Part 1: The Formation of Dalhousie EWOC
Part 2: The Organizing Drive at Dalhousie
Part 3: Labour Board Hearings Regarding Dalhousie
Part 4: The CUPE Merger
Part 5: Organizing at Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent
Part 6: The Collective Bargaining Process at Dalhousie
Part 7: Collective Bargaining at SMU and MSVU
Part 8: Conciliation Proceedings
Part 9: Strike Vote Campaigns
Part 10: Victory — Acceptable First Contracts Won
Part 11: First Year of Collective Agreement
Part 12: Negotiations for Second Collective Agreements
Part 13: Negotiations for Third Collective Agreements, 2002-2004
Part 14: The Strike at Dalhousie
Part 15: Looking to the Future
Part 1: The Formation of Dalhousie EWOC
The need for a union of part-time faculty and teaching assistants in Halifax universities was long obvious. They were paid at best a third of the wages full- time faculty received for the same work, and they had no benefits and no job security. The supposed justification of these conditions, that this was merely a temporary “apprenticeship” stage in an academic career, had worn thin. And, while the part-timers and TAs often received sympathy from tenured faculty, this resulted in no action on the part of the full-time faculty unions which made any real difference to conditions. The need for a separate part-time/TA union was apparent. There are, however, considerable difficulties in establishing a union of employees hired on short term contracts, because of the rapid turnover involved. So the creation of a union was talked about from time to time, but little was achieved for years.
Active efforts to create the present union began in 1991 at Dalhousie University. The timing was perhaps a result of conditions in the academic job market changing for the worse, so that there were fewer full-time positions available and more part-timers being hired by the universities. The system of using part-timers and TAs had arisen in a period when it was supposed that most in this position could expect to later obtain a full-time academic position. By the 1990s only a minority of the part-time faculty and the graduate student TAs had any confidence of ever obtaining a tenured position in a university. Without any secure hope of future full-time employment, why should TAs or part-time faculty work for such low wages?
During the Fall term of 1991 two members of the executive of the Dalhousie Graduate Student Association (DAGS) were appointed by DAGS as a committee to look into the work conditions of TAs. Shortly after this the DAGS committee began meeting with a few of the part-time faculty to discuss the possibility of forming a union, and a preliminary organizing committee began to work for a union. As a result, at a meeting held during the Winter 1992 term, the Dalhousie Educational Workers Organizing Committee (EWOC) was set up to work for a union involving both TAs and part-timers. Most of the active membership in EWOC during this period came from the departments of Biology and History.
EWOC issued a newsletter to TAs and part-timers, using an “Ewok” from the Star Wars film as a logo. A number of meetings were called, and replies to a questionnaire sent out to graduate students indicated that the majority would favour a union as the best way of attempting to improve their position as TAs. Contacts were also made during this period with the Canadian Union of Educational Workers (CUEW), which represented a number of TA and part-time unions in Ontario and other provinces. In July 1992 a meeting was held at which the Dalhousie Educational Workers Organizing Committee (EWOC) formally voted to seek the assistance of CUEW in its organizing campaign.
Part 2: The Organizing Drive at Dalhousie
In the Fall term of 1992 the initial work of the organizing drive began at Dalhousie. To become a certified bargaining agent, the Nova Scotia law requires that a union obtain signed cards and initiation fees from at least 40 per cent of the members in the bargaining unit, at which time a vote is held open to all the employees. There is a four month period in which to achieve this, once the Labour Relations Board is notified the drive is under way. This period was planned to run from January to March 1993.
In preparation for the card-signing drive, during September to December 1992 EWOC held a series of meetings and published regular newsletters. Extensive work was also done compiling lists of the TAs and part-time faculty employed at Dalhousie. During this period invaluable assistance was provided by CUEW organizer Mike Groom. An office was set up on Coburg Road to co-ordinate the campaign, paid for by the national office of CUEW.
Throughout this campaign literature on the issues was directed towards both part-timers and TAs, but with more emphasis on explaining the need for a union to TAs. It was assumed, presumably correctly from the result of the campaign, that the conditions of part-time faculty were so obviously unfair that they needed less convincing.
In January 1993 the card-signing campaign began, and continued through to March. For part of this period Mike Groom was working in a simultaneous organizing drive at Guelph, and was replaced as CUEW organizer at Dalhousie by Bernie Lopko. During this period of intense activity teams of volunteers were continually telephoning potential members from the office, while others were dispatched to meet individuals and get the cards signed. Active members of EWOC did several shifts a week at this work, and many activists from CUEW in Ontario came down to assist.
There was later some controversy about work done during this period, Bernie Lopco in his report to the national CUEW executive criticising the earlier work of Mike Groom. On this issue, most of the local activists sided with Groom, and his style of work. Lopco organized the card signing efficiently and well, but paid little attention to the local committee, which it was felt somewhat weakened the local organization in the period immediately following this.
On March 23, 1993, when it was calculated we had sufficient cards signed, application was made to the Labour Board for a certification vote. This was conducted by the Board at various locations on the Dalhousie campus over three days 30, 31 March, 1 April, 1993. In these cases the vote is held immediately, and determination made later that a sufficient number of cards have been signed.
