Members of the Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association (CUEFA) are officially on strike.
The CUEFA represents 82 full-time professors, librarians, placement coordinators and lab instructors at Concordia, who began picketing at 9 a.m. Tuesday after the school and faculty association failed to come together on a new collective agreement.
“Our faculty association is dismayed that the administration rejected our reasonable salary proposals,” CUEFA president Glynis Price said in a statement. “We have bargained since the late spring of 2021 and plan to continue bargaining in good faith to push the administration to improve the workloads and pay of all of our members.”
In November, 95 per cent of CUEFA members took part in a vote, with 90 per cent of those voting in favour of a strike mandate. On Dec. 22, the faculty association submitted formal notice to strike to Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) administration.
The faculty association said while significant progress was made on faculty workload, issues of workload still exist for academic service officers, such as librarians, lab instructors and placement coordinators. There are also unresolved issues for all members around salary and discipline.
The university recorded a net surplus of $11.5 million in March 2021, higher than the prior year’s surplus of $7.8 million, according to CUE’s 2020/2021 annual report.
The faculty association points to the university’s recent acquisition of Edmonton’s historic Magrath Mansion — at a cost of $1.75 million to the university.
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The faculty association questions the university’s choice to spend the money on the mansion “instead of in students’ education, paying faculty fair and competitive wages and refocusing resources on academic staff recruitment and retention.”
“We’re saddened that the administration has refused to budge and would rather disrupt students’ lives and add to their stress by jeopardizing their winter term,” said Price. “But we will not give up on proposals that are about delivering high-quality education and research and preserving the tight-knit community the administration claims to value but that the instructional staff actually deliver.”
Despite frigid temperatures in Edmonton, the members drew quite a bit of support on Tuesday.
“I am feeling really good,” said history professor Tolly Bradford. “We are a really small group, association — only 82 members — but it’s really great to be supported by students, by alumni. It inspires us and we hope that administration sees that we’re part of a broad movement here.”
Bradford has been at the institution for 10 years. He said it’s unfortunate that it came to a strike.
“It’s unfortunate for us, it’s unfortunate for the students, it’s unfortunate for the institution. It’s a great institution, we have strong relationships with the students and we feel that it is unfortunate, but we feel this is a necessary step to preserve the great things that are about this university.”
Ashley Callahan is a third-year history student at Concordia. She’s also the founding member of the student-run group Students Supporting the CUE Faculty Association. She was one of many students who showed up on the picket line Tuesday to show their support for the faculty.
“It’s very stressful, we’re not denying that. We’re not existing in some sort of vacuum in which we’re not impacted by this. But we know that ultimately, what’s happening to the faculty association is a representation of what will happen to everyone in the work field. We’re all trying to earn degrees that we’re hoping we can use for a fair and equitable employer one day,” Callahan explained.
“Despite the fact that there will be disruption, we’re hoping that the administration will understand — follow the voice of the student as well as the faculty association — and come to a fair deal as quickly as possible.”
The university said in a memo to students that as a result of the legal strike action, all instruction is halted as of 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The university said its bargaining team has presented “multiple competitive salary offers which are in line with those recently accepted by some of Alberta’s largest public-sector unions.”
A letter from the CUE president Tuesday morning to the school community said the “avoidable interruptions to learning” are regrettable.
“The cessation of instruction, research, lab services and student placements — each equally valuable and essential component of a Concordia education – will impact student learning, and could even threaten the semester,” Dr. Tim Loreman said.
“As president, I want to avoid those outcomes. I remain hopeful the faculty association will bring a swift end to their strike and return to bargaining. CUE remains willing to resume negotiations at any time.”
Bob Barnetson, a professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, said the strike is historic and could see other institutions follow suit.
“Prior to 2018, no one who worked at a university had the right to strike due to legislation. That changed after a Supreme Court decision under the (then-premier Rachel) Notley government. They brought in new legislation and this is the first strike or lockout at any post-secondary institution in Alberta,” Barnetson explained.
He also said the support on the picket line Tuesday was “quite striking.”
“I think that is an unusual level of community support for a strike and that may well play a factor in how this plays out for Concordia University.”