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York University administration had a full-page document misleadingly titled, “An Open Letter to CUPE 3903 Members” running in the latest issue of Excalibur, which is the undergraduate student newspaper. The letter was also posted across the campus as a poster. This is the latest and lowest move thus far by an administration which is attempting to demonize its own employees in the eyes of its students. The Open Letter is an exercise in sheer spin and distortion.

For instance, it claims that should the strike mandate vote go through, “the union will have the authority to set or call a strike without consulting the membership again.” This is patently incorrect.

CUPE 3903 is one of the most democratic union locals in the country. A strike mandate vote serves as an internal poll to give the leadership and negotiating teams the democratic authorization of their members to put the option of the strike on the table in negotiations. A strike is a collective withholding of the workers’ labour and is one of the most important tools workers have to make their voices heard with respect to the conditions of their workplaces. The ballots for a strike mandate vote have been run by CUPE 3903 for the past week.

Should the results come back with a majority Yes vote, the negotiating teams will attempt to gain concessions from York U admin. Should admin continue to ignore the union at the table, the leadership must, according to their own bylaws, go back to their members for a strike vote on the question of calling a strike.

Point by point, every section of the administration’s statement is packed with what any graduate student or contract faculty member would instantly recognize as misrepresentations and distortions. Members of CUPE 3903 have the right to attend the negotiations and the union has been pulling big turnouts of 50-60 members per negotiating session since the negotiations began. This letter is intentionally designed to deceive undergraduates as to what is going on in the negotiations, which is why it ran in Excalibur.

For example, the first point in the letter claims that York has essentially been the greatest employer on the planet, and that is “why the total current compensation package for York TAs, GAs and contract faculty is the best of any Ontario university.” First, York erased 700 Graduate Assistantships for master’s students university-wide and turned them into scholarships. This has put MA students in a precarious place as they are excluded from union-covered benefits such as health and dental plans. Second, York University has some of the best compensation packages because CUPE 3903 has had a long legacy of fighting management-imposed cuts. From the perspective of the administration, if their employees were making minimum wage that would be fine.

Particularly insidious are points three and four. Point three indicates that administration would be willing to go to a government-appointed mediator to avert a strike. A Liberal government-appointed mediator is not neutral in the negotiations between the York University administration and CUPE 3903. As we saw from the Ontario college strike, the province will gladly force concessions onto the workers. CUPE 3903 is demanding smaller class sizes, more job security for professors so they have time to plan courses better, and better on-campus childcare facilities (including daycares at Glendon). These demands benefit undergraduate students and would be some of the first taken off the table by a mediator.

Point four of the letter says York is willing to continue bargaining. Yet they have offhandedly rejected more than 60 CUPE 3903 proposals with a simple “No”. At this point administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth. How can we as students respect an administration that is carrying out budget cuts to our education behind our backs yet puts the blame on our teachers?

Fightback stands in solidarity with CUPE 3903 in the face of these bullying tactics. We respect the democratic processes of the union. The supporters of Fightback who are members of CUPE 3903 are actively encouraging members to vote Yes in the strike mandate vote.

We also call on students at York to stand in solidarity with CUPE 3903. We call on the York Federation of Students (YFS), which represents undergraduate students, to take an uncompromising position in support of TAs, GAs, and contract faculty against a management that wants to destroy the quality of our education.

A victory for university teaching staff and graduate assistants is a victory for undergraduates. We share common interests in the fight for increased funding to education, eliminating tuition fees, and improving work conditions, compensation and quality of education for all. We must defeat the attempt of the administration to divide and conquer. Building a united struggle of students and campus workers is vital to achieving these goals.

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