Part 3: Labour Board Hearings Regarding Dalhousie
The certification vote had been held, but the ballots were not counted until the end of August 1994, almost a year and a half later. This was because Dalhousie raised legal arguments against the validity of the bargaining unit, and a Labour Relations Board tribunal was set up to hear the case. On the advice of the CUEW national executive, it had been decided to apply for a single bargaining unit at Dalhousie including both part-timers and TAs the first such bargaining unit in Canada. Dalhousie’s main argument was that there was insufficient “community of interest” between the two groups to make it an appropriate bargaining unit.
The decision to seek a combined bargaining unit, with one contract covering part-timers and TAs, was taken by the national executive of CUEW. In later periods some question was raised whether this was wise. We could have sought, as is the case in other locals, to have one union local, but separate collective agreements for each group of members. The combined collective agreement, however, is certainly workable, because while TAs and part-timers have slightly different interests, there are no really opposing interests. The single contract does mean that in any contract negotiations real efforts must be made to ensure both groups are well served by the agreement, or unity in the local would break down.
In May and June, 1993, and again during September and October Labour Board hearings were conducted. Particularly active arranging for people to testify was Steve Smith, a part-timer from Biology, along with Mike Groom, the CUEW Organizer. The lawyer presenting the union’s case was Gordon Forsythe, of the firm of Pink, Breen, Larkin. Various members of the bargaining unit, and also members of the Dalhousie Faculty Association, testified on our behalf.
Once the hearings were completed, there was a long wait of another eleven months before the Labour Board decision was announced in August 1994. The decision, however, was in the union’s favour on all disputed matters. On the central issue the Board ruled that “the sessionals or part-time lecturers have a sufficient community of interest with the Teaching assistants to comprise an appropriate bargaining unit”.
In August 1994 there were further clarification hearings on inclusions. Following these the LRB ruled that all of those who were paid to teach at or less than 50% of the DFA workload, regardless of their status as post-retirement, adjunct, or honourary appointments, and including clinical faculty teaching in a non-clinical department, would be in the bargaining unit. Further, only those TAs or research assistants who are paid solely and exclusively by external funds were to be excluded, as by definition they are not employees of Dalhousie.
Finally, on 31 August 1994, a year and four months after the voting, the Dalhousie ballots were counted. There were 788 who had been eligible to vote, and 333 (42 per cent) cast ballots. Of these 83 per cent were for the union (277 yes, 55 no, 1 spoiled ballot).
Part 4: The CUPE Merger
The union was therefore certified as the bargaining agent for Dalhousie part- timers and TAs, and became Local 12 of the CUEW. It was not to remain long in this status, however. In a national vote in November 1994 our parent organization, CUEW, decided to merge with the Canadian Union of Public Employees effective 1 January 1995. CUEW by this time was in serious financial difficulties, and we must recognize that part of these difficulties arose from expenditures supporting our local organizing efforts. The vote at the Dal CUPE local was almost unanimous for the merger (1 abstention). One decision taken at earlier national conventions of CUEW had been to support our Local 12 in organizing the part- timers at Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent if we found support there. Part of the merger agreement was that CUPE would retain this commitment to part-time organizing in Halifax.
In January 1995, therefore, the local officially became Local 3912 of CUPE, with commitments to two simultaneous struggles: to press Dalhousie to come to serious negotiations for a first collective agreement, and to assist part-timers at Mount Saint Vincent and Saint Mary’s in organizing drives. Progress was slow on the first of these, negotiations with Dalhousie. The university’s policy seemed to be one of deliberate and persistent delays in starting collective bargaining. One formal meeting was held at which we were told the university was waiting until it could hire a negotiator to deal with us. This did not happen until after classes ended in the 1995 Winter semester.
In this, and all following periods, regular newsletters were released and union meetings called, in efforts to keep the membership informed of developments. Things were happening very slowly, however, and each term there was considerable turnover of the membership of the bargaining units. This created great difficulties for the union in keeping up interest and involvement on the part of bargaining unit members, particularly during times when few new developments could be reported. In such periods the work of the union fell mainly on a few activists.
Part 5: Organizing at Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent
During the 1993-94 academic year a number of meetings of part-timers at Saint Mary’s university had been held to discuss the idea of unionization there. Then at the beginning of the Fall 1994 term at Mount Saint Vincent, some part- time faculty there also determined to get organized. There was, of course, some overlap of the part-time faculty employed at the three universities. In December 1994 our Dalhousie local became officially involved, when it was asked to take part in organizing drives at both universities. It was decided to proceed with this, on the understanding that if we were successful, all three bargaining units, at Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, and Mount Saint Vincent, would form part of Local 3912, but with separate contracts at the different institutions.
During Fall 1994, therefore, preparations were made for card signing campaigns at both universities to be conducted in the January to March 1995 period. At both Mount Saint Vincent and Saint Mary’s active organizing committees were formed, involving larger numbers. As a result of the hard work of these committees, successful card-signing campaigns took place, culminating in LRB conducted votes at the end of March. During these organizing drives the local again had the valuable services of former CUEW Organizer Mike Groom, temporarily retained by CUPE to work on these campaigns.
