The York Street Children’s Centre will be responsible for funding the replacement of the centre’s flooring despite university ownership of the building.
After a provincial health and safety inspector concluded that the centre’s floors – dating back a couple decades – had to be replaced due to health concerns, Mount Allison University rejected any responsibility for bankrolling the renovation.
Mt. A leases the building to the non-for-profit daycare organization for one dollar a year. The board-run centre looks after the children of many Mt. A faculty, staff, and administration who pay the daycare for its services.
Following the University’s refusal to pay for the flooring, the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) submitted a grievance with the University. They cited a Memorandum of Agreement in their Collective Agreement with the University that states: “The Employer shall continue to maintain the facility for the York Street Children’s Centre.” Despite the grievance, the University upheld their position and the case went to external arbitration.
A three-person arbitration panel was appointed for the case. MAFA appointed Betty Jeffery, a librarian from UPEI, while the University appointed Eric Durnford, a lawyer from Halifax.
Lawyers from both sides presented the appointed panel with their arguments pertaining to the university’s responsibility to maintain the daycare facility.
Stephen Law, former president of MAFA, says the core of the dispute lays on two different interpretations of the use of the word “maintain” in the Memorandum of Agreement.
“The lawyer for the Mount Allison Faculty Association was arguing that ‘maintain’ meant to keep the building to a standard suitable for a daycare according to New Brunswick daycare legislation,” said Law.
Robert Inglis, the university’s vice-president of finance and administration, says that the University has upheld the collective agreement by continuing to lease the facility to the daycare. “The university has supported the daycare from its initial creation,” he said.
Inglis states that the university’s lease agreement with the centre is consistent with the relationships other Canadian universities’ hold with external daycares. He says they lease out the service because “the university does not want to be in the daycare business, that is not what we are good at.”
The arbitration panel sided with the university, leaving the centre to pay over $17,000 to replace the flooring. The university offered the organization a six-year interest-free loan to cover the costs.
Fabrizio Antonelli, president of the York Street Children’s Centre’s board, says they have agreed to take the university’s loan. “If we had not accepted the loan and simply tried to pay it with what we have in reserve, it would have meant a depletion of all our available liquid accounts,” he said. “It would have been difficult to run the centre, pay all the workers, and buy all the food without incurring a debt.”
“Morally and ethically, I think there is a big problem here”
The decision at arbitration has concluded this particular grievance; however, MAFA’s Collective Agreement with the university is set to expire in 2016. This could have an effect on the Memorandum of Agreement regarding the university’s relationship with the daycare.
Dave Thomas, politics and international relations department head and father of two attending the daycare, is concerned that the arbitration ruling will set a precedent for future maintenance expenses at the centre. Citing that other universities have daycare services, he said, “Owning the building and giving a deal on the rent is the least they could do to show employees and the community that they are eager to invest in families.”
Some members of the Mt. A community remain concerned about the university’s refusal to pay for the maintenance. “Legally it was found in their favour,” said Thomas. “Morally and ethically, I think there is a big problem here.”