Ryerson early childhood education students affected by York strike

By Natasha Gan and Colleen Marasigan

Even though our teaching assistants are still on the job, some Ryerson students are already feeling the effects of the York instructor strike.

York University’s 3,700 TAs and other non-tenured instructors walked off the job on Tuesday, just one day after 6,000 U of T instructors went on strike.

Emily Marks is an early childhood education student at Ryerson and York through a joint ECE concurrent program. Her classes are taught on Ryerson’s campus by York instructors. All three of her York-taught classes have been cancelled due to the strike.

CUPE argues contract workers perform about 60 per cent of undergraduate instruction, yet their salaries account for less than eight per cent of university budgets. (Courtesy of Ashley Cochrane/Ryersonian Staff)

CUPE argues contract workers perform about 60 per cent of undergraduate instruction, yet their salaries account for less than eight per cent of university budgets. (Courtesy of Ashley Cochrane/Ryersonian Staff)

“My other course that is taught by a professor on contract is cancelled until the strike is over, (I don’t have) to hand in a paper that is due next week for this class until our class resumes,” she said. “The prof for this class is not even permitted to email us.”

Marks is a second year student, but it’s her first year in the five-year joint program. While Marks assumed her class with a tenured professor would run, it too was cancelled. She received an e-mail Tuesday afternoon from her Ryerson program manager telling her that “if there is no resolution within six days it is York’s practice not to make up classes during this time.”

The e-mail went on to say if the strike does in fact go longer than a week, Ryerson and York will find a solution that will not put students at a “disadvantage.”

Members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representing TAs in both universities have rejected offers with 71 per cent vote from York and 90 from U of T.

CUPE argues contract workers perform about 60 per cent of undergraduate instruction, yet their salaries account for less than eight per cent of university budgets.

“I believe that teaching assistants play an important role in the learning process,” says Jessica Soedirgo, a TA at U of T.

“Going on strike is obviously a last resort — I’d rather be in the classroom than picketing out in the cold. But if a strike is necessary to achieve a wage that (is) closer to a living wage, then I will participate,” says Soedirgo who is currently on the picket line.

“We mark (students’) work, hear their ideas and we know their names. I genuinely enjoy teaching, but I would like to have a living wage and better working conditions.”

The teaching assistant budget per academic year has been frozen at $15,000 since 2008, meaning TAs live 35 per cent below the poverty line while living costs continue to skyrocket.

Soedirgo says she is paid for 210 hours, but still has to work more unpaid hours due to the high workload.

“Going on strike is obviously a last resort — I’d rather be in the classroom than picketing out in the cold. But if a strike is necessary to achieve a wage that (is) closer to a living wage, then I will participate,” says Soedirgo who is currently on the picket line.

A TA from York University walked in the march with University of Toronto TAs on Thursday. (Courtesy of Ashley Cochrane/Ryersonian Staff)

A TA from York University walked in the march with University of Toronto TAs on Thursday. (Courtesy of Ashley Cochrane/Ryersonian Staff)

At Ryerson, CUPE Unit 2 that represents continuing education instructors will start bargaining tomorrow. CUPE Unit 3, which represents TAs and graduate assistants just reached an agreement after two rounds of bargaining with details to be released shortly.

Meanwhile, Ryerson’s CUPE Local 3904 Unit 1 that represents part-time and sessional instructors ratified an agreement in January. The agreement only gave 60 three-year contracts to the 700-person union. The union is still deciding which members will get those contracts.

John Girardo, who was on the Unit 1 bargaining committee at Ryerson, says he hopes for more job security as he still has to re-apply for work every semester. “I have no idea whether or not I’m going to be teaching again one semester to the next,” he says. “There’s a precariousness to it — you can’t plan like when you have regular income and benefits.”

Girardo marched to U of T to support his fellow union members. “I think I’ve shown a commitment to the university; I was a graduate of this university, I’ve been (teaching) for 25 years,” Girardo said. “It would be nice to see the university turn back and make a commitment to me.”

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