As with Dalhousie, both Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent sought to prevent certification by raising legal objections, so during the summer of 1995 LRB hearings for both SMU and MSVU were held. At this point we began to work with CUPE organizer Kelly Murray, who was to play a very important role throughout the bargaining with the universities. To win the right to count the certification votes, we were again forced to employ the legal services of Gordon Forsythe at LRB hearings, and arrange witnesses to testify. This seemed an unnecessary delay and expense, because it was unlikely that these universities would succeed in preventing our certification given the Dalhousie precedent. Nevertheless, each university went ahead, ironically advancing almost diametrically opposed arguments. SMU argued the part-timers should become part of the full-time union, because they did similar work. MSVU argued part-timers were casual and temporary employees, very different from full-timers, and should not be covered by the TU Act. When the hearings ended and the decisions came from the Board, all substantial points in both cases were won by the union.
In September 1995, therefore, the votes from the balloting in the Spring at each university were counted. At SMU 87 per cent of those voting were for the union, while at Mount Saint Vincent a full 100 per cent of votes cast were for the union. CUPE Local 3912 therefore became the certified bargaining agent for part- timers at all three universities. Up to this point, however, only a very slow beginning had been made in the bargaining process at Dalhousie, and bargaining did not really get under way at the other two universities until 1996.
Part 6: The Collective Bargaining Process at Dalhousie
In 1995, as negotiations began with Dalhousie, the union’s opening proposal for a first collective agreement was prepared based on standard CUPE contract language, modified after discussions with our membership as to their specific needs. (This set of opening demands was designed for Dalhousie, but with the exception of language applying to TAs, a similar opening proposal was later used for negotiations with SMU and MSVU.) The bargaining committee for Dalhousie consisted of Barb Moore, Mike Earle and Marvin Silver, along with CUPE representative Kelly Murray. (The subsequent SMU and MSVU teams also included Barb Moore, Mike Earle and Kelly Murray, plus Joyce Conrad and Marianne Parsons at SMU, and Alysa Snyder at MSVU.)
In the initial proposal we of course put forward clauses we felt best represented our members’ interests, naturally expecting resistance to some of these from the university. There were several basic items which we believed necessary in any agreement we could accept, and our fundamental insistence on these points was made clear to the university negotiators throughout the bargaining. (As perhaps anticipated, in the first contracts finally achieved we won these points but very little more.)
These basic points to be included in the agreement were as follows:
- Acceptable standard language setting up union security, grievance and arbitration procedures;
- Some form of job security provisions for part-timers, with priority rehiring based upon previous teaching at the university;
- Standardization, on a fair basis, of workload and pay for TAs throughout the university, and a clear separation of pay for their employment from any scholarship received as graduate students;
- A sizeable increase in the very low pay levels of part-timers and TAs, which fell far below standards elsewhere in Canada, or even in the Atlantic provinces.
In the beginning of negotiations at Dalhousie in 1995, however, we could not emphasize the pay issue. The provincial wage freeze was not due to be lifted until November, 1997, so no increases were legal until that date. We therefore, perhaps naively, expected to negotiate and sign an agreement with Dalhousie covering all other contract language, and later negotiate wage levels. Our expectations in this regard were disappointed.
In these negotiations at Dalhousie we met long delays in setting meetings, and considerable difficulty in achieving agreement on nearly all points, including things which are almost universally accepted in standard collective agreements across Canada. This was an extremely frustrating process. It was not a matter of personal clashes with the administration team, with whom we had often quite amicable exchanges. It appeared to us, however, that they were not really empowered to make any decisions which gave concessions to our position, whatever we might argue. Such matters were referred to the Dalhousie negotiators’ advisory committee, from whom the answer was invariably no.
By early 1996, after a year of negotiations, we had achieved agreement only on the grievance procedure, and on standard language in some other matters. Any items with a financial aspect had been deferred, and Dalhousie refused to accept standard language on the check-off of union dues. At this point we pressed for an answer on the issue of job security, in the form of priority rehiring for our members, something we had made clear throughout was a fundamental union demand. Our negotiating team indicated we needed an acceptable answer on this, or must withdraw and seek provincial conciliation of our differences. This matter was referred to the Dalhousie advisory committee. The answer we received was that Dalhousie would accept no obligation of any sort to members of the bargaining unit, except while they were currently working on individual contracts. Based on this, in February 1996, the union negotiators withdrew from meetings with Dalhousie and applied for provincial conciliation.
A few weeks later a conciliation meeting was held, at which the Dalhousie negotiators again indicated they had to refer matters to their advisory committee. The provincial conciliator agreed to permit this, setting a date for a new meeting a few weeks later. Before this date, however, Dalhousie’s chief negotiator resigned, and reconvening the conciliation talks was put off for a number of months on this excuse.
Part 7: Collective Bargaining at SMU and MSVU
At about the same time negotiations broke down with Dalhousie, in early 1996, serious negotiations began at both Mount Saint Vincent and Saint Mary’s. In contrast to our experience at Dalhousie, there were no long unnecessary delays, and those with whom we were dealing appeared to have the authority to make decisions. Standard contract language which had taken months to reach agreement upon at Dalhousie was settled relatively quickly, including language on the automatic deduction of union dues, with which Dalhousie had still not agreed. There were naturally strongly opposed positions presented on some issues, but decisions were made.
