the added pressure of being out on strike at the same time as U of T, and when media coverage has almost universally been supporting our strike!

There is also no mention in the report about the equity issues on the table, such as establishing LGBTQ identities as an equity category and programs to ensure equity in university hiring. As a queer woman and ally to our brothers and sisters of color, I am deeply concerned about this, and I hope you are not backing down on these issues. These are hugely important concerns and cost the university next to nothing implement, which makes their intransigence on the subject all the more despicable.

I understand there may be lingering trauma from the 2008 strike that is affecting these decisions. But, as a whole membership, we have and are making a strong stand today… Unit 3s in particular, who voted to reject the university’s offer by a 80% margin the other night. In addition, the situation now is very different from 2008, with changes to labor laws, a different economic climate, and a much greater awareness on the part of the general public about the nature of the precarious and impoverishing labor conditions of academic employees.

As workers and teachers, we should all have a right to not be living in a constant state of anxiety that we will not be able to eat or pay our rent in an extraordinarily expensive city like Toronto. And yet, even if the university were to meet your initial demands of a 3% raise and $15,000 minimum guarantee, we would all still be in near the same position we are today: living in fear well below the poverty line.

This is why we have gone out on strike. Because we can’t take the poverty and exploitation of a university that pays us nothing so that administrators can take home salaries between $300,000 – $500,000 (the latter being the salary of York President Shoukri). The current situation of contingent employees at York, and every other university in North America, is inexcusable and untenable.

But that is not the only reason we why strike. We are not only asking for the very small economic gains that you as a bargaining team are seeking. We are demanding that the university begin to treat us with the respect we deserve as we provide more than 60% of all teaching and instruction at York. We strike because, like other low-wage workers in other sectors of the economy, we are tired of fighting for scraps from university and corporate “leaders” that pay us nothing so they can expand their administrations and live like royalty.

This is why we strike: to say that we, as highly educated and skilled teachers, will not let them walk all over us any more.The members have your backs. Please do not make such large concessions to an intransigent employer, especially so early on, when your original demands were so eminently reasonable. Fight for us as we fight for you every day now on the picket lines and in as many other ways as we can.

The university forced us go on strike by refusing to negotiate in good faith. We are counting on you all to hold the line in the bargaining room as firmly as those on the picket line are right now and to make the administration move. Please don’t be so ready to concede to their ridiculous offers that are designed to keep us powerless and impoverished.

We are not powerless. We are CUPE.

In solidarity,

Kami Chisholm, PhD

Member of CUPE 3903 Unit 3

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to CUPE 3903 Leadership and Bargaining Team”

    1. Pay and funding levels vary dramatically depending on if one is a PhD or MA student, as well as if one is a domestic or international student. Domestic PhD students might be making something close to that. International MA students do not even make enough to cover their tuition, much less live on.

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