Something’s broken but it’s not arbitration

Members may have seen the editorial in the Telegraph-Journal on October 2 (PDF). Today, our response was printed:

“The profs deserved their increase.” Miriam Jones. Telegraph-Journal (Oct 8, 2014; paywall): A9.

Last Thursday’s editorial in this paper, “Arbitration Process Broken,” (Oct.2) demands a response, but where to begin?

It is inflammatory and wrong to say that “[t]he public purse and families should not be expected to pay 12.5 per cent more over the next three years.” Taxes and tuition need not go up so that UNB academic staff can have competitive wages because, as the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers has said all along and the independent arbitrator’s decision confirms, UNB already has the financial means to pay its staff competitively.

UNB management did not dispute this point during the arbitration. UNB has accumulated tens of millions of dollars of operating surpluses over the past five years. There would have been no strike/lockout but for the intransigence of UNB’s president and Board of Governors.

For the Telegraph-Journal to suggest that UNB academic staff will be reaching into the pockets of hard-working New Brunswickers is a divide-and-conquer tactic that obscures the real issues.

The editorial board’s call for changes to the Industrial Relations Act is a direct attack on organized labour. And as elsewhere across the Western world in recent years, such attacks are based on ideology, not reality. This trend should concern all working people, unionized or not, for as we know, strong unions improve conditions for everyone.

The editorial board writes, if workers don’t like wages here they can go elsewhere. This is surprising to read from the opinion-makers in a province with such serious out-migration issues. Our members are committed to building this province: New Brunswick’s universities have long been among the main attractors for in-migration, hiring faculty and recruiting students from across Canada and internationally.

Depressed wages and disinvestment in public education hardly seems a recipe for prosperity.

As for the arbitration decision itself, a couple of points: the increase looks high only because AUNBT salaries were so very far behind in the first place. UNB is the largest and leading centre for research, teaching, advanced training and technology transfer in the province. We compete in a Canada-wide market to recruit and retain faculty. We compete in an international market to recruit students. As Arbitrator Keller wrote in his decision, “a student attends a particular University because of the nature and quality of programs offered and the quality of those teaching those programs. Hence, the need to remain competitive.”

UNB is a public institution. It was established to benefit the people of this province. The editorial board, and indeed many of those who govern the University, persist in trying to convince our fellow citizens that UNB should be run like a private for-profit corporation.

Such an approach is already leading to the academic ruin of universities in the United Kingdom and the United States. If we continue in the same direction at UNB, the people of this province will be deprived of one of their most important resources.

Of course in that case, this paper will probably suggest that they can just apply to the University of Alberta.

Miriam Jones is president of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers.

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Categories: Communication, Media