After almost a year of delays, the St. Francis Xavier Association of University Teachers won the vote in late January to represent all academic staff at the university.
"We are happy to have a solid 60 per cent majority support for certification and a truly inclusive bargaining unit," said Robert van den Hoogen, president of the association, after the final tally was announced. "Now we have to get down to the real challenge - negotiating our first collective agreement."
The bargaining unit includes full-time and contract faculty, clinical nursing instructors, academic staff at the Coady International Institute and academic staff in the extension department, laboratory instructors, supervisors and librarians. Coaches at St. Francis Xavier and instructors at the university's Writing Centre were not included in the final list, but the association hopes to deal with these exclusions during negotiations.
The long certification process began at StFX in September 2003 when the association created an ad-hoc committee on unionization. Meetings and discussions took place throughout the fall and winter, followed by a short card-signing campaign. StFXAUT applied for certification in April 2004. Later the same month, faculty cast their votes, but ballots were not counted because of a procedural challenge by the university. The administration filed numerous objections with the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board, including one on the ballot question. In addition there was disagreement between the parties on the scope of the bargaining unit.
Hearings on the university's objections were further delayed as the labour relations board intervened to resolve the disputes without the need of the formal adjudicative process. But van den Hoogen says the board's influence was having little effect, and almost a year after the first vote the StFXAUT executive agreed to conduct a second vote at StFX in January 2005.
"We maintain the first vote truly expressed the wishes of academic staff here," van den Hoogen said. "But we decided the responsible solution was to move things along as proposed by the labour board."
David Lynes, a sociology professor at St. Francis Xavier University and a member of the mobilization committee, says it was frustrating to have to organize another vote. "We worked hard the first time around to make sure people were informed and we had to work even harder on short notice the second time."
Letters describing the benefits of certification poured in from academic staff associations across the country. They were shared with StFXAUT members on the association's web site.
Van den Hoogen says the letters were an integral part of the campaign leading up to the second vote on certification. "Several members told me that in the end it was one of the letters that finally convinced them that certification was the correct course of action.
"We won majority support for certification. The second ballot vote results clearly show that academic staff at St. FX wish to be unionized."
Results of the second vote were announced Feb. 24, following agreement between StFXAUT and the university on the definition of the bargaining unit.
"The end result of this process is we're confident we're a stronger organization," van den Hoogen said.