Dalhousie Faculty Association gearing up for potential strike

Association president hopeful the faculty and school can come to an agreement

Dalhousie Faculty Association gearing up for potential strike
written by Alex Rose
January 12, 2018 10:54 am

Dalhousie University’s faculty is poised to strike. The Dalhousie Faculty Association and the university could enter into conciliation as soon as this month, if the faculty and board can’t reach an agreement.

If an agreement isn’t reached, then the faculty association would be in a strike position within 14 days says Darren Abramson, president of the DFA.

“From the association’s perspective, there are some serious outstanding issues. So we hope for the best, we really truly hope progress can be made at conciliation, but at the same time we must plan for the worst. And so we are in full strike preparation mode,” he said.

Abramson says there are three main issues that the faculty association is concerned about: comparability, workload and pension.

In this context, comparability means “that our association believes that in order for Dalhousie to be a world-class university, we need to have the ability to attract the very best professors, librarians, counsellors, and for that reason we feel that our discussion over salaries should put Dalhousie in the same universe as other excellent U15 and similar universities,” said Abramson.

As for the other concerns – pension and workload – Abramson is reluctant to address specific details of what the faculty association was looking for, as he thought those details were more appropriate for private negotiations with the school. He did, however, provide a general idea of what the faculty is looking for.

“I can say in very general terms we’re looking to maintain the health and strength of our pension, and in terms of workload what we’d like to see is that the resources necessary for our faculty and members to provide excellent teaching and research and service, we need to see that those resources are maintained at Dalhousie.”

John Kirk, a tenured professor who’s been at Dal for 40 years, provided some other reasons as to why the faculty might be positioning for a strike, although he was careful to point out that his views were his own and didn’t represent those of the faculty association.

“Unfortunately at Dalhousie if someone retires they’re not replaced in their department. If I retire, no one will be replaced, so the money will go into a central pot in the president’s office, which will be distributed,” Kirk said. “And that’s why I think there’s a possibility of strike in the second term at Dalhousie, precisely because people are not being replaced, and so the administration wants to hire part time people to replace people like me.”

“There have been several dozen people who have retired and not been replaced […] what would stop me from retiring would be knowing that no one else would be able to teach about Latin America, which I find fascinating.”

In response to Kirk’s statement, Abramson said the three issues of workload, pension and comparability are the outstanding ones for the association, but Abramson has also been concerned about the way the school spends his money. In fact, it was one of the reasons he got involved in the faculty association in the first place. Over the summer he wrote a bulletin about it on the DFA’s website:

“For the past 15 years, the Dalhousie administration has been directing more funds away from academics and towards infrastructure and administration.  These are deliberate choices.  By making them, the Administration is eroding the ability of academic staff across all faculties and campuses to deliver on the mission of Dalhousie: excellence in teaching and research.  While academic erosion may not be as obvious as a need for building repairs, academic staff must understand and be concerned about the erosion that is taking place.”

As for the process of potentially going on strike, Abramson recently received word that the province has appointed a conciliator to the case. Conciliation is a formal process that occurs when two parties cannot come to an agreement, so they get the province to appoint a third party to help them approach their differences in a new way.

Abramson is hopeful that the two sides will be able to reach an agreement, but he is not ruling out a strike.

Kirk recognizes that the school has other considerations as well, which could help the negotiations.

“In the 200th anniversary, the last thing any PR person would want is a strike, it would just ruin the whole thing so hopefully common sense will prevail,” he said.

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