Eduvation Blog

Labour Strife & Leprechauns

Good morning, and top o’ the mornin’ to ye!

Today is St Patrick’s Day, which means CdnPSEs from coast to coast are bracing for the annual spring outpouring of school “spirit,” as student parties erupt in streets and houses near campus.

Today Ontario Colleges are also bracing themselves for faculty to hit the picket lines – street demonstrations with considerably less “high spirits,” but equally challenging to internal and external relations.

Today, let’s look away from Ukraine (briefly) to catch up on these much less deadly “battle lines” in CdnPSE. (Frankly some of these bargaining tables sound just as deadlocked as the Russia-Ukraine peace negotiations…)



St Paddy’s Day

Particularly in southern Ontario, mask mandates and frigid temperatures are lifting just in time for St Patrick’s Day. We’re expecting highs of 19°C today, and pent-up demand to unleash an outpouring of socializing and green beer…

Wilfrid Laurier U started warning students a week ago that “unsanctioned street gatherings are dangerous,” there will be enhanced security and parking restrictions on campus today, and a no-guest policy in residences. Waterloo officials are bracing for the potential of another Ezra Street party to rival the crowd of 33,000 in 2019, and have a “significant operational plan” in place. (In 2019, police laid 604 charges and made 18 arrests.)  Twitter  |  Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Brock U announced last week it was partnering with the student union, municipalities and local police to be a “trustworthy neighbour” – and asked students to “do the same” as part of its “Don’t Put the Bad in Badger” campaign. Additional neighbourhood patrols will keep the peace in student neighbourhoods today and this coming weekend, with a “zero-tolerance approach.”  Brock News

Niagara College student council was circulating an off-campus “Good Neighbour Guide” as the College reminded students to “celebrate responsibly,” keeping noise to a minimum and preferably indoors.  NC

Queen’s U and Kingston first responders are bracing for “pre-pandemic” levels of student partying today. Kingston General Hospital is concerned they may not have sufficient space to “decant” injured partygoers as in previous years (they saw 49 patients from University District parties on St Patrick’s Day 2018). Queen’s will expand their campus walk-in clinic, and open a “judgement-free, non-medical detox service.” (They also have an online resource hub for St Pat’s Day.) Police say they “will be in the community on St Patrick’s Day enforcing all available levels of the law.”  Kingston Whig-Standard  |  Education News Canada  |  Queen’s

Western U students are expected to flood Richmond Row bars around noon today, and again this evening. London Police launched their #DontInviteUs2UrParty campaign on social media Monday.  London Free Press

uGuelph is reminding partygoers to be safe and considerate of others – particularly since families and young children may be outdoors this week for March Break. Student Wellness Services was distributing “St Patrick’s Day harm reduction kits” on campus yesterday, including “hydrating beverages, snacks and safety resources.” The City of Guelph is closing downtown roads tonight, to ensure “a safe an enjoyable environment for businesses, residents and students.” One UofG student thinks those seeking a rowdy street party will “go to Waterloo for that.”  uGuelph News  |  CTV News

uOttawa and Carleton U students in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood of Ottawa likely met police at their doors (they knocked on 1,300 doors in recent weeks) advising them of heightened police presence today. Last year, 2,000 people flooded Russell Avenue for a street party “turned to a near-riot.”  CTV News

Good luck out there on the front lines, everyone!


“Now is really the time to think through, do you really want to go through with this? Let’s meet at the table and settle.”Dan O’Donnell, president, uLethbridge Faculty Association



Strikes & Strife

It’s been more than 5 weeks since my last issue about labour tensions in CdnPSE, “Friction, Tremors and Fault Lines” (Feb 7). Since then, the post-pandemic tensions widely expected in academia this year have continued (I’ve flagged 148 headlines). The CAUT reports this is the first time in recent memory that so many strikes have occurred in such a short period of time. Alex Usher calls this “the worst year Canadian academia has ever had.”


A Quick Recap

I’ve already told you about 4 strikes in recent months:

NBCC faced a short provincewide CUPE strike last year, affecting custodians and administrative support workers. The new collective agreement was officially ratified Mar 8.

uManitoba’s Fall term was derailed by a 35-day faculty strike in November. But last week the UofM and UMFA finally entered binding interest arbitration to settle outstanding issues including salary and return-to-work terms. (Currently it looks like UMFA wants to use U15 average salaries for annual wage adjustments, while the UofM argues that the median would be more appropriate.)

