Nearly all classes are cancelled at Toronto's York University after 3,400 contract faculty members, teaching and graduate assistants walked off the job just after midnight on Thursday.

The university website reports that nearly all classes will be cancelled for the duration of the strike, with the exception of selected graduate programs, affecting the majority of York's 50,000 students.

All academic offices, however, will remain open for the duration of the strike.

The strike is causing serious delays for Seneca College students who take classes at York. Picketers stalled motorists trying to enter school property on Steeles Avenue West and Keele Street, allowing about two cars in every couple of minutes.

Some people said they had to wait 20 minutes before they were able to drive in.

"I'm frustrated," one Seneca student told CTV Toronto while waiting in her car.

One fourth year business student said he was angry at the situation.

"I think it's horrible, it's not fair," he said. "I don't think it's the way to go."

The strike went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after members of CUPE 3903 rejected a final contract offer from the university.

Graham Potts, who is acting as chief negotiator for CUPE 3903, said the union began picketing at the university campus at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

"This strike will last until York University decides to stop playing hard ball, sit down and actually negotiate," he said Thursday morning on the picket line.

Alex Bilyk, a spokesperson for the university said the school had offered to go into binding arbitration.

"Take us up on that," he said.

Potts said his union rejected the "concessionary package" offered by the university.

"It didn't respect the quality or accessible education that we had sought to achieve in this round," Potts said of the offer. "And it definitely didn't address anything with respect to job security for many of our members who have been teaching for 15, 20, or 25 years."

The offer included a 9.25 per cent wage increase over three years, while the union is believed to be seeking 11 per cent over two years plus improved job security.

"Right now I have to apply for my job every year to nine different departments," said Sharon Davidson who has been teaching at the school for 15 years. "I never know from year to year what I'm going to be teaching in those departments.

Minister 'respects autonomy'

In 2001, the university was hit by a strike in that lasted nearly three months.

John Milloy, the minister responsible for post-secondary education, said Ontario won't consider a combined contract bargaining arrangement for universities, even though the province has been hit with two school strikes this fall.

A strike at the University of Windsor delayed classes for two weeks in September.

Milloy told CUPE officials Thursday he respects the autonomy of Ontario universities.

However, CUPE Ontario's secretary-treasurer said Ontario could save time and money if unions had the option of combined bargaining.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Galit Solomon and files from The Canadian Press