The strike by teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and contract faulty at York University is going into its third week, yet there is still no end in sight as 50,000 students are left wondering if anyone is representing their interests.
On Monday, students held a rally to demand action from the government, university administration, CUPE and the York Federation of Students to end the strike.
Many of them expressed disappointment when their student body president Hamid Osman did not appear at the rally to speak to his constituents. Many of them tried to find answers, but with the York Federation of Students office closed in solidarity with CUPE, they were unable to find Osman.
Osman told students Sunday, in a posting on the YFS website, he was “doing everything possible to bring York University and CUPE 3903 back to the table in order to end the strike.”
Early Wednesday morning, students found out Osman had not been in Toronto. Osman, and members of his staff and executive, are taking advantage of the closure to work for the Canadian Federation of Students in Ottawa.
The YFS executive joined dozens of student union executives in taking time away from their duties and flew to Ottawa.
Students were not informed of Osman’s absence and nothing in his letter indicated he was leaving Toronto.
The CFS is currently engaged in a referendum to gain the membership of the undergraduate student body at the University of Ottawa. The CFS will receive about $378,000 per year in membership fees from students at UOttawa if they win the referendum. Voting is underway and ends Thursday.
“They are going to have to explain to many angry students why they promised to support us and do everything they could to end this strike and instead went off on a side project in Ottawa,” says Lyndon Koopmans of the group YorkNotHostage.com, which organized Monday’s rally. “It’s like firefighters rescuing a cat from a tree instead of taking care of a blazing fire across town.”
Students learned of the YFS’ absence overnight after questions starting circulating about why the YFS was not seen this week.
On Monday, Stephanie Chan, asked on a YFS Facebook group if any of the executive were in Ottawa working for the CFS. She received no response.
Late Tuesday night, Chan asked the same question on a University of Ottawa Facebook group and linked to photos of the YFS Executive. She quickly received confirmation from students at the University of Ottawa that the YFS executive were indeed campaigning there.
An hour later, Jeremy Salter, executive director of the York Federation of Students wrote on Facebook, “Some of the YFS Executive are in Ottawa working with the SFUO during theit [sic] vote to join the Canadian Federaion of students.”
“We have been doing all that we can to nMet [sic] with the Administration but they are unwilling to meet with us despite our numerous attempts and we have been communication with CUPE as well,” he continued. Salter justified their absence, “The YFS office is currently closed and our executive are no longer on the picket line so folks came here to volunteer.”
These answers do not satisfy Koopmans. He says this is yet another example of the YFS letting students down.
The YFS is planning a town hall for Nov. 25. Koopmans says his group will be there, demanding accountability from the YFS and pushing the union to work harder to bring about an end to the strike.
Multiple e-mails, phone messages and cell phone calls from Maclean’s OnCampus to the York Federation of Students regarding this story weren’t returned.