Media release: Contract Negotiations at Mount Allison at a tipping point

Media Release · For Immediate Release · December 18, 2019

(Sackville, NB) – The Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) is considering its options after the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour’s decision not to appoint a Conciliation Board for the negotiations at Mount Allison University.

“We are not surprised by the decision. Such boards are rarely used outside the public sector and have proven to be ineffective in resolving labour disputes at universities,” said MAFA President Matthew Litvak.

Under New Brunswick law, both sides will have the right to take action such as lockout or a strike nine days after the Minister’s announcement. The union will announce on Friday December 20th the date a strike vote will be scheduled if a tentative agreement has not been reached.

“We will continue to negotiate with the administration to get a fair deal for our members which will protect the academic mission of the university.  One of our most important concerns is academic understaffing. This longstanding issue urgently needs to be addressed in order to ensure that the university can continue to deliver its academic programs,” added Litvak.


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Frequently Asked Questions about Current Contract Negotiations at Mount Allison

What is MAFA’s core concern in this round of negotiations?

MAFA’s core concern is academic understaffing.  This is a concern of long standing and has resulted from two factors: the university’s refusal to fully replace faculty and librarians on leave (for research sabbaticals, sick leaves, maternity leaves, etc.), and its failure to fully replace retiring faculty and librarians. This amounts to a failure to support the academic mission of the university by not hiring enough staff to deliver core programs.

What does academic understaffing look like at Mount Allison?

In the last decade, the number of full-time faculty has decreased by about 7%, roughly translating into the loss of one professor from each floor of each building with faculty offices on campus. In the last 15 years, the number of librarians has fallen by 33%, even though 21st-century “information literacy” is part of the core mission of Mount Allison.

University policy used to be that sabbatical, maternity, and sick leaves were replaced at close to 100%.  About a decade ago, that rate began to drop until less than 32% were replaced. In the last round of negotiations, three years ago, the administration signed a Memorandum of Agreement in which it committed to increase replacements to just 70%. That leaves significant gaps in academic programs.

Academic understaffing means empty classrooms and empty offices. It means academic timetables are missing the key courses that students need to complete degree programs that are supposed to prepare them for graduate school and professional work. It means remaining faculty members are performing work that is uncredited by offering extra courses, where possible, to help students complete their programs.

What does “precarious employment” mean?

The administration’s solution to the problem of academic understaffing is to rely increasingly on the category of underpaid and precarious workers known as adjuncts or stipendiary professors: part-time academics waiting for full-time positions. Part-time academics at Mount Allison received an average income of $12,136.43 per year in 2018, placing them well below the poverty line. The number of full-time positions for which they are waiting is shrinking and the part-time positions available to them are in constant danger of disappearing.

What has happened in this round of negotiations?

Unfortunately, very little. MAFA believes that negotiations require committed engagement by both sides over the pressing problems that face the university, including the on-going issue of understaffing and how this impacts the university’s academic mission. Three years ago, in the last round of negotiations, the Administration made a promise to revisit the problem of academic understaffing and work together with MAFA to find a solution. That promise has not been kept in this round.

Negotiations began in June. In August the administration’s negotiators announced that they would be unwilling to discuss anything — until conciliation — bearing on managements rights, financial issues, or replacement or redistribution of duties having any implications for operational costs. That did not leave much else to talk about, and so months of valuable time were wasted. During talks with the two sides and the conciliation officer in November, the promised discussion amounted to a reiteration of the administration’s rejection of MAFA’s positions and a demand that MAFA unilaterally drop its core proposals on academic understaffing.

Does MAFA have too many proposals?

MAFA has brought the usual number of proposals to this round of bargaining. MAFA is concerned about academic understaffing, the accommodation of disabilities, and the terms and conditions of employment of our Part-time and Full-time members. MAFA has consulted with its members to create a variety of proposals, including different versions of proposals, in an effort to present the administration with a wide range of options for solving the problem of academic understaffing. We are keen to work together to find a solution. The administration refuses to take our efforts seriously by complaining that there are too many proposals.

Are MAFA’s proposals too expensive?

The administration has added up the cost of every one of MAFA’s options and mistakenly concluded that the expense would be too great of a burden. Their costing approach is similar to a customer who sees three snow blowers on sale for $500, $800, and $1000 and then concludes it will cost $2300 to get a snow blower.

What needs to happen next?

The administration needs to stop wasting time and negotiate with MAFA to reach a settlement that addresses the pressing issue of academic understaffing. Mount Allison University is in the enviable position of having no debt and many years of an excess of revenues over expenditures. Its excellent reputation is held aloft by the steadfast efforts of its academic staff – both full-time and precarious – but this reputation is threatened by understaffing and the slow hollowing-out of the resources necessary to support its academic mission.  The time has come for the university to keep its promises and to fulfill the trust placed in it by the students, the government, and the public at large.