Union Jacked

University administration submitted an objection to the terms of the King’s teachers’ union. If the Nova Scotia Labour Board agrees with the objection, the March 14 vote, a first for King’s teachers, could be overturned.

University administration submitted an objection to the terms of the King’s teachers’ union. If the Nova Scotia Labour Board agrees with the objection, the March 14 vote, a first for King’s teachers, could be overturned.
President William Barker says he objects to the group included in the union vote.
“This is seen as a call for a vote with the wrong group of people. They should have called for a vote with all the faculty” Barker said. Some senior faculty members, he said, have objected to the union’s name, University of King’s College Teachers’ Association, as not all teaching staff are eligible union members.
“We are challenging them on the grounds of fragmentation,” said Barker. “What we’re saying is we have a unique set of relations here which we really should be caring for.”
According to multiple voters, Barker emailed at least a couple of eligible voters to convince them to vote against forming a union. Barker could not be reached to confifirm this.
Shortly before the vote, the eligible voting group opened up to two additional teachers after the administration suggested that the teachers’ contracts met the specififications defifined in the preliminary constitution: “non-professorial teachers” on temporary yearly contracts with possibility of renewal for up to three years. The original group included 10 Foundation Year Programme teaching fellows.
One added teacher was David Swick, the journalism ethics teacher, and the other was not known by Barker and could not be identifified by Swick or other voters.
While the majority of Canadian universities are unionized, including all campus workers from kitchen staff to professors, this is the fifirst teachers’ group to take an organized union vote.
Members of the voting group declined to comment on the record because, as one teaching fellow said, the situation is “precarious,” and the teaching fellows are some of the most “vulnerable” staff at the school. The voting group has a lawyer who is dealing with the labour board and the objection, paid for by the sponsoring union group, the Canadian University Teachers Association.
Issues regarding the pension plan were brought up during at least two separate meetings between group members, Barker, and Daniel Brandes, acting director of the Foundation Year Programme.
Teaching fellows noted that changes to the pension plan in 2009 put newer staff at a disadvantage. Barker, however, said he was surprised that the issue was brought up, as he says the pension changes were beneficial.
“We had thought we had actually worked out an excellent solution for people who were here on a shorter term contract with a pension,” said Barker.
He says changes were made so that incoming teaching fellows were given portable pensions instead of fixed pensions. This means that when the teacher changes jobs at the end of a contract, all of the money in the pension fund, including that which the school invested, would move with the teacher. A fixed pension, Barker said, would only give out the staff’s invested money.
But teaching fellows noted that changes to the pensions were done without notification, leaving them at a disadvantage to their colleagues, whose pensions still follow the pre-2009 rules.
Pension details are not laid out in the Pink Book, the employment standard manual for the school.
While King’s currently has no unions, other King’s staff groups have unionized in the past. Barker says that his time on the union executive of Memorial University and the Dalhousie University senate makes him believe a collective agreement would “homogenize” King’s.
“We don’t want to be like the other schools; it’s quite important to us. … My feeling is that we’ve been doing it differently for a long time. Can’t we continue to be a little bit different?”
“For us to slip into that formalized relationship is going to be very difficult,” said Barker.
But the press release stating the group’s intentions says that they want to be involved in the decision-making surrounding their contracts.
And that took Barker by surprise.
“Bad on me, perhaps, but I had no idea that there was a surge of discontent, and I’m afraid to say, neither did some of their other colleagues… either the pathways were shut down or there was a lack of communication because we probably, in a place this big – this small, we should have known… There was kind of … institutional deafness, or in some capacity, an inability to listen to what was going on.”
Barker said the board’s decision should be public in June, before his term expires on June 30. Incoming president Anne Leavitt comes with much experience, said Barker, as she currently is negotiating with Vancouver Island University’s teachers’ union, which just ended a three week strike.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

One reply on “Union Jacked”

King’s has a history of busting unions. In my time at King’s, cleaning staff voted twice to form a union and the university did not honour the will of the workers and negotiate, but instead awarded cleaning contracts to different companies.
The idea that King’s would be homogenized by unions is ridiculous. Staff and faculty unions have been at the forefront of maintaining quality at universities. By ensuring that faculty and staff have proper resources for teaching like adequate office space, manageable workloads, and job security, unions have helped defend public post-secondary education against threats such as private academic firms teaching students, the hiring of under-qualified staff, and ballooning class sizes.
Students should support their teachers for a fair collective agreement and work with campus workers in solidarity for quality education at King’s.
Kaley Kennedy
KSU President ’08-09

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