CAS strike avoided

In the winter of 2008, a large portion of Wilfrid Laurier University’s classes and tutorials were abruptly put on hold as the university’s contract academic staff (CAS) went on strike. However, a repeat of that situation has, for the time being, been avoided.

Early in the morning of June 16, university administration and the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) reached a tentative agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement with Laurier’s CAS.

“I would categorize it as very efficient set of negotiations,” said Laurier vice president of finance and administration Jim Butler. “Any collective agreement that we have is important, and to have a deal that we hope will be ratified is excellent from our standpoint.”

The bargaining period lasted 29 days and came to an end at about 3:00 a.m. June 16, after a marathon negotiation with a provincial mediator.

“We had a day of mediation on the 15th of June and we worked all day with the mediator who ran back between the two parties,” said geography and environmental studies professor Judy Bates, who serves as an Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and Canadian Association of University Teachers representative for WLUFA.

“There were few meetings between the two parties at the negotiating table but the mediator moved between the two sides and finally we reached the tentative settlement at about 3:00 in the morning on the 16th of June. So it was a very long day, as we started around 9:00 in the morning.”

According to Bates, while the negotiations never deteriorated to the point that they did prior to the 2008 strike, the two sides still faced difficulty in reaching this tentative agreement.

“There was never much discussion of the possibility of the strike but the negotiations were difficult there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “We struggled over a huge number of meetings and then we had conciliation over a four-day period and we made progress but there were still outstanding issues.”

Following the four-day conciliation period, Bates said that the WLUFA negotiators requested a mediation-arbitration in which the mediator would become an arbitrator after a set amount of negotiation and decide upon a settlement. However, the university did not agree to that step and the two sides opted for the mediation period that eventually produced the tentative agreement.

Since being reached, the deal has been ratified by the WLU board of governors, however, in order to become official it still needs ratification from the CAS union members. Until that point, the two parties are unable to discuss the details of the agreement.

“The board ratified the deal [last Thursday], but we’re waiting on the ratification of the union,” said Butler. “I’m told until they ratify, we’re bound not to disclose the terms of the deal. As you can imagine, the members should be the first to hear what the terms are.”

According to Bates, the union members will meet in the fall to discuss the ratification of the agreement, as the majority of the university’s CAS are currently away from campus.

The university is now in negotiations with the Wilfrid Laurier University Staff Association, which encompasses Laurier’s support and clerical staff. Bargaining with full-time faculty will begin in the coming weeks.

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