York U students demanding tuition refunds amid educational worker strike

A petition signed by almost 5,000 people demanding for a tuition refund due to the ongoing strike. Shauna Hunt has the details.

By Shauna Hunt

As the walkout by educational workers at York University is in its fifth week, students affected by the strike are demanding tuition refunds.

A petition signed by nearly 5,000 students says the strike, which involves a slew of instructors, teachers’ assistants (TAs) and graduate assistants has had a major impact on them.

Educational workers, who take on more than 50 per cent of the university’s classes, walked off the job back in February after negotiations broke down with the university. They have been on the picket lines rain or shine ever since.

“We are staying strong there hasn’t been a lot of negotiation on the university’s part but we are holding the line,” said one picketer. “It’s been pretty tough on most of us. Most of us live below the poverty line in a city that has faced rapid inflation much like the rest of Canada the last few years.”

The university said it has provided “comprehensive proposals” to CUPE 3903, the union that represents the workers, which “addressed key items, including an increase in pay,” but there is still no deal in sight.

“York University remains focused on efforts that will get all students back to class and our CUPE 3903-represented employees back to work as soon as possible,” said the university in a statement.

York said they have expanded options for course completion and will “continue to follow the principles of academic integrity and fairness to students, as defined in the senate policy that governs academic matters during a labour disruption.”

“The Senate Executive Committee will provide modifications and adjustments as necessary to support students in completing their courses,” they added.

The University will await guidance from the provincially-appointed mediator as to when would be an appropriate time to return to the bargaining table. York has also offered to enter into mediation and if required, binding interest arbitration, on proposed terms, with an agreed upon mediator-arbitrator.

For five weeks now, many classes have been cancelled and students are becoming increasingly frustrated. 

“I ended up going home for a couple of weeks because there’s nothing to do here,” said Josie, one of the students who has signed the petition demanding refunds.

“All four of my classes are cancelled. Two of them, I have been kind of in the loop with and two of them I’ve heard nothing from since February and a lot of places on campus are closed, even with eating we are not getting the same access to what we paid for,” Josie explained.

Meanwhile, Sonia, an 18-year-old international student, is now looking at options to transfer.

“I spent about $23,000 this year for the winter semester and feel like if I’m not getting my money’s worth, I should be getting that money back,” said Sonia.

More than a month into the job action, striking workers say they are in it for the long haul and claim the university has yet to address the imbalance created by Bill 124, the wage restraint law that capped public worker salaries at one per cent a year over three years.

The province has since repealed the bill after it was ruled unconstitutional.

“Most TA’s do about 60 per cent of the labour for courses. Most of us do about 60 per cent of the teaching instruction and most of us make about $14,000 a year,” said a York U worker who was picketing.

The last time workers at York University went on strike was in 2018. It lasted almost five months before they were legislated back to work. Those who continue to hold down the picket lines are hoping it doesn’t come to that.

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