Students’ questions, answered

What is MUNFA?
What are the issues? What is this about?
Why should I care about these issues?
What is happening right now with bargaining?
How would the administration’s desired changes affect me?
Is MUNFA going to go on strike? When?
What would a strike mean for me?
What can I do?

 

What is MUNFA?

MUNFA (Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association) is the trade union representing around 850 faculty, librarians, counsellors, and co-operative and field educators at MUNL.

 

What are the issues? What is this about?

There’s a common saying in education unions, and it’s common because it’s true: teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. MUNFA has identified a number of changes that would improve working conditions for our members and that would also positively impact students. Some of these issues are: governance and transparency; equity, diversity, and inclusion; working conditions for contract faculty; faculty complement; climate action; and salary.

 

Why should I care about these issues?

 

When faculty are overworked and underpaid, and if their employment status is uncertain from one term to the next, it is harder for us to dedicate ourselves to teaching, research, and working with students. A more diverse faculty will be one that is better able to reflect and represent the students we teach. And when the university we work for refuses to commit to climate action or improvements in governance, these refusals directly impact students as well as faculty.

Contract faculty working conditions

At MUN, the number of professors who are hired on a contract basis has been steadily increasing, meaning more and more faculty have no long-term job security. Instead of focusing their entire attention on their students and research, these faculty have to reapply for their jobs every 12, eight, or even four months — sometimes for 20 years on end.

Improvements to job security and faculty workload might seem like they are about making our jobs easier, but what they are really about is allowing MUNFA members to bring their best to their students and their research. The improvements MUNFA is fighting for would mean faculty members who are able to focus on instructing students rather than figuring out where they will work next term.

Climate action

MUNFA is fighting for commitments to climate action because we believe that every institution, including this university, needs to fight for a world that will be habitable and safe for future generations.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion

We want to make the university more inclusive and diverse than it is now, which is why we are pushing for stronger Indigenization efforts and a more inclusive workplace.

Governance and transparency

MUNL is the only university in Canada where faculty have no representation on the Board of Regents, the body responsible for looking after the business and operational affairs of the university. A functional university is one in which faculty and students understand why decisions are being made, and have input into those decisions. This is often not the case at MUNL — one recent example is the removal of the mask requirement on Oct. 4. Whether or not you agree with the university’s decision to remove the requirement, we should all be concerned that this decision involved no input from students or workers, and that none of us received more than a few hours’ warning that this would happen. What other decisions is the university making that impact our health and safety, without consulting us? MUNFA wants to change the university’s approach to governance so that those who are affected by the administration’s decisions are able to participate in them.

Faculty complement

Essentially, you can think of this as a reference to tenured and tenure-track faculty being overworked. “Faculty complement” refers to the number of MUNL instructors who are either tenured or on track to achieve tenure (a form of job security for academics). The proportion of tenured and tenure-track faculty at MUNL, in comparison to contractual and per-course faculty, has been falling for years. This means that these workers have to shoulder a growing load of administrative duties and committee memberships that keep the university running, in addition to teaching and doing research. Improving faculty complement — that is, increasing the proportion of tenured and tenure-track faculty in relation to contract faculty — is a way to ensure that there are enough workers to do all of the work that needs to be done: that every class students need can be offered, that every instructor can devote their full attention to their students, and that the operations of the university for which faculty are crucial do not suffer.

Salary

MUNFA members have not received a collective raise since 2016, and in that time, inflation has eaten into worker’s wages by close to 18%. We have proposed a raise of 15% over the next four years — this means that the raise we are proposing is below the amount that inflation has already cut into our wages, let alone what will happen over the duration of our collective agreement. While we believe that all workers deserve raises that actually match inflation, we are fighting for a raise that will at least not set us back further.

Out of 15 universities MUNL’s administration likes to compare us to, we come second-last in terms of faculty pay. This is not sustainable if MUNL wants to attract and retain academics from around the country to provide students with the quality education you deserve. Salary increases are necessary to maintain the level of academic excellence that you deserve.

 

What is happening right now with bargaining?

 

Right now, MUNFA and MUNL are in conciliation. The two sides have met once with a conciliator, in September. There are a number of meeting dates set for the next several weeks: on Oct. 27-28, Nov. 9-10, Nov. 16-17, and Nov. 30-Dec. 1. MUNFA hopes to reach a deal during these meetings, and has been trying to get the employer to discuss all the issues that haven’t been resolved yet so that this can be wrapped up.

MUNFA’s collective agreement expired in August 2020, and we first met with the employer in Dec. 2021 to begin bargaining. We would have liked to have this settled before the 2022-23 school year started.

 

How would the administration’s desired changes affect me?

 

On some of these issues, it’s hard to say, because the employer simply has not responded to our proposals. However, some of their bargaining priorities are clear: they have rejected our climate proposal, and they are pushing for a two-tiered benefits scheme that would make life harder for contract faculty and for something they are calling “post-tenure review.” Post-tenure review can best be understood as a way of undermining tenured faculty’s job security and academic freedom. The effect of the benefits scheme and post-tenure review would be to make faculty jobs less secure, leaving faculty with less support.

 

Is MUNFA going to go on strike? When?

 

The honest answer is that it is impossible for MUNFA to know if and when a strike might happen. If MUNL responds fairly to our proposals during the upcoming conciliation dates, we will be very happy to sign off on a new collective agreement and put this round of collective bargaining to bed. Even if that doesn’t happen, the process of moving from where we are now to an actual walk-out will take several weeks.

As to whether MUNFA members will have to go on strike during this round of bargaining, that is up to our employer — the university — and whether or not they decide to respond fairly to our proposals.

 

What would a strike mean for me?

 

If MUNFA members go on strike, it would mean that the majority of classes (any classes taught by MUNFA members) would be cancelled for the duration of the strike. MUNFA members will hold picket lines at certain points around the university campus, and research being conducted under the supervision of MUNFA members will be suspended in almost all cases.

 

What can I do?

 

Whether you support MUNFA members or simply don’t want to see a strike happen, the most important thing you can do is ask the administration to get serious about reaching a deal. Once you’ve sent one, you can also encourage your friends and family to send one. Check back at munfa.ca or follow your student union, MUNSU, for more information and actions.

Another thing you can do is post on social media! On Twitter tag @MemorialU, @GrenfellCampus, @LabradorCampus, @vianne_timmons, @MUNFaculty. On Facebook tag @MemorialUniversity, @GrenfellCampus, @MUNFaculty. On Instagram, tag @memorialuniversity, @grenfellcampus, @munfaculty.

Have a question that isn’t answered here? Email munfa@mun.ca to ask! You can also follow us on Twitter at @MUNFaculty for more updates.