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UNB strike: One year later

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the strike at UNB. One year later, the impact of the labour dispute between the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) and the UNB administrations is still present.

Lasting for three weeks, the strike that began on Jan. 13, 2014 was the result of the disagreement between the university and its full-time faculty over a collective agreement.

On Jan. 14, 2014, the university responded to the strike by locking out all full-time faculty. This was followed by two weeks without any negotiations between the AUNBT and UNB.

The New Brunswick government intervened by ordering both parties back to the table and appointed a mediator. The AUNBT and the university administration reached an agreement on Jan. 30, effectively ending the strike.

Outstanding issues were settled through arbitrations and on Sept. 29, 2014, results of arbitration stipulated a 12.5 per cent total salary increase to UNB’s full-time faculty. However, tensions remain between the AUNBT and the university administration.

“I would say that the relationship is more strained than it has been in decades. Not because of the strike, but because the problems that led to the strike are still largely unresolved,” said Miriam Jones, president of the AUNBT.

“What’s new is that people are aware of what is going on, they are talking about it, and they are determined to work to change things. I don’t think that is because of the strike; I think the strike happened as a natural outgrowth of people’s growing alarm about what is happening around them. And that momentum has continued.”

Students have noticed this as well.

“I know that behind the scenes the profs have definitely taken a lot more interest in the goings on within the administration,” said UNBSU president Greg Bailey.

“There’s been a lot of opposition to everything the administration has done this year and they’ve definitely emerged as an interested group in what happens in the old arts building.”

Although the tensions persist, UNB president Eddy Campbell said that the university is geared for change.

“The atmosphere is changing. I have heard from colleagues at other universities who have been through labour disruptions that it starts to get better after about a year has passed. I’m seeing that here,” said UNB president Eddy Campbell.

“There is no doubt that the rebuilding is continuing. It will take time. But we are moving forward.”

For some students, this road to moving forward has been a difficult one. Because the strike lasted for three weeks, the 2014 winter term was compressed to make up for lost time. This left many students pressed to fit everything in.

Nursing students in particular felt the effects of the compressed term. With clinical hours necessary to their degree, students in the faculty of nursing had more than just their classes to worry about.

“It ended up being the most stressful and demanding semester I’ve ever had in every sense — physically, emotionally and mentally,” said Ashley Stuart, a fourth-year nursing student.

“It was completely draining. Losing clinical time during the semester also resulted in us having a more condensed intersession practicum, which was almost worse than the semester itself.”

The compressed term also raised the concern of how the added stress of making up time would affect grades.

“As a last-year student, I was very anxious about how the strike would affect my plans for after graduation, and how the compressed class times would affect my GPA,” said Mitra Radmanesh.

“I think the campus life did change after strike, but not in a good way.  Students were a lot more nervous and stressed out throughout the semester, and the changes in schedules did not help that feeling.”

Ultimately for many students, the strike changed their opinion of UNB.

“I’ve heard my opinion echoed by multiple other fourth-year nursing students — I used to feel very passionately for the university as a whole, but the strike really reminded me how fundamentally, this is just a business,” Stuart said.

“Money is what makes the world go round. I guess I would say that it decreased my overall trust and confidence in the overall mission of UNB.”

Although to many it may seem otherwise, Bailey said that the strike did have one positive outcome for students, who had protested that the AUNBT and UNB return to the negotiating table during the strike.

“[The strike] showed me that the Student Union has the ability to make big changes on campus … We managed to get students’ voices heard, get attention to the fact that students were the ones suffering,” he said.

Ben Whitney, former president of the UNBSU, remembers stressful days and nights during the strike. But he too sees the strike as evidence that the university is poised for change.

“In my time here at UNB, and especially in my past year, I have seen everything. But the thing that sticks out to me the most is this: there is without question an incredible passion that exists within the members of this institution. A passion I know I feel, and a passion that has become evident many of us share,” Whitney said.

“At this point in our history, we are faced with some of our greatest challenges, but we face them with an incredibly passionate community. If we can truly work together, and overcome our differences, we have the opportunity now more than ever to make UNB all that it can be.”

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