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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 1999

Solidarity Put to the Test

Pitting professor against professor, a university administration announces that only junior faculty can expect a salary increase in the new contract. Can the faculty association maintain membership unity in the face of this divisive ploy?

Well, maybe -- if the heated response to this challenging scenario at CAUT's annual collective bargaining conference held in June is anything to go by. "The discussion on salary issues was rather intense" admits Vic Catano, chair of CAUT's Collective Bargaining and Economic Benefits Committee and one of the organizers of the conference. "But the point of that particular hypothetical was to spark debate and we certainly accomplished that."

The entire conference featured a greater degree of audience participation than in years past. Traditionally, the event centered on lecture-style examinations of issues such as financial exigency or pension language. This year the focus shifted to small group discussions on mobilizing support for collective bargaining objectives.

According to Catano, faculty associations have relied on experienced and well-prepared negotiating teams for success at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, this approach is no longer sufficient to counter increasingly aggressive university administrations. Mobilizing support from both within the association and the broader community is now recognized as an important part of the negotiation process.

The conference examined four key components of this aspect of collective bargaining: media relations, student support, support from within the membership and support from the broader community. The session on mobilizing student support was lead by Michael Conlon and Elizabeth Carlyle, the National Chairperson and Deputy National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. Their well-received presentation reminded participants of the continued existence of bastions of organized and politicized students.

A panel of experienced bargainers -- Robert Chernomas (Manitoba), George De Benedetti (Mount Allison) and Janice Newson (York) -- led the discussion on mobilizing membership support and guided participants through the tricky discussion on salary issues.

Was the conference a success? "The evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive," says Catano. "However, we are going to have to continue with our efforts to develop a more participatory format. People indicated they want something other than the lecture-style presentations of the past, but they found the small group work of this year's event somewhat repetitive. We'll keep working on it."

And the focus for next year's conference? "We're seriously thinking about taking a deeper look at the salary issue," says Catano.