About 120 students from the University of New Brunswick showed up early Friday morning to demand that the university administration and the AUNBT start negotiating over the strike that has lasted nearly two weeks.
As part of the UNB Student Union’s Get Back to the Table campaign, students converged upon the university’s Sir Howard Douglas Hall and the AUNBT strike headquarters with signs and voices to give their say in a strike that has kept them out of the classroom.
The fact that it was 7:30 a.m. and that temperatures reached 20 degrees below zero with wind chill making it closer to 30 below showed their dedication.
“We have over 100 students out today to show both UNB and the AUNBT that this kind of current lull in the negotiation isn’t acceptable,” said Ben Whitney, president of UNB’s Student Union. “It’s an awesome turnout so yeah, I’m really happy.”
The signs they carried marked the frustration of students who haven’t been included in much of the strike process.
“Well I’ve got my sign here that says ‘30 per cent of the funding and 0 per cent of the say,’ ” said student Jacob Manuel. “The student voice hasn’t been heard at all which is completely unfair to use us as bargaining chips.”
Other students just wanted the two sides to begin negotiating so they could get back to class. So far, both parties have indicated that they were willing to talk but have not decided upon a date for negotiations to resume.
“The most important thing about today to me is trying to get them to communicate. It seems that all they’re doing is talking about talking. They’re not actually doing it. We can’t get anything solved if they don’t talk,” said Taylor Jamieson, another student.
Tables were carried to both locations as a symbol of the empty negotiating table. At the AUNBT strike headquarters, union members brought out chairs and sat with the students to discuss student concerns.
“We’re glad to see students engaged and we were able to go out and talk to them to hear what their concerns were and try to give them a bit of indication for where things were from our perspective,” said Allan Reid, vice-president of the AUNBT and chair of the collective bargaining committee.
“We understand that it’s a difficult time for them and I think it’s one of the ways that adds pressure that’s mounting to get real negotiations underway.”
UNB president Eddy Campbell met students on the front steps of Sir Howard Douglas Hall to talk to the student protestors and to welcome their questions.
“This is the absolute right thing for you to do. To gather and show that you care,” he said. “It’s a very hard solution. There’s a lot of emotions and anger. A lot of disappointment. And nobody’s happy to be where we are.”
Both sides repeated that they were willing to negotiate but still no date has been set.
“I will do my best to get the parties back to the table and make them reach an agreement as fast as we possibly can,” Campbell said. “I consider myself challenged.”
“I think we would want students to know that we would absolutely want to negotiate,” Reid said.
Whitney said that he was pleased with how the protest shaped out even if negotiation dates are still up in the air.
“I was really glad [Campbell] came out and was willing to ask questions. He said that he’s going to do his best to get the ball rolling to get back to the table, so it was good to hear,” he said. “Both sides are talking to us now, we just have to get them talking to each other.”