Eduvation Blog

Clouds (and Pickets) on the Horizon

Good morning, and happy humpday – whether you’re celebrating by juggling sardines, singing jukebox karaoke, or displaying other unique talents.

Much of the country from coast to coast is still treading water, or bracing for the deluge, quite literally. (You might think I exhausted my flood metaphors in Monday’s Pandemic Précis, “The Calm Before the Storm.” But no!) For the past few days, I’ve been seeing tweets about campus closures across Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario, and of course we’re all astonished by the scale of the disruption in BC (with more rain on the way). Thanks to washed-out highways, even UBC graduates at their in-person convocation this week will have to borrow gowns from uVic, and caps from CapU, BCIT, ECUAD, Douglas and Langara College.

But there’s another storm brewing for CdnPSE, and we’re seeing ominous clouds on the labour relations horizon…



Workplace Tensions

Quite frankly, I usually ignore union and management announcements about collective agreements, because they’re largely rhetoric and posturing, and all just part of the seasonal ebb and flow of higher education. But as our campuses emerge from the pandemic, return to campus, and grapple with tensions over blended delivery, flexible work, vaccine mandates, IP rights and so much else – this year may just be different.

I felt compelled to point out the rise in strike positions back in mid-October (“Time Stands Still”), and to summarize a growing number of CdnPSE labour impasses at the beginning of November (Liminal Moment for Labour Relations” and “Friday Pains & Wishes”). These included some fraught bargaining with uToronto casuals, Ontario College faculty, McGill floor fellows, faculty at uLethbridge and Athabasca U, along with a strike vote for Ontario Tech faculty, and of course actual strike action at uManitoba and NBCC


Leth-bridge too Far?

The government of Alberta is forcing its universities into some uncomfortable rounds of bargaining talks, thanks to a series of funding cuts. Administration at uLethbridge says that those cuts will reach 21% by 2023, compared to 2020. As a result, even though faculty have been without a contract for more than 500 days, “there’s been very little progress at the table” since negotiations began in January. Last month, the board’s negotiating team applied for informal mediation, but ULFA requested formal mediation. Last week, faculty held an “information rally” on campus. They are being asked to take a 4.5% salary rollback, retroactively to July 2020 – even though they are already being paid 10-15% less than comparator institutions, according to the ULFA.  Global


Discord at Concordia?

Faculty at another Alberta university, Concordia U of Edmonton, gave notice Nov 22 that they will be taking a strike vote on Dec 1, although president Tim Loreman observes “we are nowhere near an overall impasse in bargaining.” (CUCAFA’s collective agreement expired 5 months ago, on Jun 30. Negotiations began back in May, and the union requested a mediator on workload after 10 bargaining sessions.) The parties apparently remain in disagreement over many issues, including faculty appointment criteria, teaching loads, IP rights, sabbaticals, evaluations, promotions and discipline. CUE says “bargaining under the ostensible threat of an imminent strike does not help us arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. It is an adversarial and aggressive tactic, and moves us some distance from an environment of collegial interest-based negotiation.”  CUE


30% Raises in California

South of the border, on the other hand, 6,500 untenured lecturers across the uCalifornia system reached a tentative agreement at the eleventh hour last week, averting a planned walkout after 2.5 years of bargaining. The 5-year contract reportedly addresses union concerns about job stability, workload and compensation – with pay increases totalling 30% by 2025! The union says it “revolutionizes the first 6 years of a lecturer’s career at the UC,” providing pathways to promotion and continuing appointments instead of “complete precarity.”  US News  |  Inside Higher Ed


Winter of Discontent in UK

Lecturers, researchers, librarians and administrators at 58 UK universities and colleges voted to strike for 3 days starting Dec 1, to protest pay, work conditions, and cuts to pensions. (Staff at 6 other institutions will work to rule indefinitely.) The University and College Union is seeking an end to casual contracts, Ł2,500 pay increases, and more manageable workloads. Universities UK says it is “fully committed to continuing talks,” but dismisses the idea that there will be a simple solution, since existing offers are “already at the very limit of what is affordable.” UCU says the 3-day strike “will just be the start of sustained disruption,” with further action into the spring.  The Guardian

“University bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualization and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education.”Jo Grady, General Secretary, UK University and College Union



NBCC Strike Ends

Back on Oct 28, some 22,000 CUPE members across New Brunswick went on strike, impacting healthcare support services and shutting down K-12 schools. Tradespeople, custodians, facilities and food services staff also walked out at NBCC and CCNB. Although premier Blaine Higgs considered back-to-work legislation, on Sunday the province announced that it had reached tentative collective agreements with 10 of 11 bargaining units, including NBCC staff. The deal promises wage increases of +2%, plus adjustments of 25¢ per hour, each year for 5 years. Workers returned to the job on Monday, after 3 weeks on strike.  CBC



Cold Front in Manitoba

But of course, not all CdnPSE strikes have come to a quick resolution this month…


Bullheaded in Manitoba

(I know, I know, it’s a Bison, not a Bull…)  Some 1,260 profs, instructors and librarians at uManitoba hit the picket lines Nov 2, after 3 months of negotiations failed to reach an agreement over financial compensation in particular. (The province has imposed 5 years of wage freezes since 2016, leaving UMFA members with the second-lowest salaries among U15 institutions. You may recall the “paws off!” protests by UM faculty, students, and their canines.) Naturally, both sides claim to have tabled reasonable offers that were rejected by the other party. A picketer was struck by a car the first day. UM locked students out of the LMS, suspending their access to learning materials – but reinstated access within hours.

