Tenative deal prevents potential work stoppage

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In the early hours of March 2, many students, faculty members and administration at Wilfrid Laurier University could finally stop holding their breath.

After months of collective bargaining and the increasing possibility of a faculty strike or lockout, the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) and the university administration settled on a tentative deal around three o’clock Friday morning.

“I would say that both sides worked very hard to reach a deal that is good for everyone and I’m delighted that the effort and the good spirit prevailed,” said Max Blouw, the president of WLU.

“It was that unfortunate that we came so close to a labour stoppage but that is the nature of negotiations and I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

This tentative agreement, however, does not mean the process is complete. It’ll have be ratified by both the WLUFA and the university’s board of governors, which, according to Judy Bates, the president of WLUFA, could occur next week.

Though ratification is still pending, the chances of a strike or lockout at this point are minimal.

“It’s not over until it’s over, and the two key pieces now are that the union membership has to ratify it and the board of governors have to ratify it,” explained Deb MacLatchy, the vice president of academic and provost at Laurier.

“So I think we’re in a very much position than we were last week, we still need those two bodies to also agree that it’s a good deal.”

MacLatchy added, “I’m 99 per cent sure that we will be able to continue on and not have job action, but there’s always the chance that either side determines there remains issues and they don’t want to ratify it.”

On Feb. 10, 91 per cent of WLUFA voted in favour of a strike. Since negotiations were spiralling between the two parties, mediation was set for Feb. 29 and March 1.

“I think it’s a fair deal for the university as well as a fair deal for faculty, and I’ll be really happy when it gets ratified and then we’ll get to move on to focusing on the work of the university, rather than negotiating on an agreement,” continued MacLatchy.

While it may appear that the situation is at complete ease, many of the issues that the faculty were addressing, such as compensation, pension plans and alternative teaching streams, won’t necessarily disappear.

“Probably most faculty associations are engaged in discussions about pensions, because of the problems of the stock exchange and the problems on the low returns on pensions,” explained Bates.

“Not everyone but some have been able to manage their affairs better than others, compensation is always an issue wherever faculty associations are in negotiations.”

She added that professional teaching positions that are focused on teaching rather than research was something that Laurier in particular was trying to push, but with increasing dialogue on post secondary education currently occurring in Ontario, some other universities might be facing similar opposition.

Social media, specifically Twitter, played an important role in engaging the community and students in the process.

Although both the university and WLUFA were tweeting updates, WLUFA seemed to be more consistent at it — even right up to the point a collective agreement was announced.

Communication coming from both sides may have had an impression on students.

“I wouldn’t know if it had any impact particularly on the students, I think it was trying to keep them informed,” continued Bates.

“The student body has no impact on whether or not we reach an agreement, clearly we are concerned about our students and I don’t think for us to go on strike or there to be a lockout.”

MacLatchy felt that the use of social media was particularly positive and it may have a larger role to play in future negotiations.

“I think that there’s no doubt social media has changed the way universities and constituents, unions and associations will be bargaining in the future just because students live on social media and it’s the way that both sides have to access that large body of stakeholders,” she said.

As the ratification process begins, most of the faculty and administration can finally take a bit of break and focus back on the students.

“I’m just really, really happy that we have a tentative agreement and I look forward for it being finalized and ratified and focusing on the real work of the university and that’s teaching and research,” concluded MacLatchy.

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