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Faculty strike begins at Mount Saint Vincent University

Members of the Mount Saint Vincent University Faculty Association were on the picket line Monday afternoon. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Mount Saint Vincent University Faculty Association were on the picket line Monday afternoon. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)

Members of the Mount Saint Vincent University Faculty Association took to the picket line Monday after failing to reach an agreement with their employer.

In a statement, the university administration said weekend meetings with the union representing 160 full-time faculty, librarians and lab instructors and a conciliator did not result in an agreement.

Susan Brigham, the faculty association's president, said one of the main sticking points is a fair compensation package. She said faculty at the university are among the lowest paid in the province.

"It's time for us to actually just start to catch up," Brigham told CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia, although she would not discuss how much faculty are asking for.

According to Statistics Canada, the median salary of full professors at MSVU is $155,550, while the median salary for associate professors is $129,225.

"That's a very unfortunately thing ... one of the reasons is because we are an institution that has been women focused and we are an institution that has rich history of advancement of women and girls and a majority of our faculty, lab instructors and librarians are women," Brigham said

Including TRC language into collective agreement

"And so I don't know what this says when we show up as one of the lowest paid in the province."

Brigham also said the union wants the collective agreement to better reflect the university's values to promote equity, fairness, accessibility, diversity, inclusion and respect.

Brigham said the faculty association has been trying to find ways to "decolonize" its collective agreement with language from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

"That means several changes in language, but not just language. It flows throughout all of the articles when it comes to promotion and leaves and leaves including sick leaves, pregnancy leaves — all those types of leaves," Brigham said.

"We need to be aware of how certain folks are being impacted individually and differently because of their equity-seeking status."

Brigham said the faculty association wants to see language in the collective agreement that responds to the "differences in how equity-seeking folks move through the ranks here, how a variety of different types of knowledges are respected, not just through PhD."

About 50 students sat outside the office of the vice-president administration on Monday morning in solidarity with about 160 full-time faculty, librarians and lab instructors.
About 50 students sat outside the office of the vice-president administration on Monday morning in solidarity with about 160 full-time faculty, librarians and lab instructors.

About 50 students sat outside the office of the vice-president administration on Monday morning in solidarity with about 160 full-time faculty, librarians and lab instructors. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

"For example, there's elder knowledge that needs to be acknowledged. And yeah, and things like a land acknowledgement in the collective agreement, those types of things, I think they do speak to working toward equitable and a more fair work environment."

The administration's statement said the two sides have agreed on "numerous language items" related to equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility improvements.

"Our values are aligned, it's really about the definition of how we're going to implement it fairly," MSVU vice-president of administration Isabelle Nault, told CBC News on Monday.

When it comes to the faculty association's claim that they are among the lowest paid in Nova Scotia, Nault said "it's a complex question, it's not just a simple comparison."

"Based on our analysis, we are kind of in the middle. We're not necessarily at the bottom. We want to offer a fair compensation to our faculty and lab instructor and librarian, and we're once again working on the details with them and going back and forth," Nault said.

In a statement earlier, Nault said the strike's impact on the university's roughly 4,700 students is a primary concern.

Student impact a primary concern

"We'll do all we can to support our students throughout this time and minimize the effect on students' academic experience," said Nault.

"We will aim to ensure that students have sufficient class time to meet learning outcomes and to maintain the quality learning experience that is expected at MSVU."

In December, union members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike if an agreement was not reached.

Student response

David MacNaughton, a first-year student in the bachelor of education program, said Monday morning that two of his classes had already been cancelled.

He said students have been told they'll still be able to attend classes taught by part-time staff. But he's not sure if he's comfortable crossing the picket line to attend those classes.

"I'm still a little bit stuck in the middle, a little conflicted on continuing attending the part-time classes that are still being run, or perhaps sitting it out and just trying to be showing solidarity with the faculty," said MacNaughton.

Some part-time instructors say they will offer classes online so students don't have to cross the picket line, he said.

Inside the school, around 50 students gathered outside Nault's office for a sit-in. They support faculty and plan to join picket line.

Strike impacts and protocols

The university said campus will remain open during the strike. It said classes taught by full-time faculty, librarians and lab instructors will not run during the strike, but classes taught by part-time faculty will continue.

All other university services continue, and the library remains open, though some services will be impacted. Co-op placements and practica continue as usual.

The MSVU website has posted a list of strike protocols agreed to by the university and the union.

The measures include prohibiting the access of striking members to areas of the university that include parking areas, administrative buildings, dining halls and cafés, the student centre and student residences.

Picketing may only take place in designated areas, and striking members won't be allowed to slow vehicles entering the campus.

The outlined measures also include the discontinuation of sick and sabbatical leave during the strike.

Earlier this month, the province announced new caps on tuition and funding levels that are below last year's rate of inflation. The Department of Advanced Education said it will cap tuition increases for Nova Scotia students at two per cent, down from three per cent.

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