Hundreds of contract faculty, teaching assistants and other staff held signs and chanted slogans in front of York University’s Keele Campus Monday as they went on strike to protest what they say are unfair working conditions.

The strike began at midnight after the university and CUPE 3903, the union that represents around 3,000 workers, failed to reach an agreement on a new contract.

The discussions between the two parties came to an end after workers rejected the university’s best offer on Friday.  

The university said the union responded by issuing a list of “red line” demands rather than a counter offer.

No bargaining took place over the weekend, with the university saying the sides remained too far apart to reach an agreement.

The workers have been without a new contract since August 31 and the two sides have been in negotiations for months to try and hammer out a new one. The union maintains that the core issue is precarious employment, while the university counters that York’s compensation package remains “the best of all Ontario universities.”

Both sides took shots at the other Monday, blaming each other for not doing enough to avoid the strike.

“CUPE 3903 remains ready, willing and available to resume bargaining on short notice. The only thing missing from the picture is a willing partner across the bargaining table,” Devin Lefebvre, Chair CUPE 3903, said at a news conference at Queen’s Park Monday morning.

He said the university decided to ‘take the weekend off’ ahead of the strike deadline and accused York of engaging “in a selective spin campaign.”

CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn also took aim at the Liberal government, saying recent legislation to help curb precarious work has done nothing to solve the problems of the workers who are on strike.

“If the law rectified what was happening here, there would be no need for a strike,” he said. “The provincial government also is implicated here, because the way in which funding works, the way in which they allow universities to create these sorts of jobs where the majority of the instruction is done by people who are treated in a way that in many other places in our province we would never imagine that this is the way people should be treated. And these are institutions of higher learning.”

For its part, the university said it had done everything it could to avoid a strike.

“I am proud of the offer York put forward to teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and contract faculty,” York University President Rhonda L. Lenton said in a statement. “It represented a marked improvement in financial, social and academic terms, and ensured that York’s compensation package remains the best of all Ontario universities.”

She added that she was “disappointed and saddened that the academic year will be disrupted” and said the university is doing everything possible to limit the impacts.

“Our offer to go to binding arbitration for the issues of most importance to CUPE 3903 where we have not been able to reach agreement still stands,” Lenton said. “This would bring a swift end to the strike and allow for a fair settlement.”

The strike means that labs and tutorials, as well as many classes are suspended.

The university has said that campus will remain open during the strike and that as many classes as possible will continue. Libraries, restaurants and other food outlets, as well as administrative offices and other university facilities also remain open.

The striking workers have said they will set up picket lines in front of the university starting on Tuesday.

The university has set up a page to keep students updated on the status of the strike at