On Sunday in addition to the usual flurry of preparation-for-the-week I was also waiting on tenterhooks with the rest of my colleagues. Faculty was waiting to see if we would indeed go on strike today. I had signed up for picket duty already, I knew where I would be walking the line Monday-Friday of this week if conciliation between our union and the Board’s negotiation team failed again.
Rather than write about strike action, the importance of strong union leadership, and the ongoing war against higher education that is being waged on all sides I am want to think about the importance of reading the fine print.
When I was offered my limited term appointment at Dalhousie it was a magical day. Literally. I had just finished my first year of sessional teaching (alright, actually I had just survived, and barely). My divorce was finalized. The house that I owned, which had been sitting on the market after three years of Money Pit-like disasters had finally had an offer. It was even sunny, and I am pretty sure that there were birds singing and little animals running about doing choreographed movements. I met my friend and mentor for a cup of coffee and a discussion; she had been contacted by the hiring committee and wanted to talk to me about what I would do if I was offered this ten-month position thousands of kilometers across the country. After our coffee I walked to my realtor’s office to sign the final papers on the sale of my house. Just as I was getting into my now partner’s car my cell phone rang: I got the job. I immediately called my mentor and she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. She said, “Erin, read the collective agreement. Sit down with a pot of tea and read the whole thing. It will be tedious, but you’ll thank yourself later. Use a highlighter, take some notes, and write down any questions you have. When it comes time for you to negotiate for a full-time position be sure to call me. Women need to be better at negotiation and at reading the fine print.”
Readers, I followed her advice. Sure, I forgot or didn’t understand or simply skimmed a great deal of the information, but reading through this huge document gave me a sense of the sheer amount of fine print associated with this profession. When the DFA entered into pension negotiations I knew where to look in the collective agreement, but more importantly I knew that even as a junior contract faculty member this stuff mattered immensely for me.
The job market is so tight right now that it feels like winning the lottery even making it through to a campus interview (in fact, given the super-saturated market of strong candidates, I think it is a kind of lottery). However, it is crucial to remember that you are in a position of power as well. You must read the fine print. You must find someone to mentor you in contract negotiations. You must realize that even though on the inside you are thrilled to pieces you have been selected for an interview you still need to look at all the paperwork and know what you are signing on for.
The question is: where and how have you learned to read the fine print? Who has taught you how to negotiate for yourself?