Between juggling classes and hockey, Scotsburn native Daniel MacLeod has another load on his mind this week – the possibility of a strike at his university.
He, like dozens of other Pictou County residents who attend St. Francis Xavier University, could see their academic careers put on hold or disrupted if a strike were to take place.
Negotiations broke down Jan. 5 between the university and union representatives for the Association of University Teachers. The university had proposed to raise salaries by 6.9 per cent but the request of the union is for 10 to 11 per cent.
Peter McInnis, president of the St. FX AUT, said there is a lot more at stake than salaries though. In particular he said they are fighting for job security for a large number of contract workers.
While some teachers who have been there a long time make fairly high pay, in reality, most are not making large salaries, he said.
A strike could happen as early as Jan. 28 if an agreement is not reached. The university has said they will not lock teachers out though, leaving the decision to strike solely in the hands of the union.
MacLeod said teachers haven’t talked a lot about the strike, but are taking some steps to prepare students in case it does happen.
“I get a feeling from the professors that it’s real, that it might happen,” he said.
His own teachers have been focusing on getting class work done and postponing labs because it’s easier to make up lab time than class time, he said.
Kristen Greene, a fourth-year student is also concerned about how it might affect what is supposed to be her last year.
“I just hope the strike doesn’t interfere with graduation,” she said.
She said the professors have been good about keeping everyone informed and calm.
“We’ll hear towards the end of the month if a strike will take place, but I think most are hopeful that can be avoided,” she said
Mary MacGillivray, academic vice president at the university, said they’re still hoping to work out a deal with the union.
“Currently, our primary objective is to get back to the negotiating table on the 23rd and 24th for our scheduled two days of conciliated talks with the AUT after the current ‘cooling off’ period,” MacGillivray said.
She said the offer the university is making is comparable to recent Atlantic and Canadian faculty settlements.
“It includes a minimum salary increase of nearly seven per cent with the majority of members receiving an average salary increase of approximately 16 per cent over the four years when step increments on the salary grids are taken into account,” she said. “It's important to note that this offer is made despite ongoing and serious funding cutbacks by the provincial government, including another cut of three per cent this year.”
She said if there is a strike there will unfortunately be impacts.
“Contingency plans are now being formulated in order to deal with the situations which would arise in the event of an AUT strike,” she said. “Although specific details aren't yet available, we can assure you that the best interests of the students will be foremost in any decisions made.”