UPEI students say they don’t want to see faculty strike
Students at UPEI are concerned about the impact of a potential faculty strike, the university’s student union chairman said.
The executive committee of the UPEI faculty association holds a strike vote on Tuesday as contract negotiations have stalled and a government-appointed mediator is unable to resolve the ongoing dispute.
“There’s a lot of anxiety, ‘Will I be able to graduate or not?'” said Adam MacKenzie, president of the university’s fraternity CBC News: Compass Hostess Louise Martin.
“International students who pay high tuition fees every year, much more than domestic students, are worried. ‘Does that mean I have to do an extra semester and pay a lot more money?’”
The federation has pledged not to go on strike during the Canada Games, which will be held at PEI from February 18th to March 5th
“The [potential] Strikes are inherently bad for students,” MacKenzie said.
“Ideally, in a perfect world, we would see both parties come back to the table and reach an agreement that both sides are happy with before any sort of industrial action has to take place.”
The mediator could not resolve the dispute
The university and faculty have been in contract negotiations since April 2022.
In January, a provincial-appointed mediator was called in, but was unable to resolve the ongoing dispute.
At the time, the head of the faculty association told CBC News he was disappointed that an agreement could not be reached.
“The employer has largely created a status quo. They want to keep things largely the same,” said President Michael Arfken at the end of January.
“Our members have pointed out that there are many problematic things here. And that we see collective bargaining as an opportunity to change that. And I think that’s a fundamental disagreement between the parties, and that wasn’t possible to be addressed in the mediation.”
The administration announces proposed salary increases
In a statement to CBC News in late January, the UPEI administration said salary increases proposed by the faculty association resulted in an increase of more than 30 percent over the next three years.
“The UPEI FA proposal goes well beyond negotiated and mandated wage agreements at other universities in Atlantic Canada, which primarily include undergraduate programs,” the statement said.
The student union UPEI did not side with the negotiations.
“There are many students who are kind of caught in the middle. So we think it’s wrong to take a side and decide who’s right and who’s wrong on behalf of all students,” MacKenzie said.
“We’re ultimately the biggest stakeholders in the negotiations…we’re definitely caught in the crossfire.”
However, not all students agree with this position. About five students have formed a group called UPEI Students Support the Faculty Association.
“The administration portrays this very strongly as an industrial action, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that,” said Caitlin Wildman, one of the group’s students.
“A lot of the faculty association’s issues are about classroom size, student support, and we’re personally affected by things like that.”
Information events for students
The group has held information sessions for students, Wildman said, and listened to their concerns.
“Our tuition continues to increase…but we’re not seeing any of those increased funds flowing back to the students. We have less support now than we did before COVID,” she said.
Although Wildman supports her professors in their concerns, she does not want a strike either.
“Our group is trying to pressure the university to go back and negotiate with the faculty association, and we think the more student support we get, the more likely it is that we can stop the strike,” she said.