A major breakthrough for the union side on the job security issue came first at Mount Saint Vincent, with the university negotiators agreeing to what became our “precedence” rehiring clauses, under which new part-time contracts are to be openly posted and applications sought, with precedence given in awarding contracts to those who had done the most previous teaching at the university. A short time later similar clauses were agreed upon in the Saint Mary’s negotiations. With these tentative agreements made, the only substantive outstanding issues in negotiations with SMU and MSVU were the pay rates and the length of the contracts.
We had reached this stage in the Spring of 1996, and the end of the provincial pay freeze was to come November 1997, so there was no longer any question of deferring the matter of pay. The union negotiators held the view that it was essential a substantial pay raise be included in our first agreement, since the beginning rates would affect all future pay rates. We frankly, at this stage, had little hope of achieving a truly fair rate of pay, which would be proportionately equal to the pay of full-timers for the same work. We began with a demand for the average part-time rate paid in Ontario, $8,000 for a full course. Both SMU and MSVU countered with offers bringing our $5000 stipend up a few hundreds by stages over three year contracts. It was clear negotiations were not going to lead to pay settlements the union negotiating teams would feel they could ask members to accept, so provincial conciliation was applied for in both cases. We were already waiting for the reconvening of the Dalhousie conciliation meetings, and at Dalhousie we had not yet negotiated money issues.
Part 8: Conciliation Proceedings
The conciliation provisions in the Nova Scotia law are designed to avert strikes where possible. In order to be in a legal position to strike, a union must first seek conciliation of outstanding issues using the services of a provincial conciliator, who hears both sides, and seeks to find ways agreement can be reached. Only after the conciliation officer reports no agreement can be reached is a legal strike possible.
The union’s decision to ask for conciliation in all three cases was based on the view that without successful strike votes and at least the imminent threat of a strike, none of the three universities would agree to a union contract which would be acceptable to the majority of our members. We knew many of our members had very precarious personal finances, and would suffer during a strike, so strike action was only reluctantly planned. But to win a collective agreement worth having, we had to be prepared, if necessary, to carry out strikes at the universities. We entered into conciliation with full knowledge that the outcome might only be determined by actual strikes.
The conciliation hearings with Dalhousie re-commenced soon after we had applied for conciliation at the other two universities. Dalhousie was now employing a lawyer, Peter MacLellan, as its chief negotiator. At the first sessions with this new negotiator, concessions were quickly made in contract language consistent with those which had been negotiated at the other two universities — notably normal check-off provisions and acceptable precedence clauses. These had been the issues which had led to the union’s initial application for conciliation. The wage issue for part-timers and teaching assistants at Dalhousie was now discussed for the first time. In these conciliation talks, and in those with the other two universities, the union made its final stand clear. Union negotiators held out for a part-time rate of $7000 for a full year course, the rate at Memorial University of Newfoundland. For TAs at Dalhousie we demanded standardization of rates, demanding $5000 for a full year TAship.
On June 20, and Jul 11, 1997, the Dalhousie negotiator made their “final” pay offer. This was lower than the other two universities for the part-timers, and offered standardization of TA pay at rates which would mean drastic pay cuts for many categories of TAs. Conciliation with Dal then broke down, but the conciliation officer’s report was delayed through the summer in case a breakthrough occurred in the upcoming conciliation meetings with SMU and MSVU on pay issues. The final meeting for SMU was delayed, while at the meeting with MSVU neither side’s position on pay was changed. Following this reports were submitted by the conciliation officers for Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent, and by September 1997 the union was in a legal strike position at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent, but not yet at Saint Mary’s University. (As anticipated, when the final conciliation session was held with Saint Mary’s late in 1997, no change was made in their position, and the conciliators report made a strike there also legal.) At this stage, therefore, the union was demanding $7000 full-course stipends for part-timers, while the best offer from the universities was still under $6000, not to be payable until the third year of a contract. Dalhousie was also seeking standardization of TA rates based on an average which meant pay cuts for many categories.
Part 9: Strike Vote Campaigns
The union had reached this point after five years of organizing, Labour Board hearings, and negotiations. In all of this we were bound by the law, which, on the one hand, forced the universities to negotiate with us, but on the other hand, enforced long delays before decisive action could be taken. This had meant that there were extended periods during which we could inform and consult with the membership, but could not call on them for action. The two periods before late 1997 on which mobilization of members to take direct action took place were during the initial certification drives and votes at Dalhousie in the Spring of 1993, and at Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent. The majority of those who had been in the bargaining units during these periods of intense activity had by now been replaced by more recently hired part-timers and TAs. However, with negotiations exhausted, and the union in a legal strike position, the possibility of forcing the universities to sign acceptable contracts rested entirely on the willingness of the membership to strike if necessary.