Although UM and the UMFA returned to mediation on Nov 4, they remained at loggerheads on compensation: the university proposed +5.9% over 2 years, atop +3.6% previously bargained; the union countered with +6.6% over 3 years. Faculty promoted “virtual picketing” on social media, exemplified by @UofMstrikememes on Instagram, and @UMFAlimericks on Twitter. Two dozen students blocked the doors of the administration building the morning of Nov 15, in support of faculty: “We are going to show them that we can get in their way, too.” After 2 weeks of strike action, mediation resumed again Nov 15, but the strike dragged on nonetheless. The UM administration announced that disrupted classes would be extended by at least 2 weeks until Dec 24, and exams pushed back into January – but also unveiled a contingency plan that could see teaching continue into January, and exams be held Jan 21-23. (Students with some paused courses and some ongoing could have a very confusing end to their Fall term, and could lose their spring reading week.) Some profs reportedly started crossing the picket lines to resume teaching their classes, concerned for their students.

“Why are we striking this autumn?
Salaries, how they allot ‘em.
If you want the gist
Get the salary list
You’ll find U of M, at the bottom.”

@UMFAlimericks, on Twitter



From Mediation to Arbitration?

By Nov 20, there was still “significant distance” between the offers on the table: UM was offering an additional $25.5M over 3 years, while it claimed the UMFA counter-offer would add $43.8M. (Total annual payroll is $149M.) Non-monetary demands from UMFA reportedly included a guarantee of 27 days of contiguous vacation, and the option to refuse online or hybrid teaching. Unsurprisingly, the mediator recommended binding arbitration last weekend, which the university supports, in order to “get students back into the classroom.” (Apparently UMFA does not want to send all outstanding differences to arbitration, and is planning a counter-proposal.)


$28M Lawsuit

While the UMFA strike continues, the union has been in court suing for $28M over unlawful interference in the midst of collective bargaining, when the government secretly imposed a wage freeze on the UofM administration in 2016. (The university has already apologized and paid UMFA members $2M in penalties.) Two Manitoba courts have ruled that the government violated Charter-protected collective bargaining rights, and yesterday provincial lawyers made headlines when they conceded that the “secret bargaining mandatewas in fact unconstitutional. Now the debate is over whether UMFA should be compensated for the 3 weeks during which the government mandate was still secret, or for 5 years’ worth of lost wages. The government says such a settlement would be unfair to taxpayers: “Now they come to court and say we want damages for the deal we accepted.”  CTV


It doesn’t appear that the uManitoba strike will end anytime soon



Rising Temps in Ontario

It seems clear that Ontario’s 24 colleges are also on a collision course with a faculty strike – and the last one (in 2017) was a doozie that lasted 5 weeks and derailed thousands of students’ academic years…


Mediator Gives Up

On Oct 28, Brian Keller abruptly terminated mediation between Ontario’s College Employer Council and OPSEU, the faculty union, issuing a scathing report critical of the union’s “highly aspirational but not realistic” demands. “What took place was more of an exchange of statements and speeches without any of the give-and-take that one would normally expect to see in true collective bargaining.” OPSEU entered negotiations with 350 demands, including workload formula changes, faculty ownership of all intellectual property and input on academic decision-making, and a major focus on Indigeneity. (Keller recommends a new non-adversarial process, to commence by Mar 2022, led by an Indigenous facilitator.) The CEC says the union has a “strike-focused approach” with “unreasonable and unlawful demands.” On Nov 1 the colleges filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Board that the union was “not bargaining in good faith,” and requesting conciliation.  CEC |  OPSEU  |  Mediator’s Report  |  Hamilton Spectator  |  Humber News  |  Newswire


Conciliation Fails Too

Conciliation talks between OPSEU and the CEC reportedly resumed Nov 8, but the management team announced 10 days later that talks had “reached an impasse,” blaming it on the union’s “insistence on maintaining demands that the colleges cannot agree to.” (OCUFA, representing faculty at the province’s public universities, issued a statement Nov 16 that it “stands in solidarity” with OPSEU as it seeks improvements in workload, working conditions, equity, Indigenization, and IP rights.) OPSEU is now recommending arbitration, but the CEC says, “after 5 months of bargaining, we are not prepared to give away the agency to make fundamental changes to the collective agreement to a third party.” Instead, the CEC has asked the conciliator to issue a “No Board” report – which typically “starts the clock ticking towards a potential strike or lockout,” no less than 17 days later (or Dec 6).

“Stronger protection for intellectual property maintains the integrity of the learning experience by preserving good jobs and recognizing the labour and knowledge of faculty who have spent years developing courses, research, and educational materials.” – Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations



Sadly, I think I’m going to have to pay more attention to labour tensions as we collectively emerge from the pandemic, and the floodgates open to backlogged grievances and demands…




If you made it this far, you definitely deserve something to relax…


Weed School

Last week, Leonard Chan of CBC’s 22 Minutes visited Niagara College, specifically to explore its commercial cannabis production postgrad certificate program, launched in 2018. (“Higher education just got a little bithigher,” he quips.) Program coordinator Bill Macdonald takes us on a tour of the secure research facility, the “cannabunker,” and explains why they only grow female plants. (“As always, men ruin everything.”) Yet the segment ends in tragedy as Leonard learns the fate of the poor little plants he loves…  YouTube  |  NC


(Just to be clear, I’m not condoning any hallucinogenic substances at work this morning – just that, if you’re looking for a laugh, you could watch that 3-min video.)



As always, thanks for reading!

Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool in the realm of higher education.

Stay safe out there, everybody… I hope you avoid the worst of the storms, in every sense of the word!


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