On the Picket Line

Contract teachers at Canada’s York University strike over jobs

By Tony DiFelice
and Richard De Gaetano
May 14, 2018

TORONTO — For the second time in three years, some 3,000 York University teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants, members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, went on strike March 5 for higher wages and job security.

“Contract faculty are required to sign new contracts for each semester, so we aren’t assured a job,” instructor Abdul Sawas told the Militant on the picket line April 23. Sawas, who is from Syria, teaches engineering. He is in Canada on a student visa.

The majority of university instructors in Canada don’t have job security. Only 16,000 out of some 46,000 were full time last year. The rest are TAs, contract professors or casual instructors.

Striker Kim Sauder, who teaches Critical Disability Studies, said that the TAs are getting support from many students. “We have been explaining that our precarious working conditions affect their learning conditions,” she said.

The university administration claims that 55 percent of classes taught by full-time professors have continued to meet during the strike. But that’s misleading, Sauder said, because 60 percent of the teaching at York is done by TAs.

Under provincial law, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has now appointed an “industrial investigator,” who has three weeks to look into the dispute and report back to the labor minister.

Most strikers said they still expect to sign a new contract. But last November 12,000 Ontario College teachers were forced back to work with strikebreaking legislation by the Liberal government.