Sunday, January 25, 2009

McGuinty To York's Bargaining Team: "They Couldn't Get Me Free Delivery Of The Sunday Times."

With the Liberals set to legislate CUPE 3903 back to work, the process of evaluating this strike can begin. What did it accomplish? Well, the union proved that York is nothing if not accommodating: Although, starting on November 6, the school was officially closed, it was still possible to park at any of York's faculty lots for the bargain rate of $6/hour. At $25,000/year, that's about half of what York contract faculty make to work at the school. Which explains why Mamdou Shoukri's limousine was parked across five spots.

I think the university spent something like eleven days bargaining with the union. In eleven days, Barack Obama created the world, and rested on Thursday. But York couldn't hammer out a settlement.

But that isn't exactly true: They wouldn't hammer out a settlement. As part of some strange, penurious stance, they decided that they simply had no money to give to contract faculty. And, when the union said, "Fuck money, just give us job security," they decided that they didn't haven't much security to give, either. "We can't just be giving out job security," a York official told me. "What are people going to do? Work here?"

Obama was inaugurated during the York strike. Last Monday, as I exited a coffee shop, I was approached by a man selling waving an American flag. "Anything is possible," he shouted at me.

"A negotiated settlement at York?" I asked.

"Shit, man," he said. "It's just an expression."

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Meet York's Chief Negotiator

Last night I met York's chief negotiator. I won't mention his name, but he represented himself as a very fine, able, upstanding man. The knees of his pants worn shiny by trips to the Communion rail, the felt of his hat clean and black with an orange feather tucked into the band.

I asked him what the university had to lose by giving contract faculty, say, five-year appointments.

"Nothing. They're working there; who cares if we hire them every year, every other year, or every five years. We wouldn't be employing them if they didn't do a good job."

I asked him why the university wouldn't agree to small changes in its health and childcare plans.

"We'll do that. It'll cost some money, but nothing serious. Same with the pay raise. Is tuition frozen? So we charge fifteen bucks more for a full-year class. It's no big deal."

"So," I said, "what the hell's going on?"

"A few grand a year we can handle, David," he said. "But tenure-stream jobs? No way. Not with our funding scheme. Where are we supposed to come up with millions?"

"Raise tuition."

"People are already screaming that it's too high."

"So they'll scream a little louder."

"Do you know how much it costs to go to school in the States? Tuition's high here? What does it cost? Five, six grand? They're paying three, four, five times that. No, we can't do that. And, by the way, those kids celebrating after that vote. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. I don't know how they let that happen. You're alienating an awful lot of people. An awful lot. This isn't the time to ask for anything from an employer, not to mention celebrating when you vote down a raise...Wait! I know what you're going to say: It's not about money. Fine. I know that, you know that. But does a guy picking up the Sun know that? He sees people cheering down a 10% raise. They look like a bunch of fucking spoiled brats. No public relations from that union. None at all. And they think that people are going to have sympathy after being held up in their cars, trying to get to Osgoode or wherever they're going? Trying to go to the library, and being stuck between a gate for ten minutes. Then being lectured?"

"But something has to change. You can't have people with PhDs working for you for twenty years without being given a shot at a steady job. It's obscene."

"That's the way it is. If the government gives us more money, we'll spend more money. But did you see the story: $100 billion in deficit spending over the next two years. You think they're going to give us a cheque? I don't think so."

"It's a bit of problem, isn't it."

"David, it's bullshit. I'll say that: it's bullshit. Kids want to pay less to go to school; kids want to be paid more to teach at school. What are we supposed to do for money? Grow it? David, the world's turning to shit. I don't know what to tell you. But if I make a good deal for the university, do you think that I get to take home the cash I saved? No. So why wouldn't we offer our best deal? It's not our money. We don't get to keep it. It's not coming out of our pockets. We're giving what we can give."

"And what about the president's salary? And his perks?"

