No strike fears for UPEI students

By Ally Harris
Feb. 12, 2014

Students across New Brunswick have been interrupted with strikes at both the University of New Brunswick and Mount Allison University in the past month.
Students at the University of Prince Edward Island, however, have nothing to worry about.
Travis Gordon, UPEI Student Union VP Academic and External, thinks this is extremely important for students.
“We haven’t had many people panicking. And they don’t have to. The (collective agreement currently in place) covers through to June 30, 2016 and there is a clause in the agreement that no legal strike or lockout can take place until the agreement expires.”
The collective agreement was signed in November 2012 after several months of negotiations.
“At the end, I think both parties felt that we reached fair collective agreements,” said Betty Jeffery, president of the UPEI Faculty Association.
She said the association had a number of bargaining priorities heading into the negotiations.
“Obviously one would have been to make sure that our salaries remained competitive with salaries at our comparative universities. The importance of that is to ensure that we keep quality academic staff here and that we’re able to attract quality academic staff to come here and not to go elsewhere.”
The deal is four years long, which allows the university to better plan its expenses, Jeffery said.
“The employer usually likes a long-term contract. Certainly one of the reasons why we agreed to these long-term contracts was to basically facilitate long-term planning on the part of the university so they would know what their staffing costs would be for four years.”
The contract length is important as things within the university can change, Gordon said.
“The way faculties and universities are moving needs to be reflected and so agreements change over time.”
Things change so quickly that it is difficult to determine how smooth negotiations in 2016 will be, he said.
“I can say with confidence that the world of post-secondary education in Canada will be completely different by 2016. The sector will be completely different in two years, the sector will be completely different in one year.”
Gordon said the sector is evolving so quickly that it’s almost impossible right now to predict the issues that will be coming up in 2016 and in successive collective agreement negotiations.
The last time UPEI faculty went on strike was in 2006, which lasted 15 days.
Nobody wants to go on strike, Jeffery said.
“It’s a last-ditch effort to basically put some pressure on the employer to assure there’s a fair collective agreement reached.”
Classes at UNB resumed Feb. 3, while Mount Allison has been on strike since Jan. 27.
Gordon said strikes are just as difficult for student unions as they are for students.
“Some people see student unions as being very inactive during strikes, but just in talking with my colleagues at Mount Allison and UNB I can confirm for students that it’s not only a very stressful time for students but also a very stressful time for student unions and the people who are trying to push the parties back to the tables so students can get back to class.”
Gordon said it will be interesting to see how the strike affects the universities in the future.
“Having a strike drag out is probably not the best idea in terms of recruitment. It will be interesting to see how this affects UNB’s enrolment next year.”
He also wondered what impact the strike would have on Mount Allison’s Maclean’s university rankings. The school has been voted the best for undergraduates in Canada 17 times in the last 23 years.
“That will be definitely something to watch,” he said.