Dear Members of the King’s Community,
I have held off sending out an update on negotiations between the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) and Dalhousie University as, until yesterday, there was not much to report. Yesterday, I was expecting to send out some answers to questions I had been receiving in the event that, as seemed possible (though not certain), the DFA were to be on strike this coming Monday, March 12th. Before I could do so, however, the DFA gave notice that it would, indeed, invoke its right to strike this Monday. The Nova Scotia Government, though, also announced yesterday that the pension plans of the province’s universities would no longer have to meet the "solvency test."
What does this all mean? Well, one of the things it means is that discussions at the negotiating tables between Dalhousie and the DFA and its other union, the NSGEU, have fundamentally changed. The major issue dividing Dalhousie and its two unions had been changes Dalhousie had been seeking to its employees’ pension plan, given concerns about the inability of that plan to pass the "solvency test." The government’s announcement means that it will no longer require Dalhousie’s pension plan to meet that test, something that all parties at the Dalhousie negotiating table had wanted the government to agree to some time ago. The government’s announcement makes it far more likely than it has been so far that a strike by the DFA can be averted.
This does not mean, however, that we can be completely certain that the DFA will not commence a strike on Monday. The DFA has served formal notice that it does intend to strike on Monday and it has not revoked that notice. While Dalhousie and the DFA will continue negotiations this weekend, and while the government’s announcement has increased the chances of an agreement being reached, it is quite possible that we will not know until Monday morning whether the DFA will actually go on strike on Monday or not.
While it is less likely than it was that the DFA will strike on Monday, nonetheless, it remains a possibility. What follows, therefore, is a series of ‘questions and answers’ that I wanted to send out today. They are answers to questions I have been receiving about what to expect if negotiations between Dalhousie and its unions are not successful.
If talks fail before Monday (March 12th), does that mean the DFA will be on strike on Monday?
As I noted above, talks are continuing. Should the DFA and its employer, Dalhousie, reach an agreement, a strike will be averted. However, even if talks do not produce an agreement over the weekend, and even though the DFA has served notice that it will commence a strike on Monday, it is not obligated to do so.
How will I know if the DFA is on strike? And how do I get information from Dalhousie as to how a strike might affect my Dalhousie classes, tuition, etc.?
While the news is likely to be reported on radio and television, official word as to whether the DFA has commenced a strike (or not) will be posted on the Dalhousie University website.Dalhousie is keeping this website updated regularly. The website also provides a detailed Q and A section for students and others, in the event that a strike actually occurs.
Will classes be cancelled in the event of a strike?
In the event of a strike, all classes taught by King’s faculty on the King’s campus will continue as scheduled. Faculty at King’s are not employees of Dalhousie. They are employees of King’s and hence not members of the DFA.
Dalhousie has announced that, in the event of a strike, most of its classes would be cancelled. A list of courses which would not be cancelled may be found on its website (above). They include some nursing courses and courses in Dentistry and Medicine (as well as a few others). For the most part, courses in Arts and Social Sciences, and Sciences would be cancelled. If your course(s) do not appear on the list at Dalhousie, they would be cancelled in the event of a strike.
What about the NSGEU? Is it possible that they may go out on strike? What would be the impact?
The NSGEU local 77, which represents IT technicians, administrative staff, and other employees at Dalhousie, will be in a legal position to strike on March 22. Should it commence strike action, there might be some disruption to Dalhousie’s ability to provide IT services. But while the NSGEU may strike on March 22, this is not inevitable. And, as with the DFA, the government’s announcement regarding university pensions has also increased the chances that the NSGEU will reach an agreement with Dalhousie.
What services would continue to be offered on the King’s and Dalhousie campuses in the event of a strike?
For information as to what services would be available at Dalhousie, you would need to consult the Dalhousie website (above).
All services normally offered at King’s would continue to be offered. In areas where Dalhousie and King’s share services (e.g. some Registration and Financial Services), there would likely be some disruptions for which we would ask your patience.
While King’s would continue to offer the services it normally offers, King’s staff would not be responsible for taking on work or services that are normally provided by employees at Dalhousie.
In the event of a strike, can King’s be picketed?
There are two kinds of picket lines that unions may set up during a strike. The first kind, with which people are most familiar, is a primary picket line. This kind of picket line is normally established on public property adjacent to property belonging to the union’s employer. As members of the DFA and NSGEU are employees of Dalhousie, any pickets at Dalhousie would be primary picket lines. Dalhousie has provided protocols on its website for primary picket lines that would be set up adjacent to its property in the event of a strike.
Unions, however, are not restricted to primary picket lines. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians are entitled to freedom of assembly and expression. During a strike, therefore, unions may set up secondary or information picket lines on public property adjacent to sites where they are not employed. Such picket lines may be used to share information, raise awareness, and encourage public support for the union’s aims and goals. In the event of a strike by either the DFA or the NSGEU, either may set up a secondary or information picket line on public property adjacent to King’s (the King’s campus itself is not public property) or anywhere else, even though their members are not employees of King’s or of other establishments where they may set up secondary pickets.
Could picketers interfere with my ability to enter the King’s campus?
Individuals on picket lines are governed by the usual requirements of public behaviour. They may not obstruct entrances or exits to property. And they may not engage in harassment, intimidation, defamation, or criminal or nuisance behaviour. They are entitled to speak with individuals who are not on the picket line and to distribute information to them.
In the event that the DFA and/or NSGEU 77 were to set up secondary pickets outside of King’s, you may have to exercise some patience upon entering or exiting the campus. Picketers should be treated with respect. In the event of a strike, should you have serious concerns about the conduct of picketers on a secondary picket line adjacent to King’s please contact the King’s President’s Office immediately. You should not attempt to walk by picketers if you believe it is not safe to do so.
In the event of a strike, concerns about the conduct of picketers at Dalhousie should be brought to the attention of Dalhousie.
One final note. I have been asked how the government’s announcement regarding the "solvency test" for university pensions will affect the management of the King’s pension. Unlike Dalhousie, King’s had not been seeking an exemption to the "solvency test" and had adopted a strategy to manage its pension effectively through till 2014 (at which time that strategy was to be reviewed). It is too soon to say how King’s will respond to the announced change, the details of which have yet to be provided by government. Once we have those details, we will certainly be seeking the advice of the Pension Committee as well as others as to how King’s should respond to government’s removal of the pension solvency requirement.
Wishing you all a good weekend,
Dr. Anne Leavitt
President and Vice-Chancellor
Associate Professor of Humanities
University of King’s College
6350 Coburg Road
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Tel: 902.422.1271 ext. 121