Students warn provincial government resolve dispute or face lawsuit
SPRINGHILL - With time slipping away toward a strike by the staff and faculty of Nova Scotia Community Colleges across the province, students of the Cumberland campus took charge of their fate and launched a media campaign announcing they will seek out legal action if the province doesn't agree to binding arbitration.
In between cellphone calls to media outlets and lawyers, Ruby Hunter and Charlene Woods met with fellow students, Springhill mayor Allen Dill and Gary Brown, representing federal Liberal candidate Jim Burrows, on Friday. Their goal, the human resource students say, is 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 25,000 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 union 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 says. If a strike is going to interfere with the quality of their education, the Cumberland campus students are not only prepared to seek their money back, but have students enrolled in programs across the province refunded as well.
If successful, the Dexter government could be looking at reimbursing more than $62 million, compared to the $1.5 million more NSCC faculty and staff are seeking.
"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."
As of Friday, no lawyer had been retained by the NSCC students, but notice of the intended action was being circulated among NSCC student councils and student bodies.
With no resolution in sight, a strike date was set by the NSTU for Tuesday. The NSTU rallied at Province House on Thursday to support the NSCC faculty and support staff who have been without a contract since Aug. 31, of last year.
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 of pay. The NSTU is seeking a 2.9 per cent increase 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 labour dispute.
Last week, faculty and staff at Cape Breton University voted in favour of a collective agreement put on the table by the province, offering wage increases of 2.9 per cent annually for the next four years. The offer was accepted without a conciliation process.