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MUN Faculty Association members prepare for strike as negotiations reach impasse

In a news release Sunday, Memorial University’s Faculty Association says negotiations with the university are at an impasse. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
In a news release Sunday, Memorial University’s Faculty Association says negotiations with the university are at an impasse. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

Memorial University's Faculty Association says its members are planning to strike Monday after reaching an impasse with the university during negotiations on a new collective agreement.

The university and the faculty association each released a news release shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday. Each side called on the other to try to reach a deal.

MUNFA said in its release that the university had only moved marginally on "crucial bargaining issues," like improvements for contract faculty, a commitment to collegial governance and the continuation of existing benefits.

"Because of the administration's unwillingness to negotiate on these issues, it appears that no more can be achieved until after our membership demonstrates its strength on the picket lines," it read.

"MUNFA's bargaining team remains at the table today in an effort to reach a deal before the strike deadline, and is ready to negotiate if the administration indicates it is ready to do so, but at the moment, an impasse has been reached."

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

The association held a strike vote on Jan. 18 before heading back to the table with the university. Of MUNFA's more than 800 members, which include faculty, librarians, counsellors and co-operative and field education co-ordinators, 93 per cent turned out to vote with 90 per cent of those supporting strike action.

Ash Hossain, the association's president, said members are united and ready to strike Monday, if necessary.

"They're fed up, they've pretty much had it with this administration," he said.

"I've received more than 200 emails and the support is still there, people are ready to walk out."

Hossain said it was the university that walked away from negotiations, and that his members are ready to talk at any time.

But the impasse wasn't about compensation, Hossain said.

"We are fighting for democracy, equity and fairness in this deal, money is just a distraction. They want to make it a money matter, it's not all about money."

University urges faculty to reconsider

Meanwhile, the university said in its release that its current offer is fair. It urged the faculty association to consider it before heading to the picket line.

"The offer on the table represents substantial improvements in terms of salary, increased benefits for term appointments, enhanced parental leave and increased compensation for teaching extra courses," said Neil Bose, interim provost and vice-president academic.

"We call on MUNFA leadership to take this offer to its membership for consideration before moving forward to strike action that will disrupt the semester for students."

MUN said its offer includes a 12 per cent salary increase over four years, 20 additional weeks of supplemental parental leave, a 24 per cent increase in pay for teaching additional courses, and extra pay and a signing bonus for those on term appointments.

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

In a media availability Sunday, Bose said the university would welcome a return to the bargaining table, but he doesn't believe a last-minute deal to prevent a strike is likely.

Bose challenged the idea that the university wouldn't budge on important issues, but he said MUN has to operate within its budget.

"We've absolutely moved on the issues of contract employees," he said. "There are places that we can't move to because they impact the way in which the university is able to ensure it meets its budgetary targets."

When it comes to collegial governance, the university said it upholds its current system and faculty members are already involved in all aspects of academic matters.

Bose said the situation for students would depend on how long a strike lasts.

"A few days will have minimal impact, but as the strike goes on, or if it goes on, it could have considerable impact," he said.

"We would do our very best to salvage the semester so students could graduate and students could complete the semester."

For those classes led by instructors who aren't on strike, Bose said, students may have to cross picket lines. He said if a student wasn't comfortable crossing the picket line, any discussion of academic amnesty for classes missed would have to be held by the university's senate once a strike was over.

If the strike goes ahead on Monday, the university said, it will provide further updates to students and employees about operational impacts.

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