Barring a last-minute breakthrough, it appears that about 150 full-time professors and librarians at Mount Allison University will walk off the job next week, their second strike in six years.
The Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) has set a strike deadline for Monday, February 3 unless a new contract is negotiated before then.
MAFA says that in a vote earlier this month, 74% of full-time faculty who cast ballots authorized a strike if one is needed to press their demands on key issues such as staffing and workload.
However, the strike deadline does not apply at the moment to about 50 part-time professors and librarians after the university questioned the results of their strike vote.
MAFA announced last week that 94% of part-time members who voted supported a strike.
But the university says that since only 17 of 50 part-timers voted, it has asked the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board for an opinion on whether that result reached the minimum standard for a strike mandate.
In a news release issued yesterday, MAFA announced it would hold another strike vote for part-time professors and librarians in an effort to resolve the issue and avoid a costly legal battle.
The release quotes MAFA President Matthew Litvak as saying that many part-time members are struggling to earn a living wage and that pay and job security for them have been crucial issues in the bargaining that began last June.
The province appointed a conciliation officer in August, but those talks ended in November with no agreement. Since December, both sides have been negotiating with the help of a provincially appointed mediator.
Two more rounds of mediation are scheduled for tomorrow and Friday.
MAFA says both sides signed a protocol agreeing not to negotiate in public, but the university has released its latest comprehensive offer along with information on such bargaining issues as faculty workload and salary scales.
(1) (a) MAFA wants the administration to restore what it sees as the number or complement of faculty needed to maintain Mount Allison’s status as the country’s leading undergraduate university. It says that over the past decade there has been a drop in the number of full-time faculty of about 7% and an increase in the number of part-timers, while the number of librarians has fallen 33% over 15 years. MAFA also says that the university is not replacing enough faculty who resign, retire or are granted maternity, sickness or sabbatical leaves.
(1) (b) The university rejects the claim that there aren’t enough faculty members to maintain courses and programs. While it says the numbers of faculty ebb and flow to match fluctuations in student enrolment, Mount Allison has maintained one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios of any university in Canada. It also says that the use of part-time faculty is far lower at Mt. A. than at most other Canadian universities and that in the last three years, part-timers have taught an average of only 12% of the total number of courses.
(2) (a) MAFA wants higher pay and better job security for part-time faculty members on short-term contracts. It says these “precarious” workers earned an average of just over $12,000 last year, a figure well below the poverty line. MAFA acknowledges that the stipend part-time professors are paid at Mt. A. compares favourably with the rates at other universities in Atlantic Canada, but argues it’s still far from a living wage.
(2) (b) The administration says all universities use part-time faculty and that the $6,858 part-timers receive for each of the courses they teach is the highest among eight other comparable universities in Atlantic Canada. It adds that many part-timers are retired faculty members or professionals who are employed full-time outside the university and who supplement their other work by teaching.
Figures released in October show that 2,247 students were enrolled at Mount Allison this year.
A three-week faculty strike at Mt. A. in January/February 2014 ended when both sides agreed to binding arbitration after meeting with a special mediator appointed by the province.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared.