By Evan Johnston
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Ontario university workers continue their strike actions
Strikes continue at York University in Toronto and Carleton University in Ottawa this week.
As we reported last week, over 3,000 teaching assistant, graduate assistants, research assistants, and contract faculty at York University — members of CUPE 3903 — went on strike after voting to reject the employer’s concessionary final offer on March 2.
This week, the employer has mostly bargained through the media, issuing a “Memorandum on the Path Forward” that emphasizes sending the outstanding issues to binding arbitration. CUPE 3903 responded by insisting that the path forward is through bargaining, not arbitration. “Since members rejected the employer’s last offer,” they write, “York has repeatedly called for the parties to agree to binding arbitration as a means of settling the dispute and resolving the outstanding issues.”
“CUPE 3903 acknowledges that while arbitration and other third-party dispute resolution systems have value in certain circumstances, as Premier Wynne stated on March 7: ‘the best agreements come from the bargaining table.’”
A solidarity rally was held on Friday that included a picket line visit from NDP leader Jagmeet SIngh.
Meanwhile, at Carleton University, over 900 administrative, technical, and library workers — members of CUPE 2424 — remain on strike over the central issue of pension security.
On Tuesday, the union filed a complaint with the labour board, accusing Carleton University of bargaining in bad faith. The union says that the employer has been actively distorting and misrepresenting both the union’s position and their own, making negotiations incredibly difficult.
“Our determination to keep the rights and protections around our pensions doesn’t give the university’s administration permission to mislead Carleton’s workers or the public,” said CUPE 2424 negotiator Jacynthe Barbeau. “This type of behaviour only helps to prolong the dispute and prevent the kind of negotiations that are needed to resolve it.”
As of Friday, CUPE 2424 and the employer have reached an agreement to return to the bargaining table after two weeks of no negotiations.
Montreal school bus drivers reach an agreement
School bus drivers for Autobus Transco in Montreal have voted in favour of a new agreement after several months of rocky negotiations. The workers voted 81% in favour of accepting a new five-year agreement.
The approximately 330 drivers, members of Transco-CSN, rejected the employer’s previous offer in early February with a vote of 83% opposed.
In January, they voted for the two-day strike with 98% support after rejecting the employer’s first ‘final offer’, which would have resulted in wage freezes and pay increases that didn’t even keep pace with inflation.
According to Canadian Labour Reporter, the five-year agreement “includes wage increases of 1.4 per cent retroactive to July 1, 2017, plus a 1.6 per cent increase on July 1, another two per cent in July 2019 and three per cent in each of the final two years of the contract.”
CUPE members fight back against P3s in Manitoba
CUPE members in Manitoba have won an important victory against public-private partnerships (P3s). As the provincial budget reveals, Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government has backed down from its plans to use P3s in the education system, and have instead committed to building five new publicly-funded schools in Winnipeg and Brandon.
“We are incredibly relieved that the government has chosen not to pursue P3 schools here in Manitoba,” said Terry Egan, President of CUPE Manitoba. “P3 schools across Canada have proven to be more expensive and less accountable to the public, and this is case-in-point.”
CUPE attributes the win to the campaign led by CUPE 737 (representing workers at the Brandon School Division), which involved public town halls and a sustained release of information raising ‘red flags’ about the use of P3s.
However, the rest of Pallister’s budget does not bode well for Manitoba’s public sector. The budget includes cuts to health spending, education, and programs at the Addictions Foundation, among others. The labour movement will need to keep up the momentum generated by the P3 victory to win the battles ahead.
WestJet flight attendants call-out exploitation
And finally, WestJet flight attendants are speaking out about their pay and working conditions, accusing the airline of paying its cabin crew less than the legal minimum wage.
Since cabin crews at WestJet are only paid for the amount of time they spend in the air rather than the total time they are at work, flight attendants end up putting in hours of unpaid labour. Workers often spend more time on the ground than they do in the air.
As the CBC’s Kyle Bakx reports, “It’s industry standard for flight attendants’ pay to be based on the time from wheels up to wheels down, although most airlines also provide some compensation for the time flight attendants spend at airports before and after flights. WestJet does not, and it’s become a sticking point with flight attendants as minimum wages rise across the country. The airline’s compensation for flight attendants could, in fact, be violating federal labour rules, according to one union.“
It’s small wonder that some workers at WestJet have been working to organize a union, and it sounds like it can’t come soon enough.