“From a student standpoint it appears to me that we’re all well taken care of during these tense times. Through all of this it seems clear that both AUFA, the ASU, and the Board of Governors would like all students to remember that their education comes first”
With the negotiations between the teachers union and the school breaking down recently I realized that there was a distinct lack of knowledge on the topic of negotiations and conciliation between the two parties. After speaking briefly with a professor on the topic I was told that in writing this article I could either be “an informative force or a divisive one”. While I’m positive I know exactly the way that particular professor would have me write this article, writing what other people want is not my forte. In this article I’ll be making an attempt to inform followed by offering my opinion.
What you need to know about the negotiations:
From what I understand, the professors here at Acadia University work on a three year contract commonly known as a collective agreement. A collective agreement can, and often does, cover things like time off, sick leave, health plans, compensation, and various other things pertinent to how professors work. This collective agreement is up for renegotiation every three years and sometimes the negotiations stall. For the students, these negotiations are critical because they can result in either a strike or a lockout basically meaning that we won’t have classes, or rather that professors either will not or are not able to teach. When this happens the two parties enter conciliation. According to a one page document distributed by Acadia University Faculty Association there are some things about conciliation that you need to understand.
Here is a basic summary:
- conciliation is a form of third party assistance, the conciliator is appointed by the Minister of Labour to help the two parties reach an agreement
- The conciliator is an expert in negotiations, but not specifically on the points of the collective agreement in question
- The goal of the conciliator is to help both sides reach a collective agreement to avoid a strike or a lockout
- The conciliator generates a report if the two parties fail to reach a collective agreement, this report is never made public
- If negotiations still do not move forward parties have a 14 day “cooling-off” period before any further action can be taken
- After these 14 days the union is in a position to vote to strike and the employer is in the position to impose a lock out
- parties must give 48 hours notice prior to a strike or lock out, these 48 hours can be the last two days of the 14 day cool off period
- During this 14 day period the two parties can meet in an effort to come to a tentative agreement
This is a basic summary of the document I obtained, it directs any further questions to the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education*
What you need to understand about where negotiations currently are is that they are not going well. In an email from AUFA to faculty said this: “The Conciliator’s assessment is that the Board is unlikely to make such a proposal (a favourable offer) without a strong strike vote from AUFA’s [the union’s] membership”. The strike vote will be held Monday, October 23rd through October 25th. This basically means that the conciliator has said that the two parties are unlikely to come to an agreement unless the teacher’s union votes to strike. With negotiations seeming so tense you may wonder what all of this is about. Through my examination of AUFA emails and documents I’ve narrowed it down to a list of requests from AUFA that have not yet been met. They include:
- A modified child care proposal that would commit the Board to (a) hiring a consultant who would develop a plan for a childcare centre that would be completed by 2020, and (b) fundraising for the centre
- Appropriate integration of the Art Gallery Curator into the bargaining unit
- early retirement incentive
- post-65 retirement incentive
- phased-in retirement
- 12-month instructor sabbaticals
- a pre-2007 pay equity review
- an increase to 182 tenure track positions
There are members of the AUFA that believe that the union is negotiating in bad faith. Dr. Rick Mehta sent out a public six page letter regarding several issues he had seen with the preparation for negotiations. In addition to concerns about an unwillingness to discuss other critical campus staff members and cuts to their compensation in favour of increases to AUFA member salaries. Dr. Mehta explains in his letter that he can no longer support his union primarily because he no longer sees it as a union that respects the concerns of all of its members and that it is a union that has little regard for other campus staff. Or as Dr. Mehta said “At the meeting held on July 25, the gist of the comments that came from the floor was that the financial needs of the other employee groups was not AUFA’s problem… For me, this is an important equity issue because those employee groups experienced pay cuts and hardships that our group did not have to endure”.
The letter is rife with similar concerns most notably the use of a survey Dr. Mehta assessed as heavily biased that was intended to determine the AUFA’s key contract points. “a sizeable number of questions offered only the following options: no answer, leaving the article from the collective agreement unchanged, or strengthening the article in AUFA’s favour. In other words, options such as a weakening of an article or removal of an entire article, positions that would be in the Board’s favour, were not available”. The letter powerfully concludes “The evidence strongly suggests that there are serious flaws in the way that my union has been and is handling the current round of contract negotiations.” Dr. Mehta has been very outspoken about his dissatisfaction with his union and has said that he will still hold classes if job action occurs.
The Athenaeum has asked AUFA to comment on what students should do if AUFA decides to strike. Their response was similar to that of the ASU. They said that if there is a positive vote on strike action this does not mean that a strike will occur imminently. “A strike is a worst-case scenario, and AUFA’s bargaining team is ready, as they have been since April, to bargain productively with the Employer’s team to avoid a lock out or strike”. Further, AUFA urges you to attend classes as normal during these negotiations. They also suggest you take the time to learn about collective bargaining and trade unions as well as to seek guidance and information from the ASU during this time. When asked if AUFA is optimistic they will get what they want from the Board of Governers they had this to say “Collective bargaining is a process of give-and-take to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties to the collective agreement. Both sides—AUFA and the Administration—started the bargaining process with things they would like to achieve. In a normal process of bargaining, neither side gets everything it wants”. I pressed AUFA to comment on the open letter by Dr. Rick Mehta and their response was that AUFA works very democratically to ensure that all union members are adequately and fairly represented. Or more specifically “Of course, not every faculty member agrees with every decision that AUFA makes, and members are certainly within their right to disagree with decisions made by committees of the Association”. AUFA did not comment on their allegedly biased surveying methods.
The ASU released a statement on October 18th at 6:00 p.m. reviewing everything that students need to know about the current negotiations. Although the ASU has no legal role in negotiations it has been doing an excellent job of keeping students abreast of developments. The President of the student’s union was more than willing to answer some questions I had that were pertinent to my article. The ASU seems optimistic that following a strike vote an agreement will emerge. The ASU did not comment on whether or not they wish to see a positive strike vote however they have reiterated that they are vehemently pro-student and that the two parties are unlikely to come to an agreement before the vote occurs. Most importantly, the ASU would like to emphasize that a positive strike vote does not mean that a strike will imminently occur, but rather that the two parties are more likely to agree following a vote regardless of the result. When asked if the ASU would stand by Dr. Rick Mehta’s public statement their response was “At the current time we are not endorsing any statements made by any party or person and are focusing on student questions and concerns”.
Our students union has a contingency plan if job action does occur. The plan is entirely student focused and the details that affect students will be promptly communicated. Specifically, the ASU had this to say “Students have paid an enormous amount of money to attend university and their education should not be negatively affected by an employer and employee negotiation”. When asked if the ASU had an official position on how they wish negotiations proceed they said they “urge both the Board of Governers and the AUFA come to an agreement in a manner that does not negatively affect the students who have chosen Acadia University to pursue higher education. We [the ASU] believe that students should not be caught in the crossfire of negotiations and stand strongly with students during negotiations.”
From a student standpoint it appears to me that we’re all well taken care of during these tense times. Through all of this it seems clear that AUFA, the ASU, and the Board of Governors would like all students to remember that their education comes first. All parties seem deeply concerned that our education remain uninterrupted. The ASU and AUFA were very cooperative with my requests for comment. I would like to thank Grace Hamilton-Burge, Samantha Nixon, Dr. Rick Mehta, Dr. Rachel Brickner, the ASU, AUFA, and anyone else who commented or contributed to make this article possible. The Athenaeum has always been committed to bringing together a number of different groups of people to keep the student body up to date on the matters that are important to them and all of these contributions helped everyone stay better informed.