UNB strike causes headaches for Island students

By Kayla Fraser
Jan. 17, 2014

The strike at the University of New Brunswick that started on Jan. 13 is causing hardships for its students, including several from P.E.I.
Megan Smith is studying nursing at the university. There is a great deal of confusion and lack of information and it makes it hard to determine what will happen, she said.
All the students are losing time from their classes and all of the syllabi are going to have to be adjusted, she said. All the uncertainty is unnerving, she said.
“As a nursing student, I see how badly structured programs are affected. Because I’m a transfer student, my clinical practice (which is mandatory to complete the program) is completed for the year, but all other nursing students are having valuable and essential clinical hours disrupted, which are causing a lot of stress. ”
From what she hears, if the strike continues beyond four weeks, the semester could be extended into the summer months or cancelled altogether, she said.
“They don’t give much information on contingency plans or any information at all really.”
The strike will definitely affect enrolment for this fall because people wouldn’t want to attend a school where the professors will refuse to teach, she said.
“It reflects badly on the school, the staff and the students that already go there.”
Depending on how long the strike will last, it could go on for a couple of days to five weeks, she said. They can’t get jobs to wait out the time and some of their assignments they could be working on are going to be cut out, she said.
“Its a waiting game.”
Shaun MacCormac, general secretary for the Prince Edward Island Teachers Federation, said from a labour point of view, the longer the strike goes on, the ability for students to finish their courses is going down.
“The biggest effect might be on somebody that’s about to graduate, finish their degree, the strike continues then, unless university comes up with a way for those people to get their credit hours towards their degree, the people wouldn’t be able to graduate on time.”
He said in the meantime, if one is living there, they’re paying for accommodations and paying to live, so that length of time may be extended as well besides the program.
He said a strike could happen at UPEI and said the professors at UPEI have the right to strike.
“The right to strike can only occur legally. Illegal strike only occurs when a contract has ended, so if UPEI was ever in a situation where the contract for professors had ended and they didn’t come to an agreement, then UPEI professors could strike.”
He said if high school seniors are aware of the news, then they’re aware of possible strike at university.
He said the students should take note of where that occurs, because it doesn’t occur at all universities. He said sometimes it occurs at a university once, but sometimes there’s ongoing labour disruptions at certain universities.
He said when looking at universities, students should do some research to see if their choice has ever been on strike because most people are going to be at university for four years.
“If you’re looking for university that the professors strike every time a contract ends, it might be every three years, then you may be facing that kind of situation where you’re now trying to figure out how you’re going to finish your program, how you do finish it.” He said sometimes in some of those cases the students have to still put in the projects, but they don’t have a professor to give them any direct feedback.
New Brunswick’s Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Jody Carr released a statement on Jan. 13 and said as a government, they recognize that students and the entire university community are affected by this labour dispute, and they remain hopeful for a speedy resolution.
“Our priority is the students’ ability to finish their term with the least amount of disruption possible. We are monitoring the situation closely, and we continue to encourage both parties – the administration and the faculty association – to make every effort to resolve this dispute with minimal impact to students.”
He said the students would basically be on their own terms trying to complete that work on time if the professors were out on strike.
He said it’s not necessarily a major consideration, but he thinks it’s something all students should kind of take a look at before they finally decide on a university.
“From a labour point of view, strikes are really unfortunate. It usually means that sides are far apart. I don’t think anyone really likes a strike, so I doubt that the professors like the fact that they’re not teaching their students. I’m sure the university is concerned…”
He said people are looking at UNB saying ‘they’re on strike I don’t want to go there’ as a student because it might happen again. He said when professors go on strike, they’re not getting paid, so most unions that go on strike, there may or may not be strike pay.
“Even if there is strike pay, it’s usually a small percentage of your salary would be. So you’re not being paid, so there’s a significant impact when the union makes the decision to go on strike, it’s a fairly serious thing on all levels.”
He said when the strike does occur people should realize it’s usually a serious situation where there are two sides that simply can’t come to an agreement, but one has to be forced on the other part.
“At the end of the day it’s one of very few tools for a union to use though in order to make the employer listen or take action on an issue they find very serious.”
Carr also released a statement on Jan. 16 and said they respect the statutory collective bargaining process and they recognize the dispute that is affecting students, parents, other New Brunswickers, and the university community.
Based on media reports, she said there appears to be willingness from the Association of New Brunswick Teachers and the university administration to resume negotiations.
“I encourage the parties to make every effort to resolve this dispute so that students can finish the winter term with the least disruption possible. 

In addition, we are fulfilling a key responsibility by providing a government mediator who will continue to help both sides reach a resolution. 

In the meantime, the provincial government continues to monitor the situation closely.”