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Written by Adam Lachacz CTVNewsEdmonton.ca Digital Producer Updated Jan. 16, 2022 4:26 p.m. CST Published Jan. 15, 2022 8:02 p.m. CST
Students at Concordia University of Edmonton will return to classes Wednesday after faculty members ratified a new collective agreement ending a nearly 12-day strike.
The faculty association and university administration announced the agreement Saturday afternoon in online statements. Eighty-nine per cent of membership voted in favour of ratification.
“There’s a lot of relief,” Glynis Price, Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association (CUEFA) president, told CTV News.
“It’s been an intense time,” she added. “To be able to make modest gains and get back into the classroom, so the entire term wasn’t lost for our students was a decision we decided to take.”
The strike began on Jan. 4, marking a first for faculty associations in Alberta. Bargaining started last spring but stalled in the remaining months. CUEFA — representing librarians, full-time professors, and lab instructors — issued a strike notice on Dec. 22, barring an amenable deal.
“Throughout the bargaining process, negotiations with the CUEFA remained productive and respectful,” said Tim Loreman, president and vice-chancellor.
“Both sides honored their commitments to treat one another with patience, professionalism and respect.”
Price said while collective bargaining and taking job action are adversarial by nature, the two sides eventually reached an agreement.
“The last week at the bargaining table was very productive, and in the end, we got to a deal,” she added.
Salary gains, job security, and improvements to working conditions for CUEFA members are part of the new agreement, the association said.
“We were able to move a long way on workload for our faculty,” Price said.
“We still have a bigger workload than many of the big universities, but at least it’s more manageable. It’s a step on the way to making it comparable to other research universities as our administration has made it very clear they want to become a research institution.”
Price added that language around disciplining faculty members was clarified in the new agreement. Old provisions allowed faculty to be disciplined for any reason.
“The language for only just cause was restored, so that was a great relief to our members,” she said.
Another gain in the agreement included clarifications on intellectual property for course materials.
BACK TO CLASS
The strike halted the start of the next semester of classes for more than 2,500 students attending Concordia. The university says academic programming and services will resume virtually for students on Wednesday.
Price says the semester will proceed and that students received modified schedules showing a modified term to make up for some lost instructional time.
“The term is being extended, so students have about the same amount of instructional time,” Price said, adding that the start of the spring semester should remain the same.
“We had a lot of student support on the line and off,” she said. “For that, we are immensely grateful.”
AIR WAS COLD; OUR HEARTS WERE WARM
According to CUEFA, more than 1,350 individuals and organizations across Canada sent messages to administrators asking them to put “students and staff before profit.” A student-run petition garnered 500 signatures supporting striking faculty members.
Despite striking during the deep freeze that enveloped Alberta, Price said members felt immense support from the community, including donations of hand warmers, coffee, and hot chocolate.
“It was amazing to see the support,” Price added. “We made jokes about how the air was cold, and our hearts were warm.
“To see all these people stand with us, to walk with us, even though it was minus 40 degrees (Celsius) plus windchill out was amazing.”
Price said many different unions joined striking staff in solidarity, including AUPE, CUPE, Teamsters, non-academic unions, and others. Members of other faculty associations at other universities across Alberta and western Canada also came to support Concordia staff.
“We had days where we had more people walking with us than we have in our association. We are pretty small. There’s only 82 of us,” she said.
“Spirits were high,” Price added. “The support is what kept us going.”
The new agreement is expected to be officially signed later this week.