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MPP calls for strike end

STRIKING workers outside York University Wednesday. (Corey Lewis/Vaughan Today)

The pressure’s on but optimism is low that a resolution to the strike at York University is forthcoming.

Frustrated at the breakdown in talks between the university and its 3,400 teaching assistants, contract faculty, and research and graduate assistants, who walked off the job Nov. 6, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman drafted a private members bill to needle the government into action.

“The private members bill is not going to be debated and I certainly don’t expect it to get passed,” Shurman said Tuesday, adding his bill was a way to apply pressure and moral suasion on the government.

“I simply filed the bill as one of a number of steps that I took to try to bring public scrutiny to what I think is an abominable situation,” he said.

Queen’s Park was set to adjourn Thursday for its two-month winter break. By press time, the provincial government had not taken any legislative action to end the strike.

“It is a sad fact of life in the world of collective bargaining that generally an unwitting cohort of people have to be, in effect, held hostage,” Shurman said. “In this particular case, it’s 50,000 students.

“They don’t even have a voice at the table.”

But they do have a voice away from it and are making their frustrations heard. Shurman has received hundreds of calls and emails from students, their parents and others, he said.

Catherine Divaris, a fifth year kinesiology student, returned to York to finish her degree before heading off to law school. Now, she says, that degree is in real jeopardy and she’s frustrated.

“It’s all up in the air and everyone’s confused and nobody knows what’s going on,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going on and . . . we can’t do anything about it.

“We’ve organized a demonstration and a rally. We’ve written to the MPPs — so many students have written to their MPP, have written to (Premier) Dalton McGuinty — and we feel like it’s all in vain.”

Those letters and emails to MPPs are having an effect, Shurman said. His bill received a surprisingly mixed reaction from the Liberal caucus during its first reading on Dec. 2, he said.

“What that suggested,” Shurman said, “is that certainly some people in the Liberal Party . . . have the same problems that I’ve got: They’re getting lots and lots of email and lots of telephone calls to their constituency offices saying, ‘Will you guys get up off your duff and do something?’ ”

The striking workers, represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, are demanding the restoration of funding, job security for contract faculty and a wage increase.

The union and the university both say they are eager to see an end to the strike.

“More than half our membership are also students,” CUPE 3903 chair Christina Rousseau said recently. “So we also all want to get back to our academic lives.”

University spokesperson Alex Bilyk agreed in a Nov. 29 statement.

“One way or the other, the primary goal must be to get our 50,000 students back to the classroom, as soon as possible,” Bilyk said.

No further negotiations between York and the union had been scheduled by press time.

— with files from Town Crier

Vaughan Today
Online: December 11, 2008 [link]