In November 1997 a general meeting was held at which the idea of striking first at Mount Saint Vincent alone was considered. We were not yet legally allowed to strike at Saint Mary’s, and it was apparent with the large inflow of new TAs at Dalhousie, we needed time to prepare for a strike there. It was decided it would be better to wait until the January-April 1998 term, when we would be in a position to call strike votes at all three universities, if no acceptable offers were made in the interim.
A campaign of activities, events, leafleting and publicity leading up to strike votes at all three universities just before the Spring breaks was planned. Many activists were mobilized to work on this campaign. The union also took the step of proposing third-party arbitration to the three universities as a way of settling our differences and averting strike action. We were confident in the justice of our demands, and were not surprised when all three universities refused this option.
The period of the January to March 1998 was the time of greatest activity in the history of the local to date. We were engaged in seeking strike votes at all three universities, simultaneous with preparations for conducting the possible strikes, and by the end of the period we were also involved in conciliation talks with each of the universities. A number of union activists, executive and non- executive members, worked very hard during this period, and made our successes possible.
Assistance came from CUPE national with publicity, negotiations and the promise of strike pay if the strikes occurred. With funding from CUPE, we were able to rent an off-campus office as strike headquarters, which in the end was not needed for strikes, but was a centre for strike vote mobilization. Its very existence also no doubt indicated to the universities we were serious in our intentions to carry out strikes if necessary. It was unfortunate that during this period Kelly Murray, the CUPE representative who had long worked with the local, was transferred to other duties. He was replaced by CUPE Representative Paul Bourgeois, who performed very well in our final negotiations with the universities.
During this time numerous press releases and leaflets were issued, and a march and rally were held, building momentum for the strike votes. These were held at all three universities in March 1998. Of those casting ballots, a strong majority at all three universities voted for strike action if no acceptable offers came at the last moment from the university administrations. At Dalhousie and at Mount Saint Vincent, however, the turnout of those eligible to vote was disappointing. We were uncertain of what the exact proportion of those voting was, as we had received only late and inaccurate lists of the members of the bargaining units from the universities. But it was clear the numbers voting were lower than we had hoped.
It was also on the very evening on which the votes were counted that the executive of the local were shocked to learn that they, and their CUPE advisors, had been mistaken on a significant point of the provincial labour law. Unlike other jurisdictions across Canada, the Nova Scotia law requires that for a strike vote to be valid, it must have a majority of the total eligible bargaining unit membership, not simply a majority of those casting votes, as with certification votes or contract ratification votes. This is a strange requirement, unknown in any other form of vote in the political process in Canada. It is applicable only in the case of strikes, where it seems most unjustifiable because the affected employees, if they in fact did not agree with a decision to strike, could not be coerced into complying. If, in fact, a union went on strike with a majority of its members opposed to strike action it would have little chance of conducting an effective strike.
The local was faced with a situation in which we had a clear and legal strike mandate at Saint Mary’s, where a majority of the university list of the bargaining unit had voted to strike. We had majorities in the votes at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent, but not, it appeared, of the full bargaining units; but we were uncertain as to the completeness or validity of the lists we had received at these two universities. (The Dalhousie lists seemed inaccurate in many respects. They also did not include members from Dal Tech, the former TUNS, which had recently merged with Dalhousie. The union therefore felt it had no choice but to exclude Dal Tech members in the voting, and their inclusion in the union left to be settled later.) It was decided to announce to the press that we had our strike mandate at Saint Mary’s and planed to go ahead with a strike there, but that we were unable to release the results at the other universities because of difficulties with the lists.
There was unquestionably a period of some days in which many members must have been confused as to what was happening, and whether there would or would not be a strike called. Some controversy arose at this time, with a few union activists arguing that the full results of these votes should be released. The executive at this time, held (and would still maintain) that to do this would have been extremely irresponsible in the circumstances, and might well have led to failure in the ongoing negotiations with the university administrations.
After a day or two of consideration and consultation with CUPE legal staff, it was decided to call for new strike votes at Mount Saint Vincent and Dalhousie. We had also learned that the law permits considerable flexibility in conducting such a vote. Voting can be extended over several days, and votes can be collected from individuals away from a formal polling booth so long as acceptable precautions were taken to ensure a secret ballot.
By the time we were collecting the second vote at Mount Saint Vincent, we had finally received new and more accurate lists from the university, which showed that the original lists had been seriously flawed. At the end of this voting we had yes votes for a strike from a clear majority of the total bargaining unit at the Mount.
At Dalhousie the situation was not, and has never become, so clear. The list we received from the university still appeared inaccurate. Of this list slightly over half cast ballots in the final vote conducted. Of these, a large majority were for a strike unless Dalhousie changed its position. However, it seemed doubtful an absolute majority of all those in the bargaining unit had voted to strike. If we had called a strike on this basis, it might possibly have led to Dalhousie calling for an injunction against the strike, on the basis that the vote was invalid. In any case this vote was not counted until after a tentative agreement had been reached with Dalhousie.
