Discussion on CUPE 3912 labour strike

While the NSCSW does not represent social workers at the collective bargaining table, as a professional organization we fully support our members in their efforts to obtain contracts that recognize the extremely important work you do in our province.

As you may know, teaching assistants, part-time academics, markers, and demonstrators at Dalhousie University who are represented by CUPE 3912 —including several social work educators and students— went on strike on October 19, 2022. Ending the impasse with an agreement on a fair and reasonable contract will help those who need the services provided by educators and social workers, now and in the future.

We received the open letter below about this labour dispute, along with a request to share it on behalf of the signers. The NSCSW is committed to ensuring that our website is a space for members to advocate for the development, enhancement, and promotion of policies to improve social conditions and promote social justice; as well as a space to encourage members to participate in affairs promoting the practice of social work, in the best interest of the public.

Why social workers should support the CUPE 3912 labour strike

Take a short walk through the Dalhousie campus and you will see rows of picket lines at the university main teaching buildings. CUPE 3912 members, comprised of teaching assistants, markers, demonstrators, and part time sessional instructors started their legal strike at 12:01 am on Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

The labour dispute is over wages. Wages that did not increase since 2019, despite administrative salaries raising on a yearly basis. The salary increase for administrators and senior staff at Dalhousie University has been estimated to average close to 8% for 2021-2022 with Dalhousie’s President, Deep Saini, leading with a 13% increase.

And, while at the end of 2021, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most well-known indicator of inflation surpassed 5% nationally, as documented by Statistics Canada, CPI reached 8% in August and has been recently sitting at 6.9% at the end of September. High numbers to stomach when your wage remains flat.

Wage parity is not merely an internal matter. Dalhousie University prides itself for being part of the U15 network of research-intensive Canadian universities, a network that fosters the development and delivery of research informed higher education, the type of research that trickles down in the classrooms and aims to train and mentor students in becoming the innovative leaders of tomorrow. Yet unlike its sister U15 institutions, Dalhousie University does not pay its CUPE 3912 members similar dollar amounts. Teaching assistants at University of Toronto get paid $44 per hour, while teaching assistants at Dalhousie University get $24 per hour. Almost a double difference in pay. While living and housing costs were estimated to be lower in Halifax than Toronto, that is no longer the case as housing and food costs have risen.  This can no longer remain an argument to halve the wages. In fact, living costs in Nova Scotia have been raising at record levels in 2022, as CPI in the province surpassed national averages, up to 9.3%, with rent costs rising to 8.2% and food by 8.8%. The city of Halifax, in particular, is experiencing an acute housing crisis that involves increase in rents, renovictions, expensive condo development and a reduction in both existing stock of affordable and social housing.

And you do not even have to take Toronto, Canada’s richest city as a comparative benchmark. Western University in London, Ontario and University of Ottawa are both paying its teaching assistants close to double the amount remunerated by Dalhousie University.

Social workers devote most of their professional careers to addressing issues of systemic inequalities. And the wage disparity between instructors/teaching assistants and administrative staff on the one hand, and between sessional staff from similar universities on the other hand, reflect issues of deep-seated economic inequalities. Supporting the strike is a clear call to action.

Labour organizing is part of social work curriculum

Community organizing is a staple credit course required in undergraduate and graduate level education at most schools of social work, including the Dalhousie School of Social Work. Teaching community organizing is not merely about familiarizing social work students with the work of civil society and the non-profit sector or discussing large scale demonstrations, such as the Occupy Movement or the Black Lives Matter protests but also about teaching students about unions, about strategies and tactics that could be used to strengthen union power and increase workers’ occupational conditions. Community organizing is about teaching students how to best engage in advocating, mobilizing and organizing for dismantling the power structures in society that are keeping people in precarious economic conditions.

And while teaching regularly unfolds in the abstract realm, social work teaching cannot occur in a vacuum, as social work theory is of little use if not applied to practice. Praxis is what we aim for in social work, and teaching about community organizing and labor issues needs to ultimately be reflected in taking a supportive position in solidarity with those striking for better working conditions. Crossing the picket line will bring into light a deep ideological contradiction between what we preach as social work educators and what we would be doing in practice.

Social justice, including economic justice, is a core value in social work

The pursuit of social justice is a core social work value in the Canadian Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics. Guided by principles of fair and equitable distribution of resources, “social workers uphold the right of people to have access to resources to meet basic human needs” (Canadian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, 2005, p.5). In practice, this often translates into striving to ameliorate the negative effects created in society through the primary distribution of resources via the private market. And the CUPE 3912 labour dispute is a clear example of an inequitable distribution of resources within a two-tiered academic system, a two-tiered university professoriate which employs highly paid permanent faculty members on the one hand while failing to increase pay for the sessional and temporary assistants and instructors, a system which rewards managers and administrators yet disregards the needs of its lowest paid workers.

Social workers have an ethical obligation to stand in solidarity with CUPE 3912 workers.

Raluca Bejan, Assistant Professor

Jeff Karabanow, Professor

Cassandra Hanrahan, Associate Professor

Nancy Ross, Assistant Professor

Merlinda Weinberg, Professor

Terrence Lewis, Associate Professor

Marjorie Johnstone, Associate Professor

Michelle Sutherland-Allan, Assistant Professor

Gail Baikie, Assistant Professor

Janet Pothier, Instructor

Jack Wong, MSW Student

Nicole Slaunwhite, MSW Student

Catherine Bryan, Associate Professor

Eli Manning, Associate Professor

Catrina Brown, Professor

Amanda Wilneff, MSW Student

Maggie Hertzberg, MSW Student

Emily Crosby, MSW Student

Kelly Reddy, MSW Student

Catlin De Villa, MSW Student

Meara Fletcher, MSW Student

Cyndi Hall, Field Education Coordinator

Kelly Curley, MSW Student

MacKenzie Gordon, MSW Student

Marion Brown, Associate Professor 

Mary Pam, MSW Student 

Eric Jonsson, MSW Student 

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