Concordia U of Edmonton began the new year with a 10-day strike by faculty seeking salary and workloads comparable to other universities. They accepted “modest gains” in order to get their students back in class quickly, and the semester was extended by a week. But faculty unrest wasn’t put to bed: in late February, 90% of CUEFA members voted “no confidence” in president Tim Loreman, claiming a “toxic” and “unstable workplace culture,” characterized by “fear, threats and reprisal.” The CUE Board emphasized it has “full confidence” in Loreman’s leadership.


Month-Long Strike at Acadia

Acadia U faculty went on strike Feb 1, after 7 months pushing for more tenured faculty positions, better wages and working conditions for part-time faculty, a cost-of-living clause, and dedicated positions for Indigenous people. A week later, both sides claimed they were eager to negotiate, but weren’t budging: Acadia rejected any “arbitrary number” of full-time faculty positions as “not a model used at any other university in Atlantic Canada.” AUFA said the offer of 0%-1%-1%-1.5% wage increases over 4 years would be below projected inflation. 2 weeks later, students were urging both parties back to the bargaining table as they worried about completing their term on time. A provincial conciliator didn’t seem to make much headway, so the province appointed a mediator after 4 weeks, as Acadia entered its Reading Week. Three days later, the mediator gave up in dismay that “there was no realistic pathway to settlement.” The strike came to an end Mar 1 only because all parties agreed to binding final interest arbitration. AUFA continued to blame “the Board’s disrespect for Acadia’s faculty” for causing “an unnecessary strike.”

“It kind of seems like they’re waiting for us, thinking that they’ve given us a counter-offer, but what they’ve really given us is an ultimatum. They don’t seem to be willing to move from any of their positions, and that’s not collective bargaining, that’s not negotiation.”Jon Saklofske, Acadia U Faculty Association


Since my last update, we’ve seen 3 other strikes, one of which may outlast the war on Ukraine…


10-Day Strike at Ontario Tech

Ontario Tech U faculty voted in favour of a strike mandate last October, still dissatisfied with terms for workload, class sizes and job security. With a looming strike deadline of Jan 31, the University made a new offer, but UOITFA members rejected it by 80% of the vote, saying it still required an “unsustainable workload.” Faculty hit the picket lines Feb 10. Ten days later, UOITFA and OnTech reached a tentative agreement on Feb 20, which was ratified by both parties Feb 24. “Normal operations” resumed Feb 28.


uSte Anne Strike: 13 Days & Counting…

In the wake of the Omicron wave, Nova Scotia’s uSainte-Anne surprised many observers by announcing it would pivot entirely online for the entire term. That decision doubtless has contributed to distance between administration and faculty union negotiators, too. In late January, a conciliator was unsuccessful; after 6 sessions, the union called off the process. A month ago, faculty voted 92% in favour of a strike – but it still came as a surprise to administrators when faculty and librarians walked off the job Mar 4. “We still have over 50% of the agreement that we haven’t even discussed,” says president Allister Surette. APPBUSA says it is seeking to “rebalance the workload” and wants pay equity with anglophone institutions. The union feels the bargaining table has been “characterized by contempt,” and “an almost systematic refusal by the employer to take an objective look at the proposals.” Last week, strikers clanged pots and pans in a “Tintamarre” parade, to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re not going to take it anymore.”  CBC  |   CKBW  |  Saltwire  |  CJLS


uLeth Strike: 37 Days & Counting…

So far, the longest post-pandemic strike in CdnPSE is still ongoing at uLethbridge, and the media has called it “increasingly acrimonious.” Back in mid-Jan the ULFA withdrew from bargaining, citing an “impasse” over issues of equity for sessionals, wage parity with 5 comparator universities, and respect for collegial decision-making. (For its part, the University filed a bad faith negotiations complaint against ULFA, arguing they were just 1% apart on salaries. UofL considers the major issue to be “management rights.”) In early Feb, after 2 months of mediation, UofL faculty voted 92% in favour of a strike, and ULFA gave the minimum 72 hours’ notice. The UofL immediately warned the public it “expects a prolonged strike, which could threaten our semester.” There were glimmers of progress in those 3 days, but faculty hit the picket lines as planned on Feb 10. UofL claimed the ULFA was seeking 12% pay raises, which ULFA says is a “disingenuous… fabrication.” 2 student solidarity groups say the administration is putting out “misinformation” and using “aggressive tactics.” (A day after the strike began, UofL locked faculty out of research labs.) As the strike dragged on for weeks without further bargaining, students staged a sit-in outside the administration offices, and the ULFA filed an unfair labour practice complaint against the board of governors, accusing them of a “concerted and ongoing effort to avoid genuine and productive bargaining.” On Mar 14, both parties entered mediation for what was expected to be 4 days, although the ULFA warned “there is no guarantee [of] any settlement.”

