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Abstract

This paper considers a recent strike at York University in Toronto, Canada by three units of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903, representing teaching assistants, contract or adjunct faculty and graduate assistants. The consideration of the strike has a two-fold purpose: The first is to situate it within the concept of social unionism, illustrating how this concept assists in understanding the strike beyond its strictly local and sector context. The second purpose is to consider how the strike reflects back on social unionism. In this regard, the paper considers challenges that can arise from the fusion of normative terms-and-conditions contract negotiations and the advancement of social justice issues. To lay the ground work for situating the negotiations within social unionism, the table issues advanced by the Union and the Union’s approach to the negotiation process, including practices developed to support the approach, are discussed. The picture that emerges is a practice of social unionism that can be characterized as a strong fusion of normative contract negotiations and the advancement of common good or social justice issues. The paper concludes by considering implications of the type of “strong fusion” social unionism practiced by CUPE Local 3903, including the implications of this practice as a bargaining model and broader implications for unions with a strong social union agenda and for university administrators on a campus with such a union.

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