SPRINGHILL - With a tentative deal done, it looks like local community college students can back off on their threat of legal action in the event of a strike by NSCC faculty.
A group of students was considering legal action if the province didn't agree to binding arbitration with Nova Scotia Community College's 900 faculty and staff represented by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. On Tuesday, however, the NSTU and NSCC reached tentative collective agreements on behalf of the faculty and professional support groups employed by the college, averting Tuesday's strike. Details of the agreement will not be available until the agreement has been ratified.
"This has been a very difficult set of negotiations and the NSTU has worked diligently to arrive at a tentative agreement and avoid a strike," said NSTU president Alexis Allen. "We feel this is the best deal possible for our members. The goodwill and spirit of co-operation shown between the NSTU and the college during this trying time have greatly assisted in reaching this agreement."
The NSTU negotiating team will be recommending that its provincial executive accept the tentative agreement. A date for a ratification vote by the membership will be confirmed soon.
That's news that will come as a relief to students at the NSCC Cumberland Campus in Springhill.
Just last week, in between cell phone calls to media outlets and lawyers, Ruby Hunter and Charlene Woods were meeting with fellow students, Springhill mayor Allen Dill and Gary Brown, representing federal Liberal candidate Jim Burrows, on Friday. Their goal, the Human Resource students said, was for the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to avoid a strike and disruption of classes. Otherwise, the province could be facing a class-action suit with 26,000 NSCC students listed as the plaintiffs.
"If they [the government] have a good reason to not pay the 2.9 per cent wage increase the unions wants then they should go into binding arbitration and let it be decided there," Woods said.
Tuition costs the average NSCC student $2,500, Hunter said. If a strike were to interfere with the quality of their education the Cumberland Campus students are not only prepared to seek their money back, but have the 25,000 students currently enrolled in programs across the province refunded as well.
"We students have a voice, a strong voice," Hunter said. "There are 25,000 students. If we all paid just one dollar I'm pretty sure we can afford a lawyer."
The faculty and staff have been in a legal position to strike since Sept. 25.
Negotiations between NSCC and the NSTU opened June 5, 2008, and after 10 months of negotiation the NSTU filed for conciliation to resolve the remaining contract issue: pay. NSTU is seeking an 2.9 per cent increases to salaries and improvements to medical coverage akin to what the province agreed to provide public school teachers last year but the province maintains there is no extra funds while it grapples with its $592-million deficit.
Premier Darrell Dexter agreed to meet with the NSTU last week but refused to interfere with negotiations, or embrace binding arbitration to settle the labor dispute.