Junk mail

In these dark and uncertain times, a “hallelujah” drops from my lips each time I read a strike update from our Board of Governors. Concise, upbeat and containing just the right amount of sass, they continue to brighten and enlighten this political wasteland.

Just kidding.

The regular emails sent out by the Board of Governors are helpful—mostly because they effectively capture the sense of desperate positivity still being clung to by much of the student body. The last update, after outlining the basic picture of what a strike would mean for students, continued to emphasize that the strike was not yet official.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 27 the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) website was announcing their office removal to a “strike headquarters” across from Pete’s Frootique. What the Board is saying and what the DFA is doing are out of sync, to say the least.

While I appreciate that the Board must get their own position across to students, it has now become apparent that these one-sided emails are simply not giving us the whole story. Frankly, I find this opaque communication insulting—students are going to be affected by the strike, and we deserve to have a clear picture of its unfolding. Why haven’t we heard more from the professors?

The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) released a student-friendly strike summary, outlining both the issues at hand and the proceedings surrounding their negotiation. On communication, the DSU says: “The Board has been very forthcoming with their position on issues and has been in regular contact with the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) as the potential for a strike has emerged. The DSU has not met or spoken with the DFA since January 27, when the DFA held a student leader information session. We have requested that the DFA meet with us since that time, however, no individual meetings have been scheduled.” The Board seems to have been upfront with their position. Why have we heard almost nothing official from the DFA’s point of view?

Is it because it is the professors, not the Board members, who have to go out and face the anxious student body every day? Is the DFA aware that students (or at least, this student) feel uninformed as to their views? Does a forum even exist for the DFA to relate their position to students and the public, or is it the responsibility of the Board to communicate all perspectives on the issue (at which they have clearly failed)?

Students should not have to go digging for the answers to these questions. The Board should be bombarding us on all sides as the potential for a strike becomes increasingly inevitable.

The Board may have a right to its biases, but students have a right to the truth. Somehow, the perspective of the DFA must make its way to our inboxes.

7 Comments

  1. Dalstudent on February 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    There’s in information deficit. It’s quite perplexing to must of the fellow students I’ve spoken with. The Board’s information presents a glimpse of their most recent offer that appears to suggest that they’ve essentially offered the DFA everything material and substantial that they were asking for. There’s a big void in student understanding as to what is actually still unresolved. Is it truly just a question of whether the pension is listed in the collective agreement or not? That’s certainly the picture most students are presently left with, and frankly, to threaten a strike over such a small remaining point of disagreement is borderline sociopathic. I simultaneously hope both that there is more to the dispute than that, and that there isn’t.

    • Torey Ellis, Assistant News Editor on March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      You’re right that at the moment the pension protections seems to be the biggest sticking point, and that otherwise the Board seems to be giving everything for which the DFA has asked. But pensions are incredibly complex, and the 200-word blog posts the administration has been putting out cannot be fully representative of the 34 pages of legal text that the DFA rejected. There are other problems.

      The issue of the pension protections being taken out of the collective agreement is not a small point of disagreement. It’s not a high-profile issue, so students who haven’t started thinking about pensions may think it’s insignificant. But it means if faculty members retire and the pension plan cannot pay them (i.e. is more insolvent than it is now), those members would have no position of grievance against the Board or administration. They would be left without a pension.

      And once something is taken out of this sort of contract it does not go back in. This decision wouldn’t just affect the current faculty members. It would affect every member from now on. Stewart feels it is irresponsible to agree to that, and the 92 per cent of bargaining members who voted last night against the offer believe so as well.

      The administration maintains that the provisions in the trust agreement and in the Pensions and Benefits Act are enough to protect the members’ grievance rights; that it is unnecessary to include it in the collective agreement as well. If that is the case – and I haven’t been able to verify that it is – what does administration lose by including pension protections in this agreement? That’s my question, and one I’ve been trying to figure out.