"What does he get that Dick Fuld didn't, or John Thain didn't? He's a fundraiser. He raises money. Ok, he makes a nice buck, but he's the fucking president of the university. There's kind of an industry standard that we have to abide by. I may not agree with it, but that's reality."

"So what else can you do?"


"So what's going to happen?"

"I don't know. I guess we wait."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CUPE 3903 Rejects York's Offer; Union Leaders Get LA Gear Shoes Re-Soled

I should've pointed this out before: I'm not a member of CUPE 3903. But as an English graduate student I know York TAs and contract faculty, so I've been allowed some insight into what's happening in the community.

Last night CUPE members voted down York's settlement offer. I watched coverage of the Novotel vote, and I swear that I saw a guy wearing LA Gear shoes.

York's position is actually pretty interesting: They're happy to pay their tenured and tenure-stream faculty six-figure salaries. They're happy to do it. But as far as their contract faculty go, they won't back away from this 9.5% three-year pay increase.

Consider that the average contract faculty member makes around $25,000/year. That's a 3% raise in Year One: $750. A 3% raise in Year Two: $772.50. A 3% raise in Year Three: $795.66.

That's still not even a third of what tenure/tenure-stream professors make for doing the exact same job.

And what's the strike really about? Opening up the hiring process so that contract faculty can actually become professors. But then the university says, "Publish. Publish. Then we'll hire you."

That's a crock.

But the problem is that as the economy turns to shit, no one has much sympathy for intellectuals. And intellectuals can't seem to help themselves. Remember a few months ago when Maple Leaf tainted meat was killing people? Well, Michael McCain, a good-looking man, a man with a nice chin, came out and spoke to the press. Food produced at his plant was actually causing people to die, yet the public had great sympathy for him. The man is a millionaire selling dangerous meat, yet he's beloved.

Now you've got a bunch of people fighting for very reasonable contract demands, and people want to throw paint on them.

Who does CUPE march out for the media? A couple of guys who cut their own hair. A guy who collects Betty Boop keychains? A guy who goes on the radio, on a very popular station, on a very popular show, and iterates and re-iterates the importance of adverbial connectors.

Even the letters to the editor published in Toronto's dailies have been darling: auxiliary verb, adverb, main verb. Check. Let's see some goddamn hacking and chopping. Mamdouh Shoukri won't bargain, but he spends $100,000/year on a chauffeurred limousine. He wouldn't typically spend that much money, but his SSHRC grant came through.

In terms of public relations, this strike's been a fucking disaster. My grandparents, who live in Toronto, keep asking me how the union has the balls to strike for more money when so many people are being fired, laid off, etc. I have to keep telling them that it's not about money; it's about these contracts and conversion schemes. But they can't understand what I'm talking about. The papers mention money; the six o'clock news mentions money. You wouldn't think that this strike was about anything other than three grand over three years. Bullshit. It's not about that at all.

These union leaders, these union negotiators...Great job. You've spent three months negotiating, you've received almost no concessions, and you're this close to splitting your membership. You get a 70% turnout on a key vote, and your TAs and research assistants are heading in different directions. Professors are signing petitions to get you back to work. Sure, they're making five times as much as you are for doing the same job, but they've got the benefit of condescension on their side. And they deserve to judge you; they've placed articles in The Journal of Eastern Produce, and Stubb's Review.

And the public hates you. Don't you have anyone with a sense of humour? Don't you have anyone with new clothes--a toqueless person who can speak without hitting on talking points. It's just pathetic to see a good cause fail so miserably. Why is it that the university looks so clean, and the union looks so dirty?

I love the cause, but the execution's terrible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Canadian Writers Who Support CUPE 3903; or The Gifts They Gave

I'm really ashamed that I haven't done more to chronicle the strike at York, but for the longest time there just wasn't much to say. The union wouldn't budge; York wouldn't budge. The union's negotiators, in an attempt to blow off steam, went to the gym. It was one of those gyms with a pool, a spa, a sauna, and a Turkish bath. And they were excited; they were ready to swim, sweat, steam, and soak. But no one would take off their shirt.

