UNB

Faculty and teaching staff at UNB took strike action Monday. (CBC)

Professors at the University of New Brunswick have set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. on Monday.

The leadership of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers voted unanimously in favour of the deadline at a meeting last evening.

President Miriam Jones said this is the closest the faculty has ever come to strike action since forming in the 1950s.

"Our members are pushing us," she said. "They're very focused. They're very angry. They're at the end of their tether.

"They see their work as not being respected," she said. "They see the institution that they've dedicated themselves to deteriorating, frankly, and people are angry enough that they are willing to go out in January."

The association represents more than 800 full-time and contract academic staff and librarians at UNB, including those in Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Bathurst.

Compensation and working conditions comparable to other mid-sized universities are the key issues for the association, said Jones.

"I can name half a dozen departments at UNB that are having difficulty hiring because of our low starting salaries and our lack of support for new scholars," she said.

"How can we blame someone for choosing to go to a place where the starting salary is 20 per cent higher and they are given a decent start-up grant to build a lab?"

Students want tuition deadline extended

Meanwhile, students feel caught in the middle of the labour dispute, said Ben Whitney, president of the UNB Student Union.

Students don't want to pay their tuition if there ends up being a strike or lockout, said Whitney. But they're worried about what the administration might do if they don't pay, he said.

"There are penalties and things can be incurred. They could lock students out of services and cut off access to campus and things like that. That being said, we're going to be working with them to ideally avoid something like that."

The student union is pushing to have the tuition deadline of Jan. 17 extended until the administration and faculty reach an agreement, Whitney said.

'Our hope is maybe things will move along more quickly now that we've set a deadline.'- Miriam Jones, AUNBT president

Under the existing contract, the starting contract for an assistant professor in 2009 was $60,948 and the salary floor for a full professor was $94,397.

The salary ceiling for a professor at UNB currently stands at $150,510 under the current contract.

UNB's administration states about 60 per cent of the faculty now earn more than $100,000 a year.

According to a document on the association's website from last June, it is seeking a percentage salary increase, plus a $4,200 catch-up adjustment in each of the first two years of a new contract.

Jones said the university administration doesn't acknowledge that achieving comparable compensation and working conditions to other mid-sized universities is a "reasonable goal" for the AUNBT.

"It's not just a question of quibbling over numbers," said Jones. "It's a question of having them acknowledge that we ought to be comparable and we should try and work towards that."

Meetings between the parties are set for three days this week.

"Our hope is maybe things will move along more quickly now that we've set a deadline," said Jones.