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Education York University strike continues as instructors’ union rejects labour investigator’s report

York University’s two-month-old strike shows no sign of ending.

On Friday, the union representing striking part-time instructors and research assistants rejected a provincially appointed labour investigator’s recommendation that it agree to settle the outstanding issues through arbitration.

There is no chance that the impasse can be overcome through a negotiated settlement, William Kaplan wrote in his report, which was delivered to York, the union and the government on Friday. Mr. Kaplan, one of Ontario’s most experienced mediators, was asked to investigate the situation by the provincial government three weeks ago.

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“The issues in dispute … are not amenable, absent complete position reversal by one side or the other, to resolution,” Mr. Kaplan wrote.

Tens of thousands of students have been affected, but the university has passed measures that allow them to receive credit for courses that were only partly completed, or drop courses and retake them later, reducing the impact on undergraduates.

“We are disappointed in the report,” said Julian Arend, a vice-president of CUPE 3903. “The report lacks critical analysis of some of the problems that face the sector and our union specifically ... and I think it was designed as cover for the Liberal government to legislate us back to work.”

The union’s rejection of arbitration will put pressure on the provincial government to introduce back-to-work legislation and save the summer term.

“The parties agreeing to interest arbitration is my top priority; right now, we need to focus on getting students back into the classroom,” Mitzie Hunter, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

For months, York University has asked CUPE 3903, the local unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to accept arbitration. The university said it agreed with Mr. Kaplan’s conclusions.

Lisa Phillips, York’s interim provost, said in a statement that the university fully endorses the conclusion and recommended approach to resolve the strike.

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“The parties remain at an impasse based on fundamental differences of opinion,” she said.

Mr. Kaplan’s report argues that the central issue in the dispute – permanent tenure-track jobs for part-time workers – cannot be resolved at the bargaining table. In spite of more than two dozen meetings, “It is fair to say one sees the almost complete absence of any shared core values, academic or otherwise, for example in qualifications required for contract postings, and especially, in tenure stream recruitment … ,“ Mr. Kaplan wrote.

Mr. Kaplan also takes up the issue of why York’s part-time instructors have struck five times over 20 years, more than any other union on campus. A democratic structure and frequent consultations with members make it difficult to reach agreements with the university, Mr. Kaplan writes.

“[However] laudable the values – democracy, transparency, social justice – “ these strategies are leading to “position polarization and a succession of lengthy labour disputes,” Mr. Kaplan argues.

Unstable academic work is a continuing concern, he added, recommending that the provincial government set up a task force to examine the issue province-wide. It is too early to say whether the government will follow that recommendation, Ms. Hunter said.

“Our immediate focus is the education and well-being of students at York University. This strike has gone on too long.”

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The dispute is causing increasing tensions between the administration and professors, with multiple course unions and the Canadian Association of University Teachers passing motions criticizing the university’s bargaining.

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