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York University mulls restarting classes after contract faculty OK deal

03/10/2015 12:44 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
The executive committee of York University’s senate is set to decide Tuesday if some classes will resume despite an ongoing strike by teaching and graduate assistants.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3093 Unit 2, which represents contract faculty, agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement on Monday night. But bargaining units 1 and 3, which represent teaching assistants, research assistants and graduate assistants, voted against the deal.

York University president MamdouhShoukri said in a statement he was "disappointed" that the two groups didn’t accept the offer, but that the university would consider restarting classes.

"The university is reviewing plans to allow as many students as possible to return to their studies in order to complete their terms," Shoukri said, adding the senate’s executive committee would review the issue on Tuesday.

Shoukri sits on that committee along with 16 others, most of whom are professors.

While no news has emerged from that meeting, it’s clear resuming classes would be a controversial move. Karen Robson, an associate professor of sociology and member of the university’s senate, voiced her displeasure with the idea online.

"Call from many senate members (me included) to senate executive to not resume classes under current circumstances," Robson tweeted.

"Ultimately, the decision is York’s in how they want to proceed," said CUPE spokesperson Kevin Wilson.

Students were also quick to weigh in on the idea of a partial restart to the semester that could see them crossing picket lines.

"Two of my courses don't need TAs and one does.  So, how am I going to finish two and have one courses (sic) hanging in the wind?" one student tweeted.

Lucas McCann, the president of York’s Graduate Students’ Association, said there’s a "mixed" mood on campus. Some students are frustrated and just want to finish their programs, but others are showing solidarity with those on strike.

McCann also said there’s some pressure within the membership itself to accept a deal to get back to work.

He said the next step for Units 1 and 3 is to resume bargaining, though he admits it’s unlikely graduate assistants will get everything they want out of the negotiations.

Classes have been cancelled for 7 days

York University said it would be in touch with provincial mediators to discuss the next steps in the negotiations.

CUPE Local 3903 says Unit 1 voted 59 per cent against and Unit 3 voted 77 per cent to reject the agreement. CUPE reported that voter turnout represented 34 per cent of the 3,728 affected.

York, one of the largest universities in Canada with 47,000 undergraduate students and another 6,000 graduate students, has suspended classes since March 3.

CUPE says about two-thirds of undergraduate courses at the universities are taught by non-tenured staff who are paid about $15,000 a year.

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