MUN faculty president expects strong strike mandate

The president of Memorial University’s Faculty Association (MUNFA) says the earliest professors would go on strike is likely the third week of January, but he hopes the impasses in negotiations can be overcome before that.

Ash Hossain says the faculty has to hold a general meeting, scheduled for Jan. 10, before calling any strike vote.

“There is plenty of room for us to negotiate,” Hossain told The Telegram Monday, Jan. 2, “because there are only, except for a few minor (items), there are only three major sticking points.”

Those points are a proposed two-tiered system for tenured versus non-tenured professors, decreased health benefits for new professors, and salary increases.

Faculty have not had a pay raise in six years.

Hossain feels MUN is awaiting a strike vote to see how much support the association has from its members.

He’s confident it’s high.

He said 50 per cent of the 800 members had already replied to an informal poll saying they support a strike mandate.

“We would have a majority for sure, but in labour negotiations, we want to have a strong majority, not 50 per cent plus one,” he said.

“We will have a super majority when we go for a strike vote, so that shouldn’t be an issue.”

With respect to salaries, the two sides are far apart, and Hossain says the provincial government has apparently intervened to stop what seemed to be a deal at the end of November.

“On Nov. 30, the next to last date of conciliator-mediated negotiation, the parties shook hands,” he said.

Two days later, MUN reversed its stance.

In fact, the university’s negotiating team has already admitted in a public memo that the province refused to allocate more funding for salaries.

“There are no other sources of funding within the university budget for salary increases,” they reported in mid-December.

Meanwhile, the administration says it’s committed to a negotiated solution.

“The university welcomes a return to the negotiating table and will continue to work towards a mutually beneficial agreement,” MUN said in a public memo. “We remain hopeful that a resolution will be reached through bargaining.”

The university has asked that students return to classes on Jan. 5 as scheduled for the winter semester.

“Memorial is developing plans to minimize the impact of any potential disruptions and we want to emphasize that we are starting the winter semester with the expectation that students will be able to progress through the term with minimal interruption.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram