On June 17, six administrative and nine custodial workers many of whom have worked for NSCAD for over 20 years learned they were losing their jobs.
The NSCAD Administration, in an attempt to trim their budget, cut administrative supports for their faculty and students and will be contracting out custodial work to a private company.
These cuts came out of the blue. There was no way to anticipate support staff numbers could get any lower. Staffing has been paying the price ever since the Administration overextended themselves in building acquisitions capital expansion from 2002 – 2006.
How could the university function? That was our question. The administrative staff perform so many critical functions for the day-to-day operations of the facility and are the only support for students and faculty. The idea they could eliminate these staff members was jaw dropping.
Administrative staff members support the students and faculty each day by arranging studio bookings, organizing purchase orders, managing the departmental budget, booking models for drawing classes, and coordinating room bookings. They must be on-hand to help solve a variety of administrative/studio problems that students encounter throughout the day.
The affected custodial staff members have worked at the university for up to 24 years. The custodial staff know the complexities of working around artists in the maze-like downtown campus. They are trusted individuals, which is necessary in this tight knit artistic community. An art and design university is not an environment conducive to contract custodial work with its characteristic high turnover rates.
After the initial shock, a lunchtime rally was organized for Thursday, June 25 and speakers were organized. President Jessome was away at a NUPGE conference but insisted the rally take place sooner rather than later.
The small membership of the NSCAD local was reeling from the news that between 40 and 50% of their bargaining unit was being lost. Rick Clarke from the Federation of Labour came to speak at the rally along with Alvin Comiter, President of the Faculty Union of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (FUNSCAD), Jade Peek, VP External of the Student Union of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (SUNSCAD), and Michaela Sam, Chairperson, for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) – Nova Scotia. President of Local 82, Christina Warren, gave a very inspirational speech about solidarity and hope.
The speeches called on NSCAD to reverse their decision to cut and contract out support services – the backbone of the institution. The student leadership told the crown that students need these supports and good jobs when they graduate. It was an inspiring rally.
However, the climate of austerity championed by this Liberal government is leading universities to cut staff and privatize services. “This government has clearly signaled to university administration with Bill 100: Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act that they must put their budget and bottom line before anything else. They’ve essentially handed them a baseball bat, and the administration is taking a swing at these workers,” President Jessome said in a press release. The Bill requires universities with a “significant operating deficit” to initiate a restructuring process in order to continue to receive government funding that can include the suspension of collective bargaining, workers’ rights, the curtailing of academic freedoms.
Demonstrations were held against the Bill in April and May and representatives from labour, NSGEU and other Faculty Associations spoke against it at the Law Amendments Committee Hearing on April 30.
In other university bargaining news: Negotiations with Saint Mary’s University are ongoing and have also involved cuts to positions. We have reached a tentative agreement with our members who work at Dalhousie in Local 99 – Operational Support and Local 77 – Dalhousie Staff Association. Negotiations for Local 88 – St. F.X. University are ongoing.