Strike looming on St. FX campus

Conciliation this week will determine whether St. FX staff strikes.

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Faculty member Kevin Brunkhorst says “STFX is not a corporation and it should not be run like one.”

This week St. Francis Xavier University’s staff will decide whether to act on their strike mandate and take to the picket line.

On Jan. 11, staff voted 90 per cent in favour of striking if their collective bargaining demands remained unmet after a period of conciliation with the university’s administration.

The conciliation will occur this Wednesday and Thursday, when the administration and staff will meet with an outside party and try to find some common ground.

The StFX Association of University Teachers (StFXAUT) has been in contract negotiations with the university’s administration since July 2012, pushing for changes including a pay raise proportionate to both the rising cost of living in Nova Scotia and the salaries and benefits received by university staff at other Maritime universities.

Most recently, the association proposed an average annual wage raise increase of 2.65 per cent over the next four years. The university administration countered their offer with a wage increase that would average 1.69 per cent over four years.

StFXAUT claims that the administration’s offer is unreasonably low. It’s lower than the “average increase in recent regional settlements that [administration] themselves reported,” the association stated in January.

These recent regional settlements are indeed higher than StFX administration’s offer to its staff.

At the start of the 2012 semester, Dalhousie staff agreed on a four per cent increase per year, while Saint Mary’s agreed on a three per cent annual pay increase. Cape Breton University’s most recent agreement will expire this year, but it currently has wages increasing at 2.9 per cent annually. UPEI has the lowest wage increase rate, averaging at 2.60 percent over four years — still higher than StFX’s offer.

StFX students and community members rallied in support of the teaching staff on Jan. 18. They have also created a Facebook page supporting their faculty, with a membership of almost 600 StFX students and alumni.

Some believe this conflict hints at some of StFX’s bigger problems.

“Is it an institution of higher learning or is it a business?” asks StFX alumni Betsy MacDonald. “Is its bottom line quality education or attracting capital to build shiny monuments to its patrons?”

The university administration said it is committed to settle negotiations at the table. They say they’re trying to avoid a strike for the students’ sake, and have released information about provincial funding cuts and their impact on the university’s ability to pay increased salary benefits.

Support staff at StFX would be striking as members of Nova Scotia Government and General Employee’s Union Local 88, the same local covering Mount St. Vincent’s support staff. Mount St. Vincent staff met yesterday and will soon announce whether they decided to accept the result of their recent conciliation, or to move forward with their own strike.