Here’s a good question for a labour law exam. Yesterday, in a clear attempt to influence the outcome of the forced ratification vote next week by striking CUPE members, the Deans of York’s faculties issued an extraordinary message to all York employees (full text below). The note mentions that the Deans had been “consulted” with throughout bargaining, presumably by the employer’s negotiators. It then recommends that the strikers accept the employer’s offer in the context of a volley of gloomy language, including comments about “severe budgetary constraints”, the “worsening economic crisis”, the “significant negative impact” of the dispute, the “extremely difficult economic climate”, and the “debilitating strike”. Its hard to imagine a message hitting the strikers any harder over the head–vote yes, or very bad things might happen to you and/or the university.
Keep in mind that for most of strikers, their de facto employer–the person they take orders from and must answer to–include the full-time professors (a minority of whom have also taken it upon themselves to lobby the strikers to accept the employer’s offer) and the Deans of their faculties. So the question for the law school exam is: Does the notice from Deans amount to a violation of:
(1) Section 70, which prevents employers, or persons acting on behalf of employers, from interfering with the administration of a union, but does not prevent the expression of opinions that are not threatening or intimidating and that do not amount to “undue influence”.
(2) section 72, which prohibits employers, or persons acting on behalf of employers, from making any kind of threat that intends to compel a striker to stop exercising their legal right to strike;
(3) section 73, which prevents employers, or persons acting on behalf of employers, from bargaining directly with unionized employees, and thereby by-passing the union; or
(4) section 76, which prevents anyone from intimidating an employee for the purposes of compelling them to cease engaging in a lawful strike.
I won’t grade the answers, but I do encourage any of you out there to submit your thoughts on whether the communication from the Deans, set out in full below, might violate one of these sections. Bonus points for noting that, whatever the legal answer is, it is obvious that animosity between the employees, their faculty bosses, the Deans, and the University will be high for some time, regardless of how the vote goes next week now that everyone at the University appears to have taken sides in this dispute.
January 15, 2009
Message from the Deans to the York community
When CUPE 3903 went on strike in November, we all undertook to seek the suspension, with
limited exceptions, of academic activities in our Faculties. In so doing, we acknowledged our
reliance on the work of our CUPE colleagues in helping to carry out the academic mission of the
University. In addition, we continue to recognize the importance to our graduate students of
financial support for the successful completion of their â€œapprenticeshipâ€ in our profession.
At the same time, we have had to recognize the unusually severe budgetary constraints that
currently characterize all universities in the country in the midst of a worsening economic crisis.
And we have had to consider the significant negative impact of a continuing labour disruption on
all of our students, as well as on the reputation and academic development of the University.
Having all these considerations in mind, we have reviewed the offer for settlement tabled by the
University administration (and indeed have been consulted as negotiations were underway). We
believe that the offer is a responsible effort to meet the needs of contract faculty and graduate
students in an extremely difficult economic climate. Familiar as we are with the budget situation
in our own Faculties, we do not believe that more can be responsibly provided. We hope CUPE
members will recognize the gains they have made, and put an end to this debilitating strike by
accepting the settlement offer.