January 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 56  

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NEWS

Strike looming at Prince Edward Island

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

University of Prince Edward Island students were “broadsided” upon their return from the winter break by reports the school’s administration and faculty are at loggerheads, according to Students’ Union President Brandon MacKenzie.

The UPEI Faculty Association is going for its first contract and is the second-last university in Atlantic Canada to unionize, according to faculty association president Lawrence Hale. He added the union was first certified in August 2001, and faculty members have been without a negotiated salary package since June 2000.

“When we started negotiations in October 2001, they went badly — negotiations were shut down and restarted in June 2002,” Hale said, adding the negotiations have had their ups and downs since then.

He confirmed that conciliation has broken down and the UPEIFA was starting to organize for a potential strike. “We’re just at the point where things are starting to drag.”

The UPEIFA has been in a legal strike position since Jan. 2 and Hale said the membership has authorized the executive to call a strike vote, though that has yet to be done.

UPEI president and vice-chancellor Wade MacLauchlan declined to comment, however the university’s media and communications officer Anne McCallum explained the administration’s current position on the negotiations: “[MacLauchlan] doesn’t feel at this time it’s that useful to endlessly speculate in the media. He wants to have an opportunity for the process to continue, and [UPEI] is optimistic.”

One of the key issues in the debate, cited by Hale, included academic freedom. “The university is clinging to some language which we feel would deny academic freedom to some of our members,” he added.

“For tenure and promotion, [UPEI] wants to introduce congeniality into the [promotion criteria] equation — can you be denied if you get the dean mad at you?” Hale questioned.

According to a letter from MacLauchlan posted on the UPEI website, the university is also concerned about the consequences. “To be sure, a strike — or a semester dedicated to maneuvers with a strike in prospect — is not going to speed up the process,” the letter stated. “It is important that all the members of the UPEI community proceed with a clear sense of the risks involved.”

“Nowhere in Canada has a strike caused a semester to be cancelled,” MacKenzie noted. “Clearly, this is concerning to students at UPEI with their futures on the line. There has been some really professional leadership, to assure students would be hurt as little as possible.”

He said the UPEISU’s support could be vital to either side. “As can be expected in union negotiations, both sides are jockeying, including [in] discussions in class.”

“Being UPEI’s biggest student union, member-wise, the SU can hold a support which could tip the scale for either party. We’re advocating that both sides recognize the severe implications their decisions can have on members of the student union and [undertake] a swift return to the table.”

 

 

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