Thursday, January 22, 2009

York University Strike

Yorklogo David Doorey's Workplace Law Blog has an interesting post on a strike by part-time teachers and graduate assistants at York University, where he teaches.  Classes have been cancelled during the strike and recent developments seem to show that it's not going to end soon:

All three units of striking York employees soundly rejected York’s offer in voting over the past two days. . . . The results of the vote were as follows: Unit 1 (teaching assistants) 62% opposed, Unit 2 (contract faculty) 59% opposed, and Unit 3 (graduate assistants) 70% opposed.   Only 69% of eligible voters bothered to show up–who knows what the other 31% were doing Monday and Tuesday. Turns out the union executive had a pretty good sense of the mood of the workers–these results are what they predicted.  What happens now is anyone’s guess.  The employer has said it has nothing left to offer, and the union has said that the employer has been stalling in bargaining for months and has hardly moved at all since bargaining began last summer. Full-time faculty members have been bickering with their union (YUFA) and among themselves, with a minority last week issuing a signed petition urging the strikers to return to work.  The Deans of the faculties too sought to influence the strikers to vote for the offer, emphasizing the “economic crisis”. Apparently, none of these efforts to sway the workers away from the opinions of the union leadership worked.  Indeed, in my experience with these issues (I practiced labour law for years before becoming an academic), these efforts to pressure the strikers, while no doubt intended to help end the dispute, may very well have had the opposite effect that was intended. . . .

Finally, I mentioned earlier that if the government does pass back to work legislation, it will send the dispute to something called “interest arbitration”.  The principal legal test in interest arbitration is often called “the replication test”.  The idea is that the arbitrator tries to estimate what would have been the outcome had the parties been permitted to continue the strike.  When the membership and the union bargaining committee have strongly rejected the employer’s last offer, that is pretty strong evidence that the employer would have been required to give something more to end the strike. But, equally, the employer here has insisted it has nothing more to give.  So it would be interesting to see how an arbitrator would deal with this problem applying the “replication test”.

Doorey also has further discussion on possible work legislation and the fact that the parties appear to be bargaining in the press as much as they are behind closed doors.


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