Nonetheless, the opinion of the executive at this time was that if no acceptable settlement could be reached at Dalhousie, we should go ahead with a strike. The law regarding the absolute majority has never been tested, and seems an unjust law, particularly as applied to this bargaining unit. The Dalhousie list included a great range of members — part-timers teaching one or two courses, full or partial TAs, and markers who only work at certain times. It was not clear who of these had voted. Our belief was we had a clear majority of those who in fact could strike, in the sense that they would have work they would normally be doing in the strike period. Up to the final Dalhousie conciliation session, occurring just before the last vote was counted, the Dalhousie offer was completely unacceptable. If an acceptable offer had not been made, therefore, the local executive would have called for going forward with a strike at Dalhousie, even though this might possibly have been thwarted by legal action by the university administration. If a strike had occurred, it was the executive’s view that it would have been effective, and should certainly have been attempted.
In any case it is clear that without these strike votes, showing the willingness of members of the bargaining units to go on strike, we would have had no hope of obtaining the settlements we did.
Part 10: Victory: Acceptable First Contracts Won
Late in March 1998, once notice of a forthcoming strike had been given to Saint Mary’s, renewed talks took place with the administration there. After some exchanges, new offers were made by the university which were accepted by the union bargaining team. The pay rates achieved were less than we had sought, and certainly less than we regard as fair for the work performed by part-timers. They were, however, much higher than the university’s previous offers, and were at a level the union negotiators felt the membership would accept rather than go on strike.
After the settlement with Saint Mary’s had been announced, and while new strike votes were under way at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent, administrations from both these universities asked the provincial conciliation service to arrange meetings with the union negotiators. We met first with Dalhousie, and after a meeting lasting from midday to the early hours of the following morning a tentative settlement was agreed upon. Pressure was no doubt exerted on Dalhousie to come up with more acceptable terms by the fact that we had an agreement with Saint Mary’s, and by the fact that a strike of the full-time faculty was looming at Dalhousie.
Conciliation talks with Mount Saint Vincent then followed. The union had, by this time, a clear majority vote for a strike at Mount Saint Vincent, and had achieved settlements with the other two universities. The Mount negotiators argued their financial difficulties in paying higher rates than they had offered. Again a lengthy and tense session of offers and counter-offers finally resulted in a tentative agreement.
In votes which followed in early April at all three universities the members of the bargaining units ratified the agreements made, which was followed by ratification by the appropriate bodies at the universities. At all three the contracts signed were to run until 31 July 2000. The collective agreements, in the view of the union executive, and we expect of most of the membership, still left Halifax part-timers and teaching assistants among the worst paid in Canada, and many aspects of our conditions of employment remained unsatisfactory. However, it was felt we had attained a considerable victory in getting these first collective agreements, and a new era of improved pay and conditions for our members had begun. The union was also strongly of the opinion that better conditions for part- timers and TAs who bear a substantial portion of the teaching load at the universities will result in benefits for the students and the quality of education they receive at Halifax universities.
Part 11: First Year of Collective Agreement
During the first year of the collective agreement, the new union executive held meetings with the university administrators attempting to get the contract provisions working properly.
There were some difficulties, particularly with the proper application of our precedence provisions, but considerable progress was made. Inclusion in the Dalhousie bargaining unit of the part-time faculty and TAs at Dal Tech (the former TUNS) was opposed by the university administration. It was finally agreed to have the TAs become part of the bargaining unit, and hold a mail in vote of Dal Tech part-timers. The vote was held, and the majority voted to be excluded.
Part 12: Negotiations for Second Collective Agreements, 2000-2001
Our first collective agreements with Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent all expired in the summer of 2000. Prior to this, the union had held discussions regarding our position in negotiations, and our bargaining teams entered negotiations proposing pay raises that would bring parity with universities in Canada outside the Atlantic region and seeking improvements in the wording of the collective agreements. Some points were agreed, but the negotiators for all three universities resisted any substantial improvement in pay. Further, all sought changes which would weaken our precedence system and job security for part-timers. At all three universities negotiations had broken down on these issues by the end of 2000, and the services of a provincial conciliation officer was applied for by the union. Conciliation talks began in early 2001, but little progress was made on the substantive issues and the hearings went on so long that it appeared no decisive action could be taken before the end of the Winter 2001 academic term.
Strike Vote and Settlement at Saint Mary’s
Conciliation broke down at Saint Mary’s in the last week of classes in March 2001. After some discussion the executive and bargaining committee decided to call a strike vote, which was passed by a majority of the members of the bargaining unit. It was felt that a strike could be effective during the examination period. With the strike scheduled to begin the following day, the Saint Mary’s admin made substantial concessions on the wage issue, and the bargaining committee recommended acceptance. This was ratified by a vote of the members a few days later.
Strike Votes at Mount Saint Vincent and Dalhousie
Conciliation talks with Mount Saint Vincent broke down in May. There the issue was that the administration would not meet the part-time pay rate the union had won at Saint Mary’s for those in the basic category. The Dalhousie conciliation broke down in June. There the administration was prepared to make pay concessions equivalent to Saint Mary’s for part-timers, but only offered minimal increases for teaching assistants, and demanded that all PhD. students be allowed two full credits in teaching contracts outside the precedence system. The union felt that one credit was acceptable, but two unnecessary and aimed at weakening the precedence system in general.