“Our members are seeking equity, parity, and above all, respect from the board. Over the last decade, our members have stepped up time and time again for our students and the university, only to see the board give us fewer and fewer resources.” Dan O’Donnell, president, uLethbridge Faculty Association


“We refuse to let any party weaponize student emotions and fears for their gain.”uLethbridge Students’ Association


“Demands for a trade union to have decision-making authority represent an unprecedented and unacceptable breach of post-secondary governance practices.”University of Lethbridge


“We simply do not understand the burn it down in order to save it approach that management seem to be taking.” Dan O’Donnell, president, uLethbridge Faculty Association


 “I hate to say it, but I think — without a doubt — that the reputation of this university has been set back at least a decade.” – Dan O’Donnell, president, uLethbridge Faculty Association



Successful Negotiations

Although Alberta saw major budget cuts to the sector in recent years, and strikes at Concordia U of Edmonton and uLethbridge, other institutions managed to avoid walkouts through successful negotiation…


uAlberta Avoids a Strike

Despite several years of the most extreme budget cuts in CdnPSE (short of Laurentian’s insolvency proceedings), the country’s largest faculty union, AASUA, was able to negotiate a new contract without triggering a strike – although it took almost 2 years. uAlberta and AASUA agreed to mediation in mid-Feb, after 35 bargaining sessions left them unable to agree upon compensation, job security for precarious faculty, and proposed changes to the pension plan. (The 3,780 AASUA members had gone 4 years without a wage increase, so the union was calling for 2.25%-2.5%-0.5%. UofA was proposing 0% throughout.) 3 weeks later, the union ratified a new contract Mar 8 – almost halfway through its term, Jul 2020-Jun 2024. The AASUA regretted that the new agreement included “two-tiered” salary scales for new faculty, which it considered “blots on our institution.”


Mount Royal Avoids a Strike

Back in early Feb, Mount Royal U looked to be following the same path as uLethbridge. Faculty had experienced 4 years of wage freezes, 22 months of negotiation, and formal mediation seemed to reach an impasse on wage, workload and job security issues. The MRFA was threatening a work stoppage – but by Valentine’s Day, there was harmony: the bargaining teams announced an “agreement in principle.” By Feb 23, the contract was ratified, including 3.25% increases over the next 2 years. (MRFA was “disappointed” it could not get a cost-of-living clause.)



Key Drivers

After 2 years of pandemic, obviously many contract negotiations have been slow or postponed, and are coming to a head all at once. But there are other reasons why CdnPSE faculty are pushing for change…


Secret Government Mandates

Rowan Ley, president of the uAlberta Students’ Union, rightly observes that secret government orders to PSE bargaining teams aggravated a 21-day strike at uManitoba in 2016, and a 35-day strike that followed in 2021. (The courts awarded the UMFA $19.3M in damages as a result.) “It seems to students that the Alberta government is determined to learn nothing from Manitoba’s mistakes.” (In 2019, Jason Kenney’s UCP passed the Public Sector Employers Act, which allows the minister of finance to issue secret orders too.) Moreover, if the government is actually responsible for deadlocked bargaining, they should be transparent about it: “we all need to know where the buck stops.”


Lack of Consultation

Quite a few faculty unions have been explicit about their concerns that boards and administrations have been far less consultative during the pandemic, in part due to the nature of an ever-changing epidemiological emergency. But while the pivot to emergency remote instruction was quick and accepted as necessary by all parties, the return to campus has inflamed emotions as students and faculty are concerned about vulnerable members of the campus community, and exhausted by the additional work of hybrid courses. (58% of uWaterloo employees felt “less than okay” about the return to campus in late January.) Faculty are increasingly concerned that emergency approaches will become permanent expectations.  University Affairs



Ontario at the Brink

I mentioned in February that OPSEU, representing 16,000 academic staff at Ontario’s 24 public colleges, had initiated a “work-to-rule” process. After escalating that labour action twice more, OPSEU has announced a strike to begin tomorrow…


The Issues

One self-described “union activist” summarizes the key disagreements between OPSEU and the College Employer Council: job security for contract faculty, protection against outsourcing faculty work, revisions to the workload formula appropriate to the internet age, and new language around equity and reconciliation.


