Calgary

Strike or lockout possible at Mount Royal University as contract negotiations stall

After nearly two years of contract negotiations, it appears unlikely Mount Royal University and its faculty association will reach an agreement during the ongoing formal mediation process and a work stoppage is likely in the weeks ahead.

MRU and the faculty association have been negotiating for 22 months

Mount Royal University and the Mount Royal University Faculty Association have not been able to reach a new contract agreement after nearly two years of negotiations. (easyuni.com)

After nearly two years of contract negotiations between Mount Royal University and its faculty association, it appears unlikely the two parties will reach an agreement — and a work stoppage is likely in the weeks ahead.

The MRU faculty association has now been in collective bargaining with the university board of governors for 22 months in attempts to find a new agreement.

The formal mediation process, mandated under the province's labour code, began earlier this week and Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA) president Lee Easton said at this point negotiations are in a deadlock.

"We have some major outstanding issues and while we certainly would prefer to remain on the job and work with our students and do the teaching, the problem that we have is that we currently have a university that seems unwilling or unable to come to the table and negotiate a fair deal," he said. 

Job security

Easton said issues include no wage increases since 2017, increasing workloads and the uncertainty surrounding contract employees.

"Many of whom are employed from semester to semester and we would like to see more job security for them and some of their unpaid work that they've done through the pandemic to be recognized," he said.

The MRFA represents nearly 800 full-time and contract faculty including professors, clinical instructors, counselors and librarians.

No one from the university was made available for an interview, but in a written statement the university said the board of governors is in active negotiations with the faculty association.

"We are hopeful that we will reach a settlement, so we can continue to provide our students with an exceptional learning experience," the statement read.

Strike or lockout

If the two parties don't come to an agreement, a two week cooling-off period will begin. 

When that ends, both the university and the association will hold votes to decide if they will hold a lockout or strike.

"In that situation, we would certainly be on the picket line, drawing attention to the problems and issues we've identified," Easton said. "Of course, that means that there will be no classes and that will impact students."

Student perspective

Third-year history student Kyle Pollock said he has a hard time seeing the university "in a positive light" in this situation, and he stands with the faculty association.

"I think it is on the university to offer an appropriate contract to the professors, especially at this rate where we've faced a couple of years of tuition hikes and I have no idea where that money's gone," he said.

"I'd have a lot less of a gripe about it if I actually knew it was going to increase and enhance the quality of material I've been given or just, you know, help my professors keep up with the cost of life. But instead, it seems to just be disappearing into the hinterland of the university's administration."

MRFA president Lee Easton says a number of issues remain that keep the two parties from reaching an agreement. (MRU)

Pollock said he understands the position of the MRFA and would also like to see more job security for instructors and professors.

"My preference would be to have 100 per cent tenured professor staff, like to get as close to having everyone on tenure as possible to offer that continuity," he said.

"Best of times they've only got a semester of guaranteed work and a lot of them are incredibly competent professors." 

In a statement, the Students' Association of Mount Royal University said while it respects the collective bargaining process, it has encouraged both MRU and the MRFA to work things out so that students aren't negatively affected by an impasse.

"And to especially bear in mind the extraordinary academic and mental challenges students have faced since March 2020," said president Spirit River Striped Wolf.

Elsewhere in Alberta

A strike is also possible at the University of Lethbridge. Administration and faculty there have been in contract negotiations for nearly 600 days after the faculty's collective agreement expired on June 30, 2020.

Faculty at Concordia University of Edmonton went on strike earlier this month, halting the start of the winter term after the union and the school's bargaining committee failed to strike a deal following months of negotiations.

That strike ended when a deal was reached nearly 10 days later. A four-year collective agreement was ratified by 89 per cent of faculty association membership. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to safety on Calgary Transit. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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