Since January 13, full-time professors and library staff belonging to the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) have been on strike. With the exception of some courses that are online, all classes at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) have been suspended until the strike ends.
The AUNBT has been without a contract since March 2013. Currently, strikers rotate on three-hour shifts, and collect around $100 per day for picketing from strike support funding.
As of press time, no date has been set to resume negotiations – and AUNBT President Miriam Jones isn’t optimistic. “We are getting signals from UNB management that they intend to take a hard line and drag things out then ask the government to legislate us back to work.”
The relationship between the AUNBT and the UNB has deteriorated in recent years, according to Jones. “[The relationship] has become less collegial as UNB administration has embraced corporate-style management practices.”
UNB locked out strikers on January 14. UNB has also hired a private security firm, AFIMAC, that specializes in providing security for “image conscious” companies during strikes.
“It’s appalling,” Jones said about AFIMAC in an email to The Daily. “They are a multinational firm that openly advertises a series of services that we see as heavy-handed and anti-union.”
One of the main issues in the negotiations involves full-time salaries. Annual salaries for UNB professors are thousands of dollars less than the average of professors at 14 similar universities across Canada, such as Queens, McMaster, and Concordia.
In an interview with the New Brunswick Media Co-Op in December, AUNBT Jones said the university has lost 48 teaching positions over the last decade, and yet has added 84 non-academic jobs in the same period.
UNB has maintained that there is not enough money to meet the union’s demands. However, undergraduate student Cody Jack – who is also a member of the Fredericton General Membership Branch of Industrial Workers of the World, which is supporting the strike – disagreed.
“[As] with the government, there is always money. It is just where you decide to put the money,” said Jack in an email to The Daily.
Jones agreed. “Academic employees could achieve competitive wages without affecting tuition or other employee groups if the UNB management changed its practices.”
AUNBT has seen mixed messages from students.
The UNB Student Union (UNBSU) voted at a January 12 council meeting to stay neutral during the strike, but expressed its disappointment with both AUNBT and UNB on their website on January 13.
On January 24, the Brunswickan reported that around 120 UNB students protested as part of the “Get Back to the Table” campaign organized by the UNBSU. However, there is still support for the strikers from some students, as seen on Facebook pages supporting the AUNBT.
“Students have been visiting the picket lines, bringing coffee and food to students [but] a small minority has been choosing the path of yelling obscenities at strikers,” Jack wrote to The Daily.
“Students are getting a string of messages from the administration and they don’t know what to think,” Jones added.
AUNBT has seen support from other unions, including a $1 million donation from the Canadian Association of University Teachers Defence Fund. “AUNBT has found tremendous solidarity from other academic unions across the country, McGill included,” Jones wrote. “Support from other unions gives our members encouragement in what is a very stressful period.
At McGill, professors are not unionized, and so would not be able to strike in a situation similar to the one in New Brunswick, but they are still represented by the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT).
MAUT President Ken Hastings said that there are benefits to not being unionized. “A benefit of not being unionized is the flexibility to deal with issues one by one instead of in a single collective agreement that must cover everything.”