Université Sainte-Anne professors, librarians on strike
Contract talks began last fall, both sides met with conciliator for the first time in January
Unionized professors and librarians at Nova Scotia's only French language post-secondary institution walked off the job Thursday.
In an online post, the Association of Professors and Librarians of Université Sainte-Anne said it's seeking to "rebalance the workload" to meet requirements of the new strategic plan announced by the university.
It also wants pay equity with professors in English-speaking institutions.
"Much more than fairness and respect, it is a question of justice," said the union, which has been in negotiations with university administrators to reach a new collective agreement since the fall.
The university, which has five campuses in Nova Scotia, said in a news release it is "committed to negotiating a fair and lasting agreement with the members of [the union] and wishes to reach an agreement that will be in the best interests of the university as well as its student population."
Administration surprised by strike
Allister Surette, the university's president and vice-chancellor, said in an interview the administration was "somewhat perplexed" by the move to strike.
"We were at the table last fall for six weeks approximately, and they put an end to those negotiations, called in the conciliator," said Surette, adding they were only six sessions in with the conciliator when the union called off the process.
The last collective agreement was initially set to expire in July 2020, but the parties agreed to an extension because of the pandemic. Negotiations began in October 2021 and the first meeting between the two sides with the conciliator was held Jan. 20.
On Feb. 10, the union voted 36-3 in favour of striking "if necessary."
Jean Wilson, a language professor and spokesperson for the union, said the negotiating team was also surprised by the way talks unfolded. He said past negotiations had been very cordial, but from the very beginning of these talks, the team felt something was different.
"It was constant refusals," Wilson said. "Everybody was taken aback, saying, 'OK, what is it — a new strategy?'"
The union described the relationship between faculty and senior university administration as one "characterized by contempt."
Students worried about losing semester
The student's association said it's worried about the impact on students this late in the school year.
"At the moment, a lot of students fear losing their credits and losing their semester that we paid good money for," said association president Jeimie Robicheau.
"There's lots of uncertainty around the current situation as to how long it lasts, how we will proceed if we do go back but we don't have enough time to finish the courses like they normally would, and how that would cut into the practicum that are supposed to occur in spring."
The university is reassuring students it won't let that happen.
"We're going to try to find ways to get back to the table," said Surette.
Wilson said the union feels for the students who have been struggling to study through the pandemic.
"We saw their distress," Wilson said. "Our message to the administration has been, 'Come on, let's get the ball rolling.'"
With files from Adrien Blanc, Radio-Canada