Friday, January 09, 2009

Against Forced Ratification

At our CUPE 3903 GMM last night, 89.9% of members voted to send our bargaining team back to the table and continue the negotiation process with York. York began bargaining, really for the first time, on Saturday January 3rd. In five days at the table, the BT and York achieved a lot. Both made compromises. Both made movement toward a resolution. But York decided that they no longer wanted to bargain, and pushed the BT to ask us if we wanted to accept their last pass. To which we resoundingly said no.

Apparently, York believes that this strong no isn't a real no. And I can guess why. Two controversial motions came up during the GMM, and I'll explain what happened so you can understand why York thinks that our no was a weak one. A motion came forward asking the bargaining team to increase the number of conversion positions (from contract staff to tenured faculty), which was defeated by a 2/3 majority, as motions that are revisions to previous motions must be approved or defeated by 2/3. Not because the membership doesn't want more conversions (we do), but because to approve the motion would have limited the bargaining team's power. This would have been in contravention to two motions we previously passed, giving the BT full discretion to bargain as they see fit.

A second motion in a similar vein to the conversions one, this time about minimum funding guarantees for Unit 3 (graduate & research assistants), came up right at the end of the meeting. The person moving decided to challenge the chair on his ruling that the previous similar motion was a revision, requiring a 2/3 majority (as he wanted a simple 50%+1 majority; easier to get). The meeting time, which had already been extended, expired soon after we voted down his challenge. Again: we don't have a problem with Unit 3s getting more money. Unit 3s work hard, and deserve more than the between $8000 and $14000 they get. We do have a problem with limiting what the bargaining team can do. The response? Why do you hate Unit 3? What's f**ing wrong with you? &c. &c.

The media was present for this, as were York representatives, I'm sure (or their spies). So the meeting ended on a note of intense division between Units 1 & 2 and Unit 3, members of which apparently feel like they're getting shafted. And seeing this moment of division, York decided to end negotiations, and force a ratification vote on the last offer document that they put on the table. Under labour legislation enacted by the Mike Harris government, York can force us to hold a ratification vote on one offer, and one offer only. If it is defeated, they'll need to continue negotiating. Presenting a forced ratification vote to a seemingly divided membership is a very calculated strategy on York's part, as we vote unit by unit, and could ostensibly (as happened in 2000-2001), have one unit vote yes, and two units vote no, or some combination of the above. If only one unit votes yes, that puts intense pressure on the other units, who are now a diminished number, to settle even if their offer isn't fair, because they are now what is standing between the university and a settlement. Unfair, and tricky.

Why should we say no to this offer, when the ratification vote comes in 7-10 days? Because being forced to accept an offer that isn't York's best possible offer, is wrong. Because it sends a strong message to York that they need to bargain in good faith. Because voting down an offer that gives us very few new full-time tenured or teaching positions tells York that the casualization of labour in university teaching is unacceptable. Because voting down an offer that will actually amount to us getting less than we currently do (not in concrete wages, but in benefits, research support funds, etc.) tells York that they need to dig a little deeper. (And for those of you who would like to argue that we are in a tough economic situation and York doesn't have the funds, think about this. York currently spends 7.5% of their yearly budget on CUPE 3903 wages and benefits. York spends 20% of their yearly budget on marketing and advertising. Don't you think that it's fair that they should take a small chunk of their marketing budget to properly compensate the people who do over 50% of the teaching at their school?) Because voting no is a strategic move that puts us in a strong position that will make York realize that they need to bargain fairly and end the strike quickly (as happened in the last strike, when an agreement was reached only a few days after a failed forced ratification vote).

I know that many of you, my fellow CUPE members and non, are very much against this strike. I know that it makes things difficult for students. I know that you hate having to wait at the gates for two minutes before you can come onto campus. I know that you're mad at those of us in CUPE who support the strike because the strike is interfering with your graduate studies. I know that you think that we, as one of the best funded graduate programs in the country, are simply greedy. We're not. A good contract in a poorly paid sector isn't a good contract at all. But that's not the key issue. I'm out on the lines not for me, but for my friends--those wonderful teachers who don't know from one term to the next whether or not they'll have a job. Those wonderful teachers who are being told, after three years of contract work, that they're getting close to their expiry date, and they might want to look for another profession. What bollocks!

I'm voting no in the forced ratification vote because I want a fair offer, one that addresses, on some level, our needs. I want jobs for my friends. I want enough money to cover the needs of each student that York accepts, not the same amount of money spread out over many more people. And I want to show York that they can't use PR scare tactics, media releases that come close to telling lies, an absent president who tries to make his unwillingness to get involved seem like a virtue, stonewalling at the bargaining table, and the excuse of economic uncertainty, to vilify and screw with the people who they trust to teach their precious students. York needs to act fairly, and a resoundingly defeated forced ratification vote will force them to do so. So please join me in voting no. It's in all of our best interests.


Mariecel said...

Wow. The drama continues. Hubby and I hope that things clear up sooner than later, and that the outcome is in your favour.

Going off-topic - I noticed your updated reading list. I bought hubby the same book for xmas, though he hasn't had time to go through it yet. Is it any good? I'd like to read it also, but I still have 4 other books to go through...