      All this is to say: you’re right. There’s a deficit of information, from both sides. But we’re working as hard as we can to get what we do know out to students.

    • Torey Ellis on March 2, 2012 at 1:36 am

      You’re right that at the moment the pension protections seems to be the biggest sticking point, and that otherwise the Board seems to be giving everything for which the DFA has asked. But pensions are incredibly complex, and the 200-word blog posts the administration has been putting out cannot be fully representative of the 34 pages of legal text that the DFA rejected. There are other problems.

      The issue of the pension protections being taken out of the collective agreement is not a small point of disagreement. It’s not a high-profile issue, so students who haven’t started thinking about pensions may think it’s insignificant. But it means if faculty members retire and the pension plan cannot pay them (i.e. is more insolvent than it is now), those members would have no position of grievance against the Board or administration. They would be left without a pension.

      And once something is taken out of this sort of contract it does not go back in. This decision wouldn’t just affect the current faculty members. It would affect every member from now on. Stewart feels it is irresponsible to agree to that, and the 92 per cent of bargaining members who voted last night against the offer believe so as well.

      The administration maintains that the provisions in the trust agreement and in the Pensions and Benefits Act are enough to protect the members’ grievance rights; that it is unnecessary to include it in the collective agreement as well. If that is the case – and I haven’t been able to verify that it is – what does administration lose by including pension protections in this agreement? That’s my question, and one I’ve been trying to figure out.

      All this is to say: you’re right. There’s a deficit of information, from both sides. But we’re working as hard as we can to get what we do know out to students.

  2. Fraser Goodmurphy on March 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    The information vacuum isn’t that perplexing. In my experience, its typical of the administration at Dalhousie. The Board of Governors are as out of touch with both students and faculty as almost every other unit in Tom Traves’ administration.

  3. Dalprof on March 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    What you have to remember is that the Administration has a ton of highly paid PR people whose sole job it is to spin this strike to students, and a team of lawyers whose job it is to bury mysterious subclauses in its offers, in order to screw Dal employees out of as much of their pensions as they can.

    Contrast that with the handful of faculty members who run the DFA, all of whom do their DFA work part-time, for no pay, as volunteers, and who must continue to do their regular full-time prof jobs (the only one who gets any teaching release is the President, Anthony Stewart). I seriously don’t know how they do it and I have the utmost respect for them. Doing their DFA work entails holding meetings to keep their membership informed, trying to explain clearly to us–most of whom know nothing about how pension plans work and don’t understand legalese–the implications of the 34-page collection of doublespeak the Administration gave us on the very last day of conciliation (we’re only just now starting to understand the dire implications of what this Administration has buried in those 34 pages); preparing for a strike (organizing strike pay, picket duty, emergency funding for employees in financial distress, moving to strike headquarters); answering hundreds of e-mails from worried faculty, students, parents…all at one of the busiest times in the term–well, you get the idea. The DFA are doing the very best they can with the very limited resources they have, and they’re my new heroes. But they’re David against Goliath. Let’s hope this match turns out like the other David and Goliath face-off. And I want to thank all those students–and there have been many–who have shown me and my colleagues such support. We know this is very hard on you, just as it is on us. The only ones who won’t suffer from a strike are the Administration, which is why they’re pushing things this far.

  4. Fraser Goodmurphy on March 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    How about postponing any potential Strike until after the last day of final exams this term? If the administration expects you to mark them and/or return for summer session, perhaps the DFA will find the administration suddenly serious about conciliation.

    Even if I could walk anymore, I’d not want to picket anything right now. Postponing might help swing any students away from the spin.

  5. Karen on March 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Torey is doing a great job with covering this complex issue. This might help, the DFA has posted a blog addressing some of the issues in the Board’s pension offer on its website. http://dfa.ns.ca/fine-print-reveals-quiet-erosion-of-benefits

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Samantha Elmsley

Samantha was Opinions Editor of the Gazette for Volumes 145 and 146.

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