Notes on the One-year Anniversary of the Job Action

Dear Colleagues,

Today is exactly a year since the beginning of our forty-day job action on campus last year. 

This is an anniversary that, like many Members, I suspect, I am experiencing with mixed emotions. On the one hand, having given years of my best research, teaching, and service to this University, I found it very painful to see just how much unnecessary harm was done to our institution and students last spring by those who were responsible for its management and governance. The very fact that we had to resort to job action simply to reach a deal that other universities and public sector employers were able to achieve through normal negotiations demonstrated how poor the situation on campus had become. That this was compounded by needless delays and unnecessary and self-inflicted reputational damage only increased my sadness. 

On the other hand, however, I — again like many Members — am hopeful for the future. We have a new Board Chair, a new President starting on July 1, are searching for a Provost, and are beginning to fill many of our decanal vacancies through national searches. The worst of the provincial budget cuts appear to be past us, and an election — which provides an opportunity to reset no matter which party wins — is only months away. 

Just as importantly, your representatives on the Bargaining Resource and Grievance Committees have made significant progress in addressing outstanding concerns. In Grievance we have gone from settling very few issues before arbitration, to settling most through MOUs or other understandings. In Bargaining, the post-ratification working groups on reorganizing the Collective Agreement and the feasibility of a Joint Benefits Committee have addressed significant concerns that we were unable to achieve through bargaining and mediation. There has also been considerable progress (without yet reaching agreement) on two other items from our mandate: a teaching professoriate and resolving the problem faced by those hired on repeated term appointments. Many members of the administration have adopted a new and more constructive approach to labour relations that we find very promising.

Above all, however, I am hopeful because I see the solidarity we developed during the job action carrying on in our daily lives on campus to this day. New friends from the picket line are now meeting socially. At GFC, in faculty councils, and the Board, ULFA Members are engaged in Collegial Governance with a new energy and effectiveness. ULFA Committees have great engagement, and recruiting for next year’s committees is now in full swing. The Stewards are meeting with departments and faculties, and the Bargaining Resource Committee is in the initial stages of preparing our next mandate. The job action last spring reinforced the power that comes from working together as a Faculty Association and as colleagues; this past year has seen us acting on that knowledge.

And finally, I am hopeful because I see other Faculty Associations looking to us as a model and for encouragement. We were not alone last year during our job action and we are supporting our colleagues across the country this year as so many Universities find themselves in a similar place. Through the CAUT Defence Fund, we have sent flying pickets and support already to Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) and Cape Breton University (CBU). We are anticipating sending people to MUN (again), and potentially UPEI, St. Mary’s University, perhaps Montreal and elsewhere. We have been asked to speak about our experience to bargaining teams, job action committees, and CAUT meetings, and we are sharing resources our Members developed during the job action with several associations. 

As a way of discussing this legacy, the Communications Committee will be publishing a number of forward-looking items over the next six weeks and we are looking into hosting some social activities towards the end. We are also looking for volunteers who might be willing to participate in flying pickets or share their experiences from last year through online discussions with other Faculty Associations.

As I said often during the job action, I both hated being on strike and knew how important it was that we were. A year later, there is one thing that hasn’t changed very much: I’m still sad that things at the U of L had got to the point that job action was necessary; but I am also very glad (and grateful) for the progress we made as a collective and the friendships and solidarity we developed as a result.

Dan O’Donnell, ULFA President