Negotiations between Wilfrid Laurier University and the WLU Faculty Association (WLUFA) have reached a climax. After conciliation on Jan. 24 and 26, both parties decided to forego the scheduled negotiations that were to take place on Jan. 27. As negotiations have progressed to more complex issues such as the pension plan and ties between teaching and research, both felt it necessary to gather more information before proceeding.
“We’ve been really serious since day one on getting a deal that’s fair and responsible for the institution as a whole,” explained director of communication and public affairs, Kevin Crowley.
Judy Bates, WLUFA president, expressed the same optimism, “Hopefully with the assistance of the labour board appointed conciliator we’ll be able to move towards a settlement that is reasonable for both sides,” she said.
Crowley says working with a conciliator is a typical part of the process.
With the incitement of conciliation, WLUFA published an online newsletter providing an update of the negotiations. This prompted a response from the university who, Crowley said, felt it was being mischaracterised.
“What WLUFA is saying in the newsletter is not what we’re saying at the bargaining table. Those aren’t our proposals,” Crowley stated. “We really wanted to correct the record and hold WLUFA accountable for what it was saying.”
A letter was subsequently sent from the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) to WLUFA and the university. In the letter, WLUSU president Nick Gibson, deems a work stoppage of any length “unacceptable” and urges the university and the faculty association to reach common ground for the sake of the students.
“It’s [WLUSU’s] belief that the recently disclosed status of labour negotiations between WLU and WLUFA challenges the strong reputation of our institution,” Gibson wrote in the letter. “We must remind all parties that the University is an institution that serves, and ultimately must provide for the needs of the students.”
Gibson addressed the letter to both Bates and WLU president and vice chancellor Max Blouw.
“As soon as we saw the back and forth going between the two we felt it was appropriate for us to assert the student voice to make sure the parties are not losing sight of what their ultimate objective is—which is to serve students on both sides,” Gibson told The Cord, explaining that he wanted to keep them focused.
“It’s not just them two in a room,” he continued. “We’re watching what’s going on very intently.”
Bates responded to the letter, reaffirming that WLUFA retains its “[commitment]… to a negotiated settlement in this current round of bargaining.”
“We’re always encouraged when the student body is taking an active concern in these kinds of affairs,” said Crowley. “But the real work is getting done at the bargaining table.”
Though both parties are optimistic that an agreement can be made, under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, WLUFA reserves the right to take strike action.
Bates reflected, “It’s not a happy state of affairs… for anybody. That’s not our goal.”
Gibson responds to this possibility: “Ultimately we just don’t want a labour disruption and we want the deal to be in the best interest of students, which is a deal that is mutually beneficial for both parties.”
WLUFA and the university will convene again Feb. 1 to exchange information before proceeding with conciliation next week.
“Just stay tuned,” Gibson advised. “The Students’ Union is very much on top of this.”