Arbitrator awards pay raise to Acadia University faculty union members

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Acadia University and its faculty union are close to having a new collective agreement following a recently-issued arbitrator's award. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Acadia University and its faculty union are close to having a new collective agreement following a recently-issued arbitrator's award. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

An arbitrator has issued an award that includes two raises of one per cent per year over a four-year term for members of Acadia University's faculty union.

William Kaplan's award, dated July 29, followed a hearing on July 21 in Halifax.

The two sides agreed to binding arbitration following acrimonious contract talks that included a month-long faculty strike earlier this year.

The union was seeking a 7.6 per cent wage increase over a three-year term, while the university, citing major financial challenges, argued for a five per cent increase over four years.

Kaplan agreed with a four-year term, in part to provide "some needed stability," and he set wages to increase by one per cent on Jan. 1 and July 1 of each year retroactive to July 1, 2021. Kaplan left the final year's increase subject to reopening given the uncertainty of inflation.

Issues related to tenure

The number of tenured positions was also an issue between the two sides.

A long-standing clause says the university must maintain a tenure stream of 182 professors and 10 librarians, but that clause has been suspended by agreement since 2010 and now rests at 162 faculty and nine librarians.

The union wanted the numbers restored, however, Kaplan ruled that fiscal reasons advanced by the university and no notable enrolment growth made it reasonable to maintain the numbers where they are for the duration of the agreement.

Should retirements or departures take place during the life of the contract, Kaplan said the positions must be filled promptly to maintain 162 faculty and nine librarians.

Acadia's financial woes

Kaplan notes officials from Acadia drew attention in their submission to "significant" ongoing and future fiscal challenges. One-third of the school's revenue comes from government funding, which has only increased by one per cent each year, while tuition is capped for Nova Scotia students.

Annual revenues at the Wolfville-based university are growing at two per cent a year, with expenses growing between three and four per cent.

The university said it also needs to spend $100 million or more on aging physical and technological infrastructure.

Despite efforts to address the situation through a variety of steps, the university said it continues to have an operating deficit and "significant long-term debt."

Efforts to improve workforce diversity

Both sides expressed a desire to increase the diversity of the faculty and Kaplan awarded a proposed memorandum of agreement that requires three hires of Mi'kmaw and Indigenous candidates and three hires of African Nova Scotian/Canadian candidates during the life of the contract.

He also increased the health spending account by $250 and awarded a one-time adjustment of four per cent for the per course stipend.

Erin Crandall, an associate professor in the department of politics and the union's president, said the union was pleased that many of the things they were asking for were awarded, although binding arbitration was not their preferred route to reaching a deal.

Crandall said the negotiating teams for the union and university will meet in the coming weeks to review the award and agree on finalized language for a new collective agreement. At that point it will be signed by both parties.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the university thanked Kaplan for his work.

"He has resolved matters where our parties couldn't find common ground during the collective bargaining process. Having a four-year agreement will provide our entire campus with more stability and our focus now is to prepare for the upcoming academic year and focus on our shared mission of providing a transformative educational experience to Acadia students."

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