Part-time instructors, teaching assistants, markers and demonstrators represented by CUPE at Dalhousie University went on strike Wednesday, saying the main issue driving the labour action is wages.
Members of CUPE 3912, which represents more than 3,000 “precarious academic workers” at Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University, and Saint Mary’s University, began setting up picket lines on Studley campus Wednesday morning.
The strike means that lectures, tutorials and labs held by union members will be cancelled, and assignments and exams will not be marked.
CUPE says part-time instructors and teaching assistants at Dalhousie are paid “substantially less than other comparable Canadian research universities.”
In a release, the union said the gap was “already evident” when members received their last raise in 2019 — but it has “worsened considerably” since then.
“Despite soaring inflation, we have not received even a basic cost of living raise for over three years,” said Gabor Lukacs, communications officer for CUPE 3912.
“The cost of living in Nova Scotia is high and getting higher, but wages have not kept up. We have members who are resorting to food banks while working and studying full-time.”
The union says the average part-time instructor at Dalhousie makes $5,232 per three-credit course, while the average stipend for other comparable schools across the country is $7,160.
Meanwhile, the average TA at Dalhousie makes $24.41 per hour, while the average hourly wage for other comparable schools is $35.44. TAs at the University of Western Ontario make $48.14 — double what Dalhousie TAs do.
In a memo sent to Dalhousie students, faculty and staff Tuesday, Laura Neals and Chris Hattie, co-assistant vice-presidents of human resources at Dalhousie, said they were “disappointed” that attempts to come to a tentative agreement were not successful.
“This is not the outcome we wanted,” the memo said.
“We recognize the value CUPE members bring to our campus community and share a commitment to achieving many of the goals the union brought to the table.”
The school said it plans to release the final proposal it made to the CUPE bargaining team some time on Wednesday.
“We believe the university’s final proposal was both significant and responsive to the union’s concerns,” it said.
Dalhousie said most classes will continue, but those taught by CUPE instructors will be suspended during the duration of the strike. As well, “there may be impacts on coursework, assessment and/or labs in other courses supported by CUPE teaching assistants, markers or demonstrators.”
The school said students should watch for communications from their instructors, department or faculty for information on how their courses will be affected.