York University and University of Toronto non-tenured staff and teaching assistants have been on strike for almost three weeks.
While hourly wages for TAs seem high at around $40 per hour, and U of T has proposed a wage increase, the total annual funding package allotted to contract staff and TAs will remain the same as it has been for the past seven years, $15,000. If the salary section of the funding increases, it means the scholarship section decreases.
While U of T and CUPE 3902 reached a new tentative agreement March 18, and York reached a partial deal with CUPE 3903 on March 9, picket lines abound. U of T’s tentative agreement is the first one since the strike began, and the inherent problems that go along with legal strikes, especially those in the education sphere that affect students, continue to come up.
Most classes were cancelled at York, with some resuming gradually over the past couple weeks. More are set to resume on March 23.
Although it’s been reported that U of T was telling its students everything would continue as usual despite the strike, students reportedly had classes and tutorials cancelled and were left in the dark as to whether they would be able to graduate this year or not.
The partial agreement currently in effect at York puts students in an especially difficult position. With classes resuming while two of the three sections of CUPE 3093 are still striking, York students are being forced to choose between showing solidarity with the TAs and returning to class.
A petition has been created asking for students to continue to show their support for the strike and not cross the picket lines to return to campus. It has over 5,000 signatures.
A lot of people involved are pointing blame at either the school for restarting classes and forcing students to choose a side, or the TAs for using students as leverage to get what they want. But no one is at fault.
If teachers, like any union members, don’t have the right to strike when their services are needed then they don’t get the opportunity to fight for fair pay; and the school is only trying to give students the opportunity to continue the education they are paying for while this is going on.
Unfortunately, students do get caught in the middle. When teachers, or in this case TAs, go on strike it’s a lose-lose-lose situation, but a necessary one if there is to be equal opportunities for all workers.