A couple of days ago I wrote about Margaret Atwood's visit to the picket line. She must have had a good time, because the next day David Helwig was out, ready to lend support to the strikers. He brought his guitar; and, though his fingers froze, he still got off a pretty good interpretation of Brown Eyed Girl.

Nino Ricci brought his flute and some tomato sauce.

Arundhati Roy was out, and so was Jhumpa Lahiri. I couldn't figure out what they were doing in Toronto, but a friend has since told me that JetBlue had a sale on tickets to Portland, but you had to fly out of Pearson. So that question's answered.

Jacob Richler was going to come out, but the sun rose that day.

By far the most exciting visit was made by Carol Shields. I love to pick on Carol, but she's really a terrific woman. If I could be friends with any Canadian writer, it'd be Stephen Marche. But if I could fuck any Canadian writer, it'd be Camilla Gibb. But if I could have any Canadian writer fold my laundry, it'd be, without question, Carol Shields.

Carol was out on the line, answering questions, signing autographs. You should've seen her cringe when someone handed her a copy of Mr. Sandman.

"Get that thing away from me!" she yelled.

It turns out that Canadian writers really do support Canadian English faculty. No, they don't love them. They don't really like them. But they will come out for subsidized hot chocolate.

Carol's great. She looked at the female TAs and contract faculty, bit her lip, and took everyone to H&M. You don't see too many women wearing canvas anymore.

The shopping trip was a big success; everyone picked up a bunch of stuff.

"Don't worry," Shields said, "I can afford it." She reached into her purse. "I shorted IYG."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CUPE 3903 Gets A Boost From Margaret Atwood's Miata

Folks outside of Toronto won't know this, but CUPE 3903--the union that represents York University's graduate assistants and contract faculty--has been on strike since November. I think the exact date is 6 November 2008, but that's not important. I'm just grounding this story so you can appreciate the next part. The meat.

Anyway, 3903's been out for a few months, and students and parents and elected officials are starting to sweat the possibility that this academic year may be cancelled. The first semester's assignments and final exams haven't been marked or sat, and the second semester's already three weeks old. Couple those facts with the reality that 3903 and the university are bargaining with the skill and motivation of an Alice Munro dye job, and it looks grim. It just doesn't seem like a deal's going to get done.

So external parties are trying to expedite a solution. They're putting pressure on 3903 to vote on York's offer; they're putting pressure on 3903 to accept York's offer. Is it a good offer? Well, let's take a quick, objective look at it. The salaries of Ontario's professors--all of Ontario's professors--can be found via this link. You'll notice that $100,000 is almost a base salary for tenured profs. Contract faculty? Well, they're not listed. But, roughly speaking, they make enough to walk to the local food bank.

Should tenured professors make more than graduate students? Of course they should. But should graduate students have the opportunity to become tenured professors? Damm right. David Chariandy was just hired by SFU, and that was after a Giller nomination. So what're other contract faculty supposed to do? Play in the sandbox with Bob Rae's children? A friend at York told me, "For a tenure-track job, I'd channel a Cruel Intentions-era Sarah Michelle Gellar and give Bob the old 'anywhere-you-want' speech. It wouldn't be so bad; Gowdy says his cock's not that big, and he dips it in honey, first."

So what else could you do? Cook Jack Rabinovitch dinner, then spend hours re-assuring him that Mordecai Richler really was his friend. Didn't hate him. Would've come over even if he didn't have the good Strub's pickles?

I think York's English department's doled out three tenure-track jobs in the last ten years. Sure, people with PhDs have been teaching at York during that time. They've just been making fifteen-twenty grand. Looking at York's course calendar, it seems that more than a few tenured profs are making their nut teaching one, two, or three classes. And some of those are graduate seminars. I guess the only thing they can tell their students is be good, smile, be polite, and maybe in twenty-five years you'll make a living, too.

Back to Atwood.

