Faculty at Concordia University of Edmonton strike, halting start of winter term
'Multiple competitive salary offers' have been made to faculty, university says
Faculty at Concordia University of Edmonton walked off the job Tuesday morning after the union and the school's bargaining committee failed to strike a deal following months of negotiations.
The strike, a first for faculty associations in Alberta, has halted the start of the winter term. More than 2,500 students were expected to return to virtual classes Wednesday.
Starting at 9 a.m., a picket line formed outside the Magrath Mansion, a historic property in Edmonton's Highlands neighbourhood recently acquired by the university.
The Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association (CUEFA) issued formal strike notice to the university's administration on Dec. 22, warning that members would walk off the job in the new year if the school's bargaining team failed to strike a deal.
The association is the bargaining agent for 82 full-time professors, librarians, placement coordinators and lab instructors at Concordia.
As a result of the legal strike action, all instruction will be halted until further notice, the university said in a memo to students Monday.
"The strike comes in spite of bargaining that occurred over the holiday break," the university's bargaining unit said in the statement.
"The university's bargaining team is particularly disappointed by the brevity of a mediation meeting last weekend. Earlier negotiations on major issues such as workload have been successful.
"The university's bargaining team has presented multiple competitive salary offers which are in line with those recently accepted by some of Alberta's largest public-sector unions."
After months of negotiation last year, the university and faculty association signed off on more than half of 41 articles of a new collective agreement but, as of last month, sticking points remained.
Should a new agreement be reached, faculty would be expected to teach fewer courses to make up for an increase in research. However, the association remains concerned about workload for non-faculty staff and salaries, among other issues.
CUEFA president Glynis Price said the faculty association is frustrated that "reasonable salary proposals" were rejected by the university.
Price said her members are frustrated with workload issues and a new disciplinary clause which clouds the possible reasons for dismissal.
Mediation broke down over the holidays, she said.
"We have been bargaining with the university since last late spring and, unfortunately, we have not been able to come to an agreement," Price said from the picket lines Tuesday.
"We are very far apart on a number of issues."
Price said the university has been approved to lock out staff should they choose. In the case of a strike or a lockout, 72 hours notice is required.
In a ballot in November, 90 per cent of CUEFA members backed a strike mandate. The association said 95 per cent of members voted.
'Jeopardizing their winter term'
Price said the university has the financial resources to resolve the issues, but instead of investing in competitive wages and staff recruitment, administration spent $1.75 million on the Magrath Mansion, "a building without a clear role in the university's core operations."
The university's bargaining team said it is willing to resume discussions with the faculty association "at any time" and will continue to work toward a settlement.
In a statement Tuesday, Concordia president and vice-chancellor Tim Loreman said the strike's impact on students is regrettable and could threaten the semester.
"I want to avoid those outcomes," Loreman said. "I remain hopeful the faculty association will bring a swift end to their strike and return to bargaining."
Ashley Callahan, a third-year history student who started a student group that supports the faculty association, joined the picket line Tuesday.
She said most students support the faculty association in its bid to improve working conditions.
"Obviously, it's very stressful," Callahan said. "We're not denying that. We're not existing in some kind of vacuum in which we're not impacted by this.
"Despite the fact that there will be disruption, we are hoping administration will understand both the voice of the students, as well as the faculty association, and come to a fair deal as soon as possible."