After three days of voting, University of Western Ontario professors voted 87 per cent in favour of giving the faculty association a strike mandate. The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) and the university administration are scheduled to go back to the bargaining table Oct 5. Meetings with a government appointed conciliator are set to take place Oct 12 and 13. Professors will not be able to legally strike until 17 days after the minister of labor files a no-board report, meaning no consensus can be reached between the two sides.
UWOFA president James Compton says the vote strengthens the union’s position. “This strong strike mandate demonstrates that our membership is firmly behind UWOFA’s Negotiating Team,” he said. “The administration knows when we say this what our members think, it is.” Compton was unable to tell Maclean’s what voter turnout was.
Helen Connell, Western’s associate vice-president communications, says that the administration is “not surprised” by the results, but emphasizes that bargaining is ongoing. “I think what’s really really important is that both sides are committed to negotiations,” she said.
At issue is a proposal from the university that the union says threatens academic freedom by weakening tenure. In an effort to improve “performance management,” Western, the union says, has proposed that several related clauses be linked together in their contract. They include the linking of academic responsibilities, conflict of interest and conflict of commitment, annual performance evaluation, sabbatical leave, and discipline.
Compton says the university wants to implement a centralized review committee for evaluating and reviewing faculty job performance. “It would be staffed by senior administrators and not peers in those fields, so that’s a problem,” he said. Compton added that the proposed language amounts to “a continual tenure review” for faculty, who, he says already have to go through a rigorous process to attain tenure, and who are already continually evaluated by their home department. He called the university’s proposal “a weakening of the tenure system.” He added that the university has yet to make any proposal regarding wages.
Connell would not comment on the faculty association’s specific objections. “We really do not think there is anything to be gained by negotiating in public,” she said. Connell did say that the university appreciates the “importance of academic freedom.”
The UWOFA represents 1,400 academic staff who have been without a contract since the end of June.
Photo of picket line at York University during the 2008-09 strike