In an informal get-together over lunch Feb. 27, the Dalhousie Faculty Association invited students representing active student groups on campus to ask questions about the collective bargaining process and pending strike.
Students responded to the invitation by suggesting an idea of their own: Jamie Arron, the current DSU VP (student life), proposed having a student union representative sit-in on negotiations as a silent observer.
The idea was in response to the conflicting messages coming from the DFA and Dal administration about how negotiations are going and what is being discussed.
Ryan Robski, a DSU Senate representative, says that since students are the largest stakeholders in the university they should have a representative at the negotiating table to “ensure that good faith negotiations are going on.” This person, he says, would be bound by the same rules of confidentiality as both parties.
Robski says students have been distressed over the fact that negotiations aren’t occurring and when they do, seem to be amounting to nothing.
Anthony Stewart, president of the DFA, says too much time has been spent disputing the events around the negotiating table with the Dal administration.
“Again, the example I’ll use is the idea that we resolved the non-monetary issues,” he says. “We didn’t resolve them—we just decided that it wasn’t anybody’s interest anymore to continue to pursue them. That isn’t resolution.”
Marjorie Stone has been working with Dal since 1983 and has seen five separate strikes pass through Dal. She currently works in the department of English but has also worked within the administration.
She says the pattern in the past was to “stall and stall and stall on key issues until the debate starts taking place outside the collective bargaining process.” It’s a pattern she says is being repeated now.
As in past years, she says there is an unequal opportunity to affect students through email updates of the proceedings. The Dal administration, like the Dalhousie Student Union, can send updates to the entire student body explaining their side of the events. The DFA does not have that same ability.
“So when there is something that seems tantamount to a total misrepresentation from the DFA’s perspective, it takes time to correct that,” she says.
“The administration has a huge and growing battalion of people who’s only job it is to communicate something,” says Stewart. “And we cannot spend so much time trying to clarify what the other group has said.”
This is where the idea of a student observer comes in. Students hope they would prompt both sides to argue fairly and honestly. That student would be unable to act upon suspicions of dishonesty, however, as they would be bound by confidentiality.
Karen Janigan, the communications officer for the DFA, says she is doubtful of how practical a student sworn to confidentiality would be. “It’s one thing about being an observer, it’s another about having teeth and keeping someone’s feet to the flames to be truthful,” she says.
Stewart says he would be open to the idea of a third party at the table, however Stone says most likely lawyers on each side would have to approve any addition to the table.
The DSU is discussing the possibility of the idea, and neither side has yet to officially accept it.