On these issues the union bargaining committees recommended that strike action be voted by the membership. Because it seemed impossible to strike during the summer, the strike votes could not be held until November 2001 at each university. At both universities there were difficulties in and contacting all in the bargaining unit because of inadequate lists or addresses of members. When the votes were held a majority of those voting supported the strike, but many did not vote, and the legally mandated majority of the members was not reached.
Ratification of 2nd Collective Agreements at MSVU and Dalhousie
In these circumstances, although not satisfied with the offers from the universities, the executive and the bargaining committees recommended acceptance of the contracts and the Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent contracts were ratified by membership meetings in January 2002.
Part 13: Negotiations for Third Collective Agreements, 2002-2004
The collective agreements at the three universities were all due to expire at the end of August 2003. It was felt we should continue efforts to bring the part-time salaries at all three universities up to the national average. But it was also recognized that much less substantial advances had been made for TAs at Dalhousie, and the failure of the strike vote in the fall of 2001 showed the necessity for better organization among TAs. During 2002 and the Winter term of 2003 the Dalhousie TA VP Jessica Squires played an important role in working on this, setting up a council of TA representatives and raising issues affecting TAs. Mikael Swayze, Staff Representative for CUPE Local 3902 at the University of Toronto, was invited to Dalhousie to lead a TA seminar that was very useful.
During 2002 we lost the help of Linda Neeley, the CUPE National representative who had ably guided the local in our collective bargaining throughout the process of winning our second collective agreements. She was replaced by Barbara Kowalski, who was to give equally valuable help in the achievement of our third collective agreements at the three universities.
In the early summer of 2003 the work preparing proposals for the new contracts got under way, and bargaining teams were set up at all three universities. At Dalhousie Jill Pasquet was hired to plan the TA organizing campaign in the Fall term. She also did excellent work in preparing the language proposals for new workload agreements for TAs.
As a result, soon after the Fall 2003 term began a well-organized series of meetings for new TAs was held at Dalhousie. In October Jill Pasquet left, and was replaced as organizer by Martha Paynter, whose position as TA VP was taken by Bernard Firanski. The process of building a strong organization among Dal TAs was well underway by the end of the term. Unfortunately, negotiations for new collective agreements had begun later than planned at all three universities. Because of this, many of the crucial issues had not been dealt with in negotiations before the beginning of the Winter 2004 term.
Despite the late start, a third collective agreement, with substantial salary increases for Part-time faculty, was successfully negotiated at Saint Mary’s, negotiations ending in a late night meeting on 6 February 2004. This was the first agreement reached at any university without going through the conciliation process. Just over a month later, on 13 March, an agreement was reached with Mount Saint Vincent, also without the services of a conciliation officer. So by the middle of March 2004 the new collective agreements had been ratified at both Saint Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent. At Dalhousie almost all part-time issues had also been tentatively agreed, but no agreement seemed possible on TA wages.
Part 14: The Strike at Dalhousie
In February-March 2004, with a deadlock in negotiations on TA wages at Dalhousie, a strike vote was taken. The issues at this stage also included the question of language protecting scholarships from reductions offsetting TA wage increases and the Dalhousie proposal to limit retroactive pay to those working at the time the new Agreement was signed. Only this retroactive pay issue affected part-timers, and the negotiations had achieved tentative agreement on the important language setting up the new TA workload forms. The big issue remained the TA wages, with the union seeking to bring the TA hourly rate of $15.27 up to parity with the national average of $30.
A strong and active TA strike-vote committee was set up, and a vigorous campaign to get members out to vote was carried out. Many were active on this committee, chaired by Alan Hill. The N.S. law requires a majority of all eligible to vote yes to a strike. The balloting, therefore, was conducted over a week at various sites on the three Dalhousie campuses. This vote was intended to be during the week beginning 16 Feb, the week before the study break. These plans were disrupted by a large snowstorm beginning Wednesday night, which made voting impossible on Thursday and Friday. It was necessary, therefore, to hold the final day of voting on 1 March. Despite this interruption a majority of the entire bargaining unit, and 85 per cent of those voting, voted for strike action if necessary. This successful strike vote was, in itself, a great victory for the union, and it was hoped would be a sufficient threat to lead the university to make an offer the bargaining team could recommend without the necessity for a strike. This did not happen.
Conciliation had been applied for on 27 February, but the conciliation meeting was not held until 1 April, over a month later. The delay was later explained as being unavoidable, for one reason or other, but made it much more difficult for the union to conduct an effective strike. At the 1st April meeting no acceptable offer was made by Dalhousie, and conciliation talks quickly broke down. The conciliator’s report was sent in on 8 April, making 23 April the first date a legal strike could begin. By this date all classes would be over and most exams completed.
Some members argued it was too late to strike effectively, while others argued we should strike at this time. The argument against striking immediately was that there would be few working in the summer, and they would be mainly part-timers, with little direct interest in the strike issues. In essence, it was argued that a strike in the summer would not be very effective, and would badly hurt part-timers who relied on such summer courses for a large part of their annual income. The argument for the strike was that it was more or less a case of “now or never,” and that we should strike while there was an organized group committed to the strike. If we attempted to wait to the Fall term, our strike mandate would lapse before we could possibly activate the large group of incoming TAs. These issues were discussed at membership meetings held at the Dalhousie SUB and on the Sexton campus, and also at an executive committee meeting. The executive was particularly concerned about the position of part-time faculty during the strike, and proposed various forms of financial assistance for those members who would be hard–hit by the strike. The executive recommended immediate strike action, however, and the majority of members at a general meeting held on 16 April voted to proceed with the strike.
