Since Aug. 31 2016 part-time staff at Laurier have been working without a contract. Currently the union, Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA), is negotiating with the school to set out a new contact for the part time employees.
The employees of labour unions have contracts which list the terms and conditions they work under. Within the time frame of their contracts, the union and the employer work together to create a new contract. In the case of Laurier part-time workers, they are still negotiating their terms and conditions with the university.
“We been in in negotiations with the university since June, the contacts ended in August. Were at the point in negotiations where the negotiating team is asking the contacts faculty members of that bargaining unit to show their support,” said Kimberly Ellis-Hale, who is a Contact Academic Staff (CAS) and is a part of the WLUFA Executive Committee.
A mandate vote sends the employer a message stating that they stand behind their bargaining committee and they are willing to strike if necessary.
“So it is a strike mandate vote. That does not mean we’re going on strike tomorrow at all,” said Ellis-Hale. “What it does is it tells the negotiating team that if it is a positive strike mandate vote that the membership is behind them and is pushing for what we are asking for. It lets administration know we are serious.”
The full-time faculty at Laurier contacts are renewed until 2017. Laurier employs about 550 full time members and 550 CAS. In 2012 CAS teaches 52 per cent of students through lectures or running tutorials, making them the majority of educators at Laurier. CAS staff is paid on a stipend basis, meaning they get paid a lump sum of money per course. At Laurier the CAS gets paid $7,500 per term course.
“The three things that are being asked for at the table right now are improvements to compensation, improvements to job security … and some kind of access to benefits,” said Michelle Kramer who is WLUFA’s president.
With labour unions, lengthy negotiation terms are not uncommon. Crown Metal Packaging LP in Ont. labour union strike lasted 22-months.
The next step in the contract negotiation is to bring in a mediator. The mediator is a natural party to negotiate for both sides to come to an agreement. If an agreement isn’t reached a strike could arise. For students, this means that the classes that are taught by full-time faculty will be the only taught. But a strike is the most extreme circumstances.
“All universities in Ontario use some form of contract agent, it’s a structural issue really,” explained Kevin Crowley is Laurier’s Communication and Public Affairs.
The number of incoming students changes every year, meaning the expected number of teaching staff needed is unknown.
Laurier wants to see change in more who is teaching the courses meaning more graduate students teaching courses. Crowley explained under the current CAS agreement, graduate students can only teach 44 courses while contract staff have 1,500 courses they can apply to teach.
“Teaching is important part of a graduate student’s experience,” said Crowley.
They believe that graduate students teaching will allow for a better education experience for them.
Strikes are not unheard of in universities. In March 2015, York University contract faculty went on strike for almost the entire month. Laurier is trying to avoid a strike as much as possible for the sake of students and is trying to come up with a new contract for the part-time faculty soon.