After failing to come to an agreement with Laurentian University management over the summer, the university's faculty union is considering hitting the picket lines.
On Sept. 2 — the day before students returned to class — 90 per cent of Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) members voted to give their union a strike mandate.
Jean-Charles Cachon, a Laurentian commerce professor and LUFA's secretary/treasurer, said the union's three-year contract with the university expired July 1.
The two sides have been in negotiations since May, and worked out many non-monetary issues. However, they haven't been able to come to an agreement with regards to wage hikes and workload.
Cachon said LUFA is looking for wage hikes in line with inflation, as well as an adjustment to professors' workload, as the spike in graduate students at the university means faculty needs to focus more on research.
LUFA president Anis Farah said in a press release that at a time when Laurentian's revenues are at record levels, “the administration's refusal to even attempt to move faculty remuneration and benefits towards the norm in Ontario is unreasonable.
“The proposals presented by Laurentian's administration would broaden the gap between the average faculty salary at Laurentian and that of the Ontario university system.”
Cachon said the earliest LUFA's roughly 500 members could go on strike would be in late September.
The provincial conciliator who worked with the two parties first needs to issue a no-board report, meaning that a deal couldn't be worked out.
Then, by provincial law, a strike or lockout cannot be held until 17 days after the no-board report is issued.
In the meantime, however, the two sides both say they hope a deal can be worked out without a labour dispute. Laurentian has requested the services of a mediator to help reach a collective agreement.
“Both the university and faculty members have an interest in students, and in providing them with an exceptional learning experience,” said Robert Kerr, Laurentian's vice-president, academic, in a press release.
“We are hopeful the faculty association's negotiation team will join the university in seeking the help of a mediator.”
He added that the two sides are working on a deal that is “fair to everyone.” For now, it's “business as usual” at Laurentian, the press release said.
“We have full confidence in both bargaining teams and are optimistic that continued negotiations will result in an agreement,” said Laurentian president Dominic Giroux, in the press release.
Although LUFA has only gone on strike twice in its 35-year history — once in 1985 for three days, and again in 1989 for 22 days — a labour dispute is “always a possibility,” Cachon said.
He said the union has already secured support from other local unions in the event of a strike, with Unifor offering space for a strike headquarters.
So should students be concerned?
“Well, yes and no,” Cachon said. “There have been several university strikes over the past 30 years. None of them has resulted in disruption for students — that is, students have always been able to recoup the time lost.
“In fact, the only strikes where students were adversely affected were student strikes in Quebec a couple years ago. They lasted so long that they had to cancel a whole session.”