N.S. community college strike averted

Tentative deal reached in last-minute talks; 25,000 students would have been affected

Students at Nova Scotia’s community colleges expressed relief Monday after last-ditch talks produced a tentative deal that averted a strike by 900 college workers.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Alexis Allen confirmed that an agreement was reached by the two sides late Sunday night, meaning her membership would not be setting up picket lines on Tuesday.

Allen said she couldn’t release details, but added that the union would now go to its membership with a proposal that it recommends they accept.

“It’s not a total surprise in the sense that we’ve always been trying to see what we could do, and I think we just came to an agreement that hopefully the members will accept,” Allen said in an interview Monday.

No date has been set for a ratification vote but Allen said that would likely be done soon.

She said over the next couple of days union staff will go to the province’s 13 college campuses to brief the union membership on the agreement’s details.

On campuses, students said they were pleased their education wouldn’t be interrupted.

A strike would have affected 25,000 students across the province, including Brynn Langille, 20, who is majoring in broadcast journalism at the community college in Dartmouth, N.S.

“A couple of us were looking forward to maybe a couple of days off, but it looks like it (a strike) would have stretched out longer had it happened,” she said. “So, we were getting kind of worried if we were to miss a month or two, definitely.”

She expressed hope the new deal would be acceptable to the union, given that students would end up losing valuable time and money if a strike is the end result.

“We were starting to panic just because we have work terms that come up in December and a weekly show … that takes a lot of time and effort to put in,” said Langille. “We’re relieved that classes will resume as normal and hopefully the union agrees.”

The union was looking for wage parity with public school teachers who were given a 2.9 per cent wage increase by the previous Conservative government, but the provincial government had only offered a one per cent raise.

Premier Darrell Dexter had made it clear that he expected college management and the union to use the available time ahead of the strike deadline to resume talks and reach an agreement.

He also made it clear that the provincial government didn’t intend to offer more cash in the dispute.

At the legislature Monday, Dexter wasn’t willing to get into details about what if any role the government played in assisting the sides.

The premier said he wanted to respect a process in which the union membership needed to hear the details from their leadership first.

And that also precluded any comment on whether the province offered more money.

“What we did was we made a decision that was based on the best interests of all the parties. Out of this I believe we got what we needed to get in order to move forward with our planning process,” he told reporters.

Dexter did note that in order for there to have been any progress at the bargaining table there had to be some give from both sides and recognition that the province is grappling with a $592-million deficit.

“What I can say is that we are pleased with where the file sits now and we’re in the position of having to wait and see whether or not this is going to be ratified,” he said.

In a statement, Nova Scotia Community College president Joan McArthur-Blair said she was satisfied with the outcome.

“We must now ensure our NSTU colleagues have time to consider and vote on this tentative agreement while continuing to deliver the first-rate education our students deserve,” she said.

Community college workers, more than 90 per cent of whom voted in favour of going on strike last month, have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2008.

– The Canadian Press