It’s a day like any other, as hundreds of students shuffle by the row of FYP tutors toward their seats. It’s the row of tutors that has changed, not the students, however. The group of fewer than a dozen now has a collective agreement, signed 14 months after unionizing. It became official on June 7, 2012 with a handshake, says the registrar, Elizabeth Yeo, speaking on behalf of the school’s administration.
“It was like a sigh of relief,” said Yeo with a smile, adding that negotiations went smoothly.
Matt Furlong, union president, also says the process came to a welcome end.
“The process was not excessively long,” said Furlong in an email. “That said, it was a taxing process. The additional workload was a real challenge for everyone involved. We were all very tired by the end, and glad to have it concluded, but overall we’re pleased that the Collective Agreement was accomplished in a timely manner.”
The University of King’s College Teachers’ Association is the first teachers’ union in King’s history to have reached a deal with the school. The union only includes teaching fellows on yearly contracts, but before its start in 2011, King’s was one of the only schools in Canada without a union for any part of its faculty. The rest of King’s faculty remains without a union, but their wage increases and staffing rule follow the agreement of the Dalhousie Faculty Association.
All King’s faculty and staff are governed, as were the teaching fellows prior to unionizing, by the “Pink Book.” These regulations left teaching fellows debating staffing rules, which classed teaching fellows as “other than academic staff,” and left them ineligible for sabbaticals or tenures, stuck on a pay scale lower than the lowest ranking professor and without representation on the Council of Coordinators, the group that governs and disciplines the fellows.
Susan Dodd, a professor at King’s, voted in the original union vote more than a year ago. She is no longer in the union as she was promoted to assistant professor shortly after the vote. Even so, she says she’s glad to see a contract signed.
“I feel really weird about this because I wasn’t part of the negotiations towards the contract on either side so I feel very much as if this is something other agents have done,” said Dodd. “I’m grateful to them for having done it.”
Dodd says she remembers the issues of the day, which went beyond the salary differences with regular professors.
Several fellows testified in a Labour Board hearing in June 2011, which was prompted by an objection by then-president William Barker. He told the board that the fellows weren’t a unique group and a union would fracture the collegial nature of King’s. Scott Marratto, a senior fellow at the time, testified in favor of the union. He said he had complained about fellows being left out, but to no avail.
“While the faculty is very collegial, those who are in full time have a sense of inclusivity which is not shared with those who are just ‘contingent labour,’” said Marratto.
Another fellow, Corey Stockwell, testified about several issues, such as the FYP department preferring the essay topic suggestions of professors over tutors’.
Dodd says she remembers such discussions and struggles, but hopes they’re now resolved.
“We spent years arguing about this stuff — years and years and years,” said Dodd. “I think that having this explicit agreement is just a nice clarification. To a certain extent, it doesn’t depend on culture and convention and personality so much. So the clarity is a good thing.”
The new agreement includes several changes that give more self-governance to the teaching fellows. One change is that the union has a member sitting in on Board of Governors meetings, although that member is non-voting and cannot attend in-camera discussions, unless invited by the board.
The union also has a representative sitting on the Council of Coordinators, which means non-unionized teaching fellows will be involved in any amendment to the FYP regulations.