Striking Dalhousie University workers ratify new contract

Teaching assistants went on strike Oct. 19 after failing to reach an agreement with Dalhousie University on a pay raise. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
Teaching assistants went on strike Oct. 19 after failing to reach an agreement with Dalhousie University on a pay raise. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

CUPE Local 3912 says an agreement has been reached between its members and Dalhousie University, and a strike lasting several weeks is set to end.

Dalhousie University did not respond to an interview request, but spokesperson Janet Bryson said in an email that classes, labs and tutorials will resume on their normal schedules Monday.

"CUPE members are now able to return to their important and valued work in support of our students and academic community," Bryson said.

There are about 1,500 CUPE members at Dalhousie, including teaching assistants, instructors, markers and demonstrators.

The workers walked off the job after two years of failed negotiations. They have been on the picket line since Oct. 19, causing some classes and programs to be cancelled.

"So, the concept … from our side was a parity of wages for services provided," Cameron Ells, president of CUPE Local 3912 said Saturday.

"What we were putting forward is that it would be useful for Dalhousie ... to have rates that are comparable to these other institutions across Canada and the States."

Jane Sponagle/CBC
Jane Sponagle/CBC

Aparna Mohan, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, said students rely heavily on academic workers. She said they suffered when classes and labs were cancelled.

"We know in programs like computer science and engineering that labs are an essential component to learning and preparation for the real world, and we already had two years of disruption to that component of learning because of the pandemic," Mohan said.

"So, this strike did feel particularly devastating."

On Tuesday, CUPE and Dalhousie reached a tentative agreement. According to CUPE's Saturday release, the vote ended Friday with 77 per cent of members voting in favour of a new four-year collective agreement.

"Democracy is a beautiful thing," Ells said.

The new contract includes an hourly pay rate increase of 23 per cent over four years for all teaching assistants and a course contract wage increase of 23 per cent over four years for new part-time academic instructors.

The term of the collective agreement is from Sept. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2024. Ells said the union will be helping members get retroactive payments.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

He said there are mixed emotions among members, but many are pleased to be returning to work.

"Before the strike we had surveyed members and in general — aside from … the pay rate and some other working conditions — many were positive about their working conditions," Ells said.

"So, we look forward to going back to the classroom, to going back to what we enjoy doing, albeit now with the better working conditions."

Mohan said the new working conditions will improve the learning environment at the university.

"I think we'll immediately see improvements to the kind of one-on-one attention that students are able to get in labs," she said. "We're going to see students with disabilities that feel more confident about what they're learning because it's often our academic workers that are providing that sort of support that they need."

Student union pushing for compensation 

Mohan said the student union is pushing for compensation for the students whose learning was disrupted by the strike. She said it has been done at York University and University of New Brunswick.

Dalhousie University has had a permanent credit/no credit grading option in place since the pandemic, but Mohan said the student union is pushing for it to be streamlined because of the disruptions that occurred this term.

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