So they're pressuring 3903 to take this deal. Atwood doesn't like that; doesn't like that at all. Marg is a great supporter of the working man--just last year she bought a hot dog on Queen West. And whenever's there's a worthwhile social cause being prosecuted, she's out there lending her voice. Last week she was down on the York picket lines, handing out coffee, passing out donuts, chopping wood for those oil-drum fires. "It's awful," she said, shivering, "just awful. Fucking universities. They teach my books. But never the long ones. Like it would fucking kill them to put Alias Grace on a reading list?"

This went on for about forty-five minutes. Atwood complained about the establishment, about Emma Richler's new nose, about Thomas Wolfe's watch (which she'd bought, but which couldn't keep good time). Then she complained about Entenman's (Why can't you buy the donuts here?), about Kraft Dinner (There's never enough cheese in the packet), and rice wine (Where do they get the sugar?). Finally it was time to go--the Big G was calling on her iPhone--and she waved a royal goodbye to the crowd.

But her car wouldn't start. Her Miata--her new Miata--had conked out in the parking lot. It was cold, and the engine wouldn't turn over. There was no question that she needed a boost. And so a striker walked to the parking lot, waved down a guy in a Nissan Sentra, and got him to jump Atwood's car. She screamed, "Don't cross the wires." And, of course, no one did. The car was running within thirty seconds, and Atwood was off down Steeles.

Where did she go? It's fun to imagine, isn't it? She went to buy a bikini. She had to get a birthday present for Naim Kattan. She went to a pottery class. She made her own wine. She was late for lunch with Christie Blatchford. Tomson Highway bought her a Coke. Frank Davey had a bit of a chest cold, and she drove to London to blow out his furnace's pilot light. Jacob Richler licked her toes.

So, on an otherwise shitty day, the Atwood visit buoyed our spirits.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Muppets Voiced By Margaret Atwood

I find myself playing the role of the Canadian literature muckraker. I guess that's fine, but so much of our muck is really just shit, and Guy Vanderhaeghe still hasn't returned my boots.

Did anyone know that Margaret Atwood worked on the Muppet Show? She did voice work; it was all off-camera. Yes, it was a well-kept secret. But, after a lot of journalistic sweating, I'm outing her in this post.

Atwood did Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Aunt Verona Fingerpuck, Slow Moon Nguyen, Pancakes Flatly, Gordon G. Sassberry, and Norah Popeswife.

She also played the nude model of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

People are going to say, "Henson did those characters. Not Atwood--Henson. And Dave Goetz." To them I say, "Read the transcripts." Atwood's fingerprints are all over those shows. They're all over Alice Munro's lifetime supply of Canesten, but they're all over the Muppet Show, too.

Here's one of Norah Popeswife's rants. See if you can find Atwood's voice somewhere in the subtext.

Norah: Fuck the Swedish Chef.
Fozzie Bear: Norah, you can't say that on TV.
Norah: I fucked Fred Penner last night. In his log.
Fozzie Bear: Jesus Christ! He's not even on our network.
Norah Bear: And I've had enough of Gonzo. His nose is just as curved as his cock. If it bent the other way it'd really hit the spot.
Fozzie Bear: At least be witty if you're gonna be so rude.
Norah Bear: I'm drunk. I can't be witty and drunk. How do I look?
Fozzie Bear: Like Rowlf took a shit on you. And you liked it.
Norah: Fuck this show. Can somebody get me on fucking Fraggle Rock?
Fozzie Bear: I heard you fucked Animal.
Norah: Yeah. Scooter wanted to watch. No one's licked my ass like that since Timothy Findley thought I had balls.

If that's not Atwood, who the hell is? Robert Lecker? That's our hero. That's our Canadian literature doyenne. And she jokes about screwing stuffed animals.

I called her last night.

"Margaret," I said, "why'd you do the show? You were publishing, you were doing well. What could've possibly appealed to you about the Muppets?"

"They all had hands up their asses. Got me? Now that's common, but, at that time, no one else was doing that."

You'd think more people would read our books.
All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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