On CUPE 3903’s Ratification Vote Tomorrow (March 9, 2015)

Yesterday, out of concern over what I heard about the proposed “tentative deal” reached with York University on Friday, I went down to the CUPE 3903 bargaining team and executive committee meeting to find out what was going on.

The topic at hand was the latest offer from York, details and breakdowns for which can be found here. I will be voting no on this offer, for reasons which I detail below, because the deal, with the exception of some real gains for Unit 2, is actually largely the same as the one we voted down last week.

There were probably 40-50 general members present at the meeting yesterday, plus members of the bargaining team and executive committees. Every single general member (that I heard speak, I was a bit late do to the last minute announcement of the meeting) expressed disapproval or outrage – one behalf of themselves or their departments/picketing group – that we were being brought an offer that does not include indexation. Even most of the Unit 2 contract faculty in the room, including those that think there are some amazing gains in the new offer for their unit (though not all were impressed), said the deal was unacceptable without indexation. Many of the Unit 2 members were around for 2008 and 2000 when CUPE struck to gain and preserve indexation, and have fought hard all these years to maintain it, stating that is is a core issue on which they won’t budge. Some also indicated that they will not leave Unit 3 (who still have no real gains in this deal and who currently only receive $9600/year before tuition in salary) behind. So I’m actually not sure that Unit 2 leadership will vote to recommend, or that Unit 2 members will even vote, on the whole to accept this deal.

The meeting yesterday, however, only enhanced my concern that many (though certainly not all) of the members of the bargaining team and executive committee appear to be quite out of touch with member views. Several kept reiterating that they “had to” call a vote because the current offer is “substantially different” from the one we voted down last Monday (when in many ways it is not). They said that calling for a vote on the deal is the most “democratic process” for the union as a whole, and that if members vote this offer down – one could say again, as the deal, despite the movement in Unit 2, is still actually substantially similar to last week – the the bargaining team will have an even stronger mandate to make demands when they return to the table.

While in some senses this is factually true, the overall rationale for calling a rat vote in this case strikes me as both disingenuous and misleading. The fact is, when a bargaining team and executive committee call for a ratification vote, it implies that they think that they have an offer on the table that should be accepted (although they may not actually recommend this particular deal… more on that later). This is why the newspapers have been reporting all weekend that there is a “tentative deal,” and it is also why the York University administration sent me (and probably all of us) a smarmy and improper email this morning notifying me of the ratification vote tomorrow. For more on why it is not democratic, or a good idea, for the bargaining team and executive committee to be bringing forward such offers as the current one, see this open letter from former BT members.

In addition, it takes a huge amount of resources, time, and energy for people to come out to a ratification vote. It is not easy for people to do picket duty and live their lives only to get called out for long ratification vote meetings every few days when the employer sneezes out yet another insulting offer that still does not meet our basic demands. Our union should be spending their time bargaining in our interests, not jumping (and making us jump) every time the employer pulls tells them to (especially when the employers offer is clearly intended to be divisive to our membership as a whole). In this context, calling the ratification vote at this time is actually quite undemocratic, not to mention that it then makes our union look quite bad if we do vote to reject this awful offer: York can then quite easily spin this to say that it is the CUPE members’ fault that the strike is continuing, when the offer never actually came close to meeting the core demands we are striking over, and it is in fact the university administration who has failed to bargain in good faith this whole time.

There is another major issue with this offer and the bargaining team that came up at the meeting: no members of the Unit 3 bargaining team were present when the vote was made to take this offer to ratification. In other words, the decision was made entirely by Unit 1 and 2. This seems to be indicative of a larger division (that also seems to fall along racial and gender lines, as the members of the Unit 3 team appear to be largely women of colour, while the rest appear to be mostly white) between Units 1 & 2 and the Unit 3 bargaining team members. Numerous members mentioned a pattern of the bargaining team agreeing to negotiate with the employer without members of Unit 3 present, which perhaps explains in part why we keep getting offers that have little to no movement in Unit 3. On Friday, for example, apparently one Unit 3 member couldn’t meet because of a religious holiday (other members of the executive committee noted that, in this case, our union should never have agreed to a bargaining session knowing this member could not attend). The other Unit 3 members, if I understood correctly, walked out of negotiations when they employer was once again intransigent and not responding to the demands of a minimum guarantee of funding. In my and others opinions, if Unit 3 walked out, the others should have too. But as I mentioned, there are obviously some deep divisions between these units on the bargaining team, which is disturbing.

Lastly, I was quite concerned about some of the things that a few bargaining team and Exec members were saying at this meeting. One bargaining team member said flat out, “We can’t win indexation.” These are not words that should ever be uttered when this is the primary issue we are all out on strike for… not to mention it is untrue. We can and will win indexation. But I digress. Another BT member said he voted to bring the deal to a rat vote, because it had been a really long day after four long months of bargaining and that he just couldn’t fight any more, but that, after getting some sleep, he wasn’t sure he would have voted the same the next morning. Later, an executive committee member (I think) actually said that we should give up on indexation because the university’s offer of a tuition freeze was essentially the same thing as indexation. This is also not true, as I’ll explain in a second. But the fact that a number of members of the bargaining team and the exec seem to be unable or unwilling to zealously represent our stated goals is a huge problem and concern, and it needs to change immediately.

But first, let me break down the difference between a tuition freeze and indexation. A tuition freeze means that tuition stays the same as it is today until the end of the contract, which is in just a little over 2 years from now I believe, as we are negotiating for 3 years starting April 2014. This leaves the $7000 tuition hike for international students this year on the books and for future years. It also gives the green light to the university to do the same thing it did with international students this year to all students in 2017 when the contract expires: act in bad faith to raise tuition as soon as the contract expires and then delay and drag out the next contract negotiations with CUPE. It will also mean it will be that much harder of a fight for the union the next time around (though some are suggesting passing the buck down the line in this way).

In dollar terms, this means that York keeps $4.8mil in extra international tuition fees ($1.6mil per year) over the life of the contract in “extra” international tuition fees. What they are offering in this proposed contract in terms of minimal increased compensation and $400,000 to a child care fund means that all (or most? I don’t have exact numbers for the $ value of the other raises, which barely top inflation any way) would be funded by current international students and, almost guaranteed, future domestic and international students who will face ever increasing tuition fees. This offer is a huge win for the employer and highly concessional for CUPE. This is also another divisive university tactic, in that they are hoping that the current domestic students won’t fight for the small group of new international students bearing the brunt of these tuition increases, and/or that contract faculty will vote to accept this offer at the expense of Units 1 & 3.

Indexation, on the other hand, would mean that the university would have to refund the $7000 to all new international students this year, and reset tuition for future years. It would also mean that gains today and in future years are not simply funded by hikes in tuition from future students.

With regards to the rest of the offer: there is a chart on the union website indicating changes in the deal from the one we rejected last week. Aside from some movement in Unit 2 (which apparently does little for their members who don’t have seniority), there is no substantial difference from last week for Units 1 & 3.

I’m highly recommending a no vote. But voting will be important no matter what – just as important if not more so as last week – as ratification votes are always serious. All of our leverage right now will be lost if people don’t show up and this deal passes.

And we have a tremendous amount of leverage. York is shut down, construction on facilities for the Pan Am games are halted, and there is a lot of media and public support for our strike as issues about the general precarity of academic labor have gone mainstream in the last few years.

So please help get out the vote and vote no. The polls will be open for the whole meeting, so it is possible to just pop in and cast your ballot and go home.

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