The President’s report

The President’s report

was not included in the materials distributed for the AGM, so it is reproduced here:

President’s report, AUNBT AGM, 30 April 2013

This is my first report to the AUNBT membership as president. As you may be aware, Jula Hughes left the presidency of this organization five months early to accommodate her research plans, so I have had a good “getting acquainted” period before today, when my term normally would have begun.

It is a dreadful thing, to follow Jula Hughes. For those of you who know her, I don’t need to rehearse her talent, her professionalism, or her energy. There is no living up to the benchmark she has set, I think all would agree, and so with a sense of relief I relinquish the very idea. Unfortunately, for me at least, Jula’s predecessor, David Bell, is equally difficult to follow: his presidency was notable for its inclusivity, its transparency and its integrity.

So as you see, I am really up against it.

In one sense, my existence as president is more important than anything I myself could do: this is the first time that AUNBT has had a president from the Saint John campus, though Saint John academic staff have been members since the founding of our campus half a century ago. Both campuses, the original and the newer, historically have been able to develop in their own ways, relatively independently of one another. That time, I think, is past. We are all being threatened: our programmes are threatened, our positions are being culled. The old saying that we will either hang together or hang separately has never felt more appropriate.

It is an extremely busy time for the Association. We are bargaining on three fronts: David Bell is heading up the CAE negotiating team and will address the meeting shortly; Lloyd Waugh is the chief negotiator at the full-time table and you will be hearing from him soon; and Gopalan Srinivasan and Rick McGaw, co-chairs of our pension committee, are negotiating changes to our pension plan. Rick will be addressing this meeting. I can say without reservation that on all three fronts we are being  exceptionally well represented. And we need to be. We are facing difficult challenges. we have an administration that has pushed us into a record number of grievances and arbitrations; we have a provincial government whose most recent budget could cripple pse institutions in New Brunswickt. And we have a federal government led by a man who thinks science is discretionary and that calling an opponent a “sociologist” is a damning insult.

So we all have our work cut out for us.

But I think we can turn this into a plus.

You will note that we have an election for members at large on the Fredericton campus, rather than acclimations all around. This is a good thing. I look forward to the day when all positions are contested.

Since it’s a bargaining year, there are even more opportunities to get involved than usual. For instance, we have a bargaining communications committee comprising of Greg Fleet, Brian Lowry, June Madeley, Edie Snook, and Merle Steeves, who are doing wonderful work. We are resuscitating the job action committees on each campus, committees formed during the last round of bargaining whose efforts, at that time, were happily not tested. There is the bargaining council for full time members; make sure you know who your rep. is, and make sure your unit has an alternate. There are a number of ongoing committees. There is a steward system, but not all units have a steward and I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to consider volunteering.

This would be a very good time to get more involved with AUNBT.

We will be hearing, later in this meeting, from Elisabeth Hans from FNBFA and Michel Boudreau from the NBFL. AUNBT has always valued its connections with colleagues at other institutions, and in the labour movement more widely. It has always been useful to talk to colleagues at FNBFA and CAUT about the ongoing work of the Association. I would maintain that such relationships, while always central, have become crucial. It is increasingly clear that university administrations across the country are all following the same playbook. That we are seeing the same trends across the country is not coincidental. There is a concerted campaign to change the face of academia, to “streamline” it, make it more “responsive,” “flexible,” and “efficient.” To be something other than the chaotic, wonderful Petri dish of ideas it should ideally be. And our administrators, whether from genuine agreement or panic, have embraced these goals with both arms. Universities are perhaps the last places in our society where (some) people have any control over their work, where (some) people have enough protection that they can stand up for the integrity of our profession. Those of us who do enjoy that protection need to use it, use in in conjunction with our colleagues in order to make our voices stronger, and use it to stand up for those of our colleagues who do not enjoy such protections. As a wise woman once said, “what is the point of having tenure if you don’t use it?”

I think we are at a fork in the road. We need to assess where we are, where we want to be, and what we need to do. For me, that means working towards an even stronger, more active, more inclusive union. Since its founding AUNBT has expanded to include different categories of academic workers at UNB: regular faculty, librarians, instructors, and most recently, contract academics. Now is the time to involve our members more broadly, to become proactive, a vehicle for change, that which our members first think of when our profession needs protecting. I invite all of you listening to me today to join your executive in building this union, and in working with the rest of the university community to build an institution that nurtures our core purpose: to be a learning and teaching community. The executive cannot do this in isolation; AUNBT members cannot do this in isolation. We must work with our colleagues in the other UNB unions and organizations in new ways; collaboration and outreach need to be our default response.

I pledge to you today to pursue developing a formal mechanism for the constituent groups at the University to regularly meet and share ideas. It might look something like the STU labour council, which holds regular meetings of the various STU unions. It might look like something else: that will depend on the group. I invite you to join us in looking outward and in shaping our university, in our own ways. Our own “branding exercise”; our own “strategic plan.”

While we recognize the need to look outward, however, we also must look inward to ensure that we are able to meet the challenges of the next few years. We on the executive have undertaken such a period of reflection, and we have come to several conclusions. The first is, we need to expand our capacity to serve our members. It is no exaggeration to say that we are under assault on many fronts. The proportion of our members who have faced difficulties during review processes has increased dramatically. In the past we had a culture here of resolving difficulties informally whenever possible, but in the last while the administration has chosen to follow a more legalistic path and so our members are now much more likely to be faced with grievances and arbitrations than ever before. We have proposals to make to you today that will, we feel, enable us to achieve the increased capacity we clearly need to develop.

Before closing, I would like to acknowledge some individuals. First, I hope you will join me in thanking all those who volunteered to become involved with bargaining, particularly the chief negotiators, David Bell and Lloyd Waugh, and their teams, all of whom have been working extremely hard and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I would also like to mention our grievance officers, Allan Reid, Francesca Holyoke, Wendy Bourque, Arthur James, and Jennie Hornosty, who have been valiantly advocating for our members in an increasingly cold and legalistic climate. And we owe Jennie thanks on another front as well: she has been acting as our de facto professional officer. Retirement is ideally a time for peace and reflection, but no-one seems to have told Jennie. We also owe a debt of thanks to Ellen Bendrich, who has been working hard in the office for some months now. We would have suffocated under the weight of all the files were it not for her. And, as ever, we must express our appreciation of our Executive assistant Brenda Morais, who continues to be the glue that holds us all together. Her hard work, dedication, and sense of humour can never be acknowledged enough.

Finally, I would like to ask you all to join me in thanking Jon Thompson. I don’t need to rehearse his long career today — indeed, we only have these rooms for two hours — but I would like to draw you attention to his leadership of the full-time pension committee. He has recently had to step down for reasons of health, but he has left the committee in an excellent position to represent our members at this difficult time. I, and the rest of the committee — Alyssa Sankey, Dorothy Duplessis, Rick McGaw, Gopalan Srinvasan, Vaughn Dickson, Barb Trenholm, David Bell, and Jula Hughes — have benefited from his clear yet light-handed leadership. Every AUNBT member, past and present, owes him an enormous debt of gratitude. Please join me in thanking him.

I will end by making a commitment to work hard for you, our members, and to invite you to join me and the rest of the executive committee in our work. We would like to work with you as well as for you. Welcome to the AUNBT Annual General Meeting.

Miriam Jones

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