Immoveable Sides

Since negotiations began last year, both sides have been immoveable on some core issues. For example, OPSEU wants more time allocated for student evaluation, which CEC says would result in a cost increase that would effectively contravene Ontario’s Bill 124. (Interestingly, Ontario’s Treasury Board only provided the CEC with written confirmation of this argument on Tuesday Mar 15.) Back in October, mediator Brian Keller walked away in dismay, arguing that the union’s 350 “unreasonable and unlawful demands” were “not realistic.” Conciliation in November was also unsuccessful. In December, OPSEU claimed the College Employer Council “refused to negotiate during conciliation,” forcing a strike vote. (Surprisingly, the faculty vote was only lukewarm: 59% voted in favour of a strike). On Jan 17, the CEC demanded a forced-offer vote, in what OPSEU calls “an attempt… to end the months-long dispute in the lead-up to the provincial election,” by “bypassing” the negotiating table. (The union says the final offer did not address IP concerns or privatization, which many colleges have been pursuing through partnerships to deliver international programs in the GTA. The CEC explains its final offer here.) Naturally, it was rejected by 62% of faculty (although the CEC somewhat disingenuously emphasized that this was 62% of 66% who voted, so therefore “41%.”)


Refusing Arbitration

Although OPSEU has suggested binding arbitration several times, the CEC says “we are not prepared to have an arbitrator ‘split the difference’ on key issues that colleges have already stated are unacceptable.” (OPSEU settled its strikes in 2006 and 2017 with arbitration.) Says the CEC CEO, Graham Lloyd, “We have consistently stated since July that the remaining union demands could never be accepted. Insisting we take them to interest arbitration is a failure to respect our consistent assertion that these demands fall well outside any acceptable provision. We can never accept them.”


3 Months Working to Rule

On Dec 18, OPSEU began an “escalating work-to-rule and labour action campaign” that initially boycotted departmental and committee meetings. On Jan 18, OPSEU moved into “phase 2” of its work-to-rule campaign, and on Mar 4 it unveiled “phase 3” – boycotting Hyflex delivery of courses, simplifying grading, keeping all class grades and recordings off the LMS, and providing only a high-level summary of academic integrity cases.


Strike Friday?

On Monday, OPSEU announced a strike deadline midnight this Friday, Mar 18, unless the CEC agreed to binding arbitration to save the school year: “Binding interest arbitration is not a win for faculty. It’s not a win for College Presidents. It’s a win for students.” That prompted 20 student associations to write an open letter to the Ontario government, urging it “immediately step in to bring the parties together to resolve their disputes,” such as perhaps the back-to-work legislation imposed to end the 2017 strike.


At the 11th hour…


Glimmer of Hope?

Yesterday, OPSEU and the CEC reportedly agreed to meet virtually again today, with a Ministry of Labour mediator and “no preconditions.” (Both sides are claiming they extended the invitation first, of course.) OPSEU says if “real progress” is made, they would be willing to extend the strike deadline. But really, based on everything the CEC has said for months, how likely is that?  Globe & Mail   |  Toronto Star  |  Global


We can hope for a miracle agreement, but somehow I feel no more optimistic that these 2 sides can meet in the middle, than that “peace talks” between Russia and Ukraine will result in a ceasefire anytime soon. And the 200,000 students at Ontario colleges will be collateral damage, just weeks after returning to campus and with just 6 weeks to go until graduation…



More to Come?

In a nutshell: well, yeah.

York U has been negotiating with its faculty association for months, and by January was focusing on key issues: targeted equity hires for Black, Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ faculty and librarians, workload, and adding EDI initiatives to possible service activities. Six meetings were planned in March with a neutral mediator, but YUFA requested a conciliation officer and then requested a No Board report, starting the 17-day countdown to a labour disruption (as early as Mar 24). York has tabled a “comprehensive package” that includes 1% salary increases annually, increases to PD funding and benefits. In a sign of potential escalation, YUFA has been asking specific questions about faculty access to campus and benefits in the event of a strike, and York has provided answers. (Some of those answers will doubtless be disappointing.)


And this issue is already way too long, but I should mention that we also appear to have a strike mandate among grad student workers at Queen’s U, and negotiators for essential workers at McGill U are starting to sound frustrated too…





Since we’re talking about frustrated faculty, especially in Alberta and Ontario – one BC university has launched a series of employee recruitment videos they might want to see…


Why Not Both?

U Fraser Valley released a series of 7 short employee recruitment vids earlier this month, all building on the message that, at UFV you can “balance career aspirations without sacrificing personal pursuits.” The video above is an overview that combines clips from the various testimonials, demonstrating diversity, passion, and enthusiasm for working at UFV.  Career or Lifestyle?   |  Academy or Ancestry?  |  Career or Family?  |  Blue Skies or City Vibes?  |  Academia or Activism?  |  International Aspirations or Valley Roots?  |  Mentor or Maker?



As always, thanks for reading.

Stay safe and be kind to each other out there, no matter what side of the picket line you’re on!


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