On 22 April at a final conciliation meeting Dalhousie was still unprepared to make an acceptable offer, and the strike began on 23 April. During the first few days there was heavy picketing of the uncompleted examinations. After this for about a week picketing was concentrated on Sexton Campus, where classes were scheduled in this period, and where the strike had strong support. Although members’ contracts were due to expire at the end of April, under CUPE strike regulations all working at the time the strike began were eligible for National strike pay, even if the strike continued on into the summer. The local union also passed a resolution to pay strike pay from its own funds to any striking part-timers or TAs whose work was to start in the summer, if they were not eligible for National strike pay. The timing made conditions very difficult for a strike, however, because, once the exams were completed, almost no TAs and only a few part-timers scheduled to work in Summer School courses. The main leverage the strike could hope to have was to disrupt summer courses and adversely effect Dalhousie’s image and its student recruitment for the Fall.
The organization of the strike was quite effectively carried out, those active during the strike vote campaign taking similar roles in conducting the strike. A leading role was played by Jasmine Folz, the strike co-ordinator, who worked long hours. Approximately 250 picketers were active on campus throughout the strike, and also the Dalhousie student recruitment campaign was picketed at various locations throughout the province to some effect. On 27 April a conciliation meeting was held at which Dalhousie made an offer. The hourly rate for TAs was better than earlier offers, but still well short of the amount members had hoped to get. The offer also included a two-tiered system for TA pay, with graduate TAs paid a considerably higher rate than undergraduate TAs doing similar work. The bargaining team would not recommend that members accept the offer, but did agree to present it to the members to vote upon. In the balloting, held 30 April to 3 May, the majority rejected this offer.
The strike then continued into the period after 9 May, when most First Summer Session classes were to begin. Some part-time faculty, unfortunately, refused to honour the strike, and crossed the picket lines to teach courses. Other members held firm, while Dalhousie cancelled their scheduled courses. In the aftermath, in part owing to donations of a portion of their strike pay by some TAs, the union was later able to fully compensate part-timers who lost summer work because of the strike.
On 18th May the university made another offer. This was similar to the offer voted down at the beginning of May, but eliminated the two-tiered wage system in the earlier offer. The increase amounted to 18% over the three years of the contract, which was well below what many had hoped to achieve, parity with the national average of $30 per hour for TAs. The union bargaining committee, however, felt that this was the best that could be won at this point, and recommended acceptance. A well attended meeting held on 19 May, however, was chaotic, and some members expressed a view strongly opposing acceptance. The vote was begun at the meeting, and was to be continued for two days, but there was some confusion about who had already voted, and a completely new vote was proposed.
At this point there was a direct intervention by the national leadership. A letter was received from President Paul Moist directing the vote be begun again under the control of CUPE National Representatives, who would also conduct a meeting to be held on May 25th. There was a widespread feeling among members of the local that this intervention was unnecessary. The letter declared the number of picketing hours required for strike pay eligibility would increase from two hours per day to four, although CUPE representatives had known, and not objected when the local set the two hour requirement at the time of the strike vote in February. Secondly, the letter declared no TAs could cross the picket line to do research, an absolute requirement that would be quite unrealistic in the case of graduate student TAs. Although there was agreement by the CUPE National Representatives that some modification to this research requirement would be necessary, a large number of members regarded the CUPE National intervention as an effort to influence the decision of whether to accept the university’s offer. Somewhat over half those attending the meeting on 25 May walked out. In the balloting which took place on 27 and 28 May, however, a substantial majority voted to ratify the new collective agreement with Dalhousie, and end the strike.
Although many members remained dissatisfied at the end of the strike with the pay rate achieved for TAs, this strike must be regarded as ending in a victory for the union. The timing was very bad, a summer strike being much less effective than would have been a strike held a few weeks earlier. Despite this, the TA hourly rate was increased to a considerably higher level than the administration would ever have agreed without the strike. Perhaps more important for the future is the fact that the Dalhousie TAs showed they will take strike action, and the administration will have to bear this in mind in future negotiations. The position of having lower TA rates that any other major graduate university in Canada will not be acceptable to future members of the TA bargaining unit at Dalhousie.
Part 15: Looking to the Future
Our organizer, Martha Paynter, having done good work for the union. left at the end of August 2004, and was replaced by Lori Root, who we expect to play a strong role in the work of the local over the coming months.
Although we still have weaknesses, CUPE 3912 now seems in a stronger position than ever before. We still remain well behind our sister locals in other parts of Canada in terms of pay and conditions for part-time faculty and even more behind on Teaching Assistant pay. However, we have made considerable advances, and should be in a position to do better in our next round of bargaining. As always, the strength we will have in any of our bargaining units will depend entirely on how well we built membership support for the union and involvement of the members in union activities.