Dal faculty begin holiday break not knowing if new year will bring strike
Faculty association says final sticking point in contract talks is equity issue
The Dalhousie Faculty Association says its members are facing "looming uncertainty" over the Christmas period, after the school's board of governors didn't accept all the recommendations put forward by a conciliator last week.
The faculty association and university administration have been negotiating a new collective agreement after its previous deal expired earlier this year.
In October, they turned to a conciliator to resolve issues such as pension reform and salaries.
David Westwood, president of the faculty association, said they received recommendations from the conciliator on Dec. 16, and the association was willing to accept all of them.
However in a statement, Dalhousie said while it was able to agree on pensions and salary, it could not accept the recommendations on an education leave policy for some instructors.
Education leave allows some instructors to apply for up to a year off to prepare new course material after accumulating six years of service.
"To help resolve this final outstanding matter, the Dalhousie board has provided DFA [Dalhousie Faculty Association] with an alternative proposal and the parties will continue active discussions to resolve this issue in the new year, with the aid of the government-appointed conciliator," said the statement.
Westwood said the university objected to allowing instructors who spend years in part-time or non-permanent positions to count their service toward an education leave once they convert to permanent positions. He called it an equity issue of importance to many instructors.
"Up until we engaged in the conciliation board process, the administration just refused to talk to us about anything that wasn't pension. So, we didn't know they had a problem with it until we got to this stage," he said.
The faculty association represents about 1,000 teaching staff, librarians and counsellors at Dalhousie.
An overwhelming majority of the association — 91 per cent — have voted for a strike mandate that will stay in place, although both sides have agreed there will be no strike or lockout over the holiday break.
Westwood said he expects talks to resume in the first week of January.
"With all this last-second drama happening just before the holidays, it would have been ideal, I think, for everybody's peace of mind to be able to sit down right away and sort this out," he said.
"Folks are going to be wondering over the holidays, students in particular, is there going to be a strike come January?"
Members having second thoughts
Westwood said while the association was prepared to accept the non-binding recommendations of the conciliator, some members may reconsider that position over the holiday break.
"A number of our members are starting to question some of the other aspects of the deal now," he said. "And they're saying, 'Well, hang on, if the board is not going to accept this thing, then why should we accept the salary recommendations, which are very low?'"
A spokesperson for the university said the board is confident an agreement will be reached in the new year.