Historical Notes on AUNBT

Graham Stewart Mackenzie

Graham Stewart Mackenzie,
AUNBT’s founding president

In October 1956 AUNBT’s founders gathered for the inaugural general meeting of the “Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers”. Graham MacKenzie (Geology) was the first president. Later that year the new organization aligned with CAUT, the Canadian Association of University Teachers. The Association’s initial concerns were salary comparability, pensions, sabbaticals and a tuition benefit for faculty children. By the early 1970s there was a Saint John representative on the Association executive each year. In 1975 Irene Leckie (Nursing), became the first woman president.

AUNBT’s first great success came in 1968, when the Legislative Assembly passed a much-revised University of New Brunswick Act. It gave “professors” (instructors and Fredericton librarians were added later) for the first time a formal say in the academic governance through seats in the new Senate. Its first great crisis also came in 1968-69, in the context of UNB’s response to Norman Strax. The “Strax-Mackay affair” began when this assistant professor of Physics and his student supporters closed down the main Fredericton-campus library for several days to protest imposition of a photo-ID policy for borrowing books. University president Colin Mackay responded by suspending Strax from his job and banning him from campus. When he broke the ban, the university sued him for trespass and secured an injunction ordering him to stay away. When Strax violated it he was gaoled for contempt of court. Students then “liberated” Bailey 130 – Strax’s office – and occupied it for weeks until dragged away by Fredericton police.

While Strax lacked visible support among the professoriate, the fact that the university had disciplined and effectively fired him (by banning him from campus) without any charge, investigation or adjudicative process was disturbing to many. Yet it was acceptable to many others, who thought that the turbulent Strax had got what he deserved. AUNBT, which as a voluntary association by no means included all of UNB’s full-time teachers (though it did include deans), was itself much divided, a division played out in several tumultuous general meetings and marked by the resignation of the Association president, Douglas Brewer. AUNBT’s difficulties were compounded by the stance of CAUT, which was more emphatic than AUNBT that Strax’s case be sent to binding arbitration. CAUT placed UNB under censure until the university’s board of governors complied.

One of many consequences of the Strax affair was highlighting the lack of job protection and due process rights for academic employees. Within a few years AUNBT and the administration had negotiated terms and conditions of employment embodied in a “Faculty Manual”. This included a grievance arbitration provision (that was actually used) but it existed only through the goodwill of the employer. Management could, and did, amend it unilaterally at any time. It was not the equivalent of unionization. In the 1950s, when AUNBT was founded, an academic trade union was almost inconceivable. Twenty years later that thinking had changed and CAUT was promoting collective bargaining across Canada. In the case of UNB, this would involve replacing the Faculty Manual with a negotiated agreement. In 1977 the push for unionization at UNB began. It took particular impetus from general loss of confidence in the president of the day, John Anderson, and the inept state of university financial administration. The fact that UNB salaries, which had been fairly competitive in the early part of the decade, were now as a result of high inflation about 25% below the national average, also contributed to willingness to experiment with a union. Constitutional amendments passed in April 1977 turned the Association into a trade union and admitted instructors into membership (librarians had been admitted in 1973).

First Signing

Signing of the first AUNBT Collective Agreement, November 3, 1980, with UNB president James Downey, AUNBT president Jon Thompson and AUNBT chief negotiator Allan Sharp.

By January 1978 organizers had enough union cards to apply to the provincial Industrial Relations Board for certification as bargaining agent for full-time academics. UNB’s officialdom opposed unionization, and some faculty members in law, forestry and engineering sought unsuccessfully to opt out. Certification was achieved finally on 30 March 1979, with about 595 people in the bargaining unit. The story of AUNBT’s successful certification battle is told in detail in G. N. Chiason, “The Certification Campaign at the University of New Brunswick”, CAUT Bulletin, vol 26 (Oct 1979), 17-20. Negotiating the first collective agreement proved an enormous undertaking. After the two sides had held 60 meetings over ten months and reached agreement on only a few points, AUNBT applied to the province for conciliation. That process consumed a further 100 bargaining sessions but left the core issue of wages unsettled. At that point both sides agreed to binding arbitration. AUNBT won resoundingly and the resulting collective agreement came into effect towards the end of 1980. Soon after Jon Thompson, the president at the time, published reflections in the unionization project that have perennial relevance:

2001 Signing

Elizabeth Parr-Johnson and Esam Hussein at the ceremonial signing of the 9th AUNBT-UNB collective agreement for full-time teachers and librarians, 18 December 2001. With them are the two chief negotiators, Gail Storr (for AUNBT) and Peter McDougall.

The Association has brought to a successful conclusion an enterprise which is having and will continue to have a major beneficial impact on the university as a whole, with the signing of our first collective agreement on November 3, 1980. This was a long and arduous task but may be viewed as one phase in a historical process of maturation which we have in common with many other North American universities. In this process university teachers have gradually moved away from reliance on paternalism and belief in managerial fairy tales to take more direct control of responsibility for their own destiny and that of their institutions. Quite simply, the time has come when academics can no longer entrust their fate to the hands of clerks.

We were fortunate in having a well-balanced, compatible and cohesive negotiating team… . The main criteria were that negotiators should be: (i) tough-minded, (ii) principled, (iii) inclined to think globally (of the university as a whole), and (iv) willing and able to work effectively for arbitrarily long hours and for an arbitrarily long time.

We have now experienced all the stages of negotiation except a strike. All during the period from February until early July 1980 it appeared that there was a roughly 50-50 chance that we would be provoked into this stage, as well, and that a strike might have to be organized in the Fall. … Fortunately for the institution as a whole, reason prevailed and we were not provoked into using this ultimate bargaining technique. … Above all, the value of disciplined and responsible collective action has been demonstrated. The legal ability to exert control over one’s working environment requires a much more active sense of responsibility, in the same way as in a political democracy. We hope that increasing numbers of our colleagues will inform themselves and actively participate in this process as time goes on.

Wendy and Saba

Wendy Bourque hands her $1 coin to AUNBT president Saba Mattar (6 Sept 2007), becoming one of the first part-timers to join AUNBT the night it launched its unionization campaign for part-time teachers and librarians.

In the beginning AUNBT was open to all UNB teachers and researchers, whether full or part-time, but the bargaining unit certified in 1979 included only the full-timers. It was only in September 2007 that AUNBT again opened its doors to part-time teachers (and librarians). Six months later the NB Labour and Employment Board certified AUNBT as their bargaining agent and in May 2008 protracted negotiations began for a first collective agreement.

From the time of the Deutsch Royal Commission (1962), AUNB has been involved in the higher educational concerns of the day, provincially and nationally, through leadership roles in FNBFA and CAUT. For example, employment equity concerns were voiced here first by AUNBT through collective bargaining. In the 1990s, when the McKenna government’s Expenditure Management Act encroached on university autonomy, AUNBT and the other faculty unions in the province accepted a voluntary wage freeze as an alternative to a legislation, thereby preserving formal university autonomy from government dictate. With the announcement of the Shawn Graham Liberal government’s PSE Action Plan in the summer of 2008, preservation of university autonomy in New Brunswick became a critical issue once again and AUNBT members were at the forefront of resistance.

Since the PSE crisis AUNBT members have faced a period of retrenchment: from the 595 members at certification, by 2014 the union represented approximately 575 full-time members despite the expansion of programmes and enrolments over that same period. It has also been a period of change: the executive has grown and become even more representative of the membership and in 2012 Miriam Jones became the first AUNBT president from the Saint John campus.

2013 brought some other firsts: after several increasingly difficult bargaining cycles, on December 3 – 4 of 2013 AUNBT held its first strike vote and had a phenomenal voter turn-out of over 97%, 90.1% of whom voted for a strike. On January 13, 2014, for the first time since its founding in 1956, AUNBT members went out on strike on the four New Brunswick campuses of Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, and Bathurst. They were locked out the next day.

  • For a record of the job action please visit the dedicated website, HQ.
  • See also “Bargaining at UNB 1979–80 and 2013–14: Parallels and Lessons” (PDF) by Allan Sharp and Jon Thompson, Chief Negotiator and Collective Bargaining Committee Chair, respectively, during the first round of bargaining.

AUNBT Presidents

1956—1957 G.S. MacKenzie (Memorial) (Geology)
1957—1958 W. Stewart MacNutt (NBLE) (History)
1958—1959 Arnold L. McAllister (Obit/Photo) (Geology)
1959—1960 Edward D. Maher (Photo) (Business)
1960—1961 Hugh J. Whalen (Photo) (Economics & Pol Science)
1961—1962 A.L. Levine (Bio) (Economics)
1962—1963 A.R.A. Taylor (Obit) (Biology)
1963—1964 Edward D. Maher (Business)
1964—1966 Reuben L. Rosenberg (Mathematics)
1966—1967 George R. McAllister (Law)
1967—1968 Douglas Pullman (In tribute) (Sociology)
1968—1969 Douglas G. Brewer (Chemistry)
1969 Perry Robinson (Philosophy)
1969—1971 Israel Unger (Bio) (Chemistry)
1971—1973 Harold Sharp (Obit/Photo) (Business)
1973—1974 George P. Semeluk (Chemistry)
1974—1975 D.M. Fellows (Computer Science)
1975—1976 Irene Leckie (Nursing)
1976—1978 A.C. Lister (Romance Languages)
1978—1980 Ronald M. Lees (Bio) (Physics)
1980—1982 Jon H. Thompson (Bio) (Mathematics & Statistics)
1982—1984 Gerald Clarke (Bio) (Education)
1984—1986 Allen Sharp (Physics)
1986—1989 Richard McGaw (Economics)
1989—1991 Jennie Hornosty (Sociology)
1991—1993 Gail Storr (Nursing)
1993—1995 Jacob van der Linde (Bio) (Physics)
1995—1997 Peter Kepros (Bio) (Psychology)
1997—1999 Lloyd Waugh (Civil Engineering)
1999—2001 Melanie Wiber (Anthropology)
2001—2002 Esam Hussein (Mechanical Engineering)
2002—2004 Donald Fields (Psychology)
2004—2006 Francesca Holyoke (Science & Forestry Library)
2006—2008 Saba Mattar (Chemistry)
2008—2010 David Bell (Law)
2011 Jennie Hornosty (Sociology)
2011—2012 Jula Hughes (Law)
2012—2015 Miriam Jones (Humanities & Languages)
2015-2017 Allan Reid (Culture & Media Studies)
2017 – Susan Blair (Anthropology)