In addition to participating in flying pickets, Brick recently represented contract instructors as AASUA’s Academic Teaching Staff (ATS) Constituency Director, and was appointed during the last round of negotiations as AASUA's Job Action Coordinator.

While the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) has itself never been on strike, one AASUA member is already a seasoned picketer. 

Rick Brick is an associate executive professor at the Alberta School of Business. For the past two years, he has supported academic staff all over the country at 10 different strikes through the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) Defence Fund flying picket program. 

The CAUT Defence Fund, which AASUA contributes to, provides integral assistance to its members once they hit the line. The Fund primarily offers financial support such as strike pay, but on request can send flying picketers from other associations to show strikers they’re not alone in their fight for a fair deal. 

“The key message is one of hope,” Brick said. “’You’re not the first organization that’s been in this, unfortunately, but you’re helping all of us — the other universities as well — because as we get a good deal at one location, it strengthens the whole organization.'”

Through Brick, AASUA has delivered messages of support and solidarity directly to the line. 

“The Employer knows a strike isn’t a fight with just one union, they’ve got CAUT and all of the other academic staff associations in Canada standing behind them saying, regardless of how long you’re out, we’re behind you, and we’re going to support you.”

Brick — who recently represented contract instructors as Academic Teaching Staff (ATS) Constituency Director on AASUA's Executive —  was elected to the CAUT Defence Fund as one of AASUA’s eight trustees in 2021.

At that time, Brick also played a leading role in strike preparations as AASUA’s Job Action Coordinator. He said he felt learning about strikes through a position on the CAUT Defence Fund would be crucial if the University of Alberta Board of Governors forced the union into a strike position. 

“Nobody on either side wants a strike, ideally,” Brick said. “This only happens when all other opportunities for arriving at a Collective Agreement have been exhausted — when we’ve tried everything else we can.”

Around the country in 10 strikes

Academic Staff associations typically avoid striking in the summer, when withdrawing labour would not carry as much of an impact. This often means harsh winter conditions for striking. 

The first strike Brick attended as part of the CAUT Defence Fund took place at the University of Manitoba, and was “horribly, bitterly cold.” 

Despite the subpar conditions, Brick said he “got to see a strike in action, which had AASUA had to go out on strike would have been incredibly valuable.”

Through participating in the flying pickets, Brick has gained insight into how other strike headquarters operate, how other unions run their picket lines, and what kinds of demonstrations can prove most effective.  

Some strikes have unique characteristics, Brick noted: the Syndicat des professeurs et professeures de l’Université Laval (SPUL) didn’t picket but instead held larger events each week. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology Faculty Association (UOTIFA) blocked off roads. 

The easiest strike to travel to was the Concordia University of Edmonton, Brick laughed, noting sometimes his more distant travels didn’t go as planned. 

After picketing alongside the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association (MUNFA), Brick was stranded in St. John’s for two days. A weather front arrived when he got to the line, and was so severe that picketing was called off. The airport also closed, meaning Brick and other flying picketers could not travel home. 

“It was challenging, but in some ways it was kind of nice,” Brick said, adding that the CAUT Defence Fund President, Michael Shaw, was there, in addition to the CAUT President, Peter McInnis. “We got to socialize and talk about strategy.”

Brick intends to run again to serve once more as Defence Fund Trustee, and has recently been elected to a new position on CAUT’s Collective Bargaining and Organizing Committee. There, he will help to advise CAUT on trends, strategies, and best practices related to collective bargaining. 

“My background is human resources, so I’ve often been responsible for managing collective bargaining activities during negotiations between unions and employers when strikes occur,” Brick said.

Sense of solidarity 

As for other lessons learnt on the picket lines, Brick said one aspect that will stick with him is the way the experience of striking together brings “a sense of camaraderie that is second to none.” 

Brick said he noticed this especially during the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) strike in 2022, which ran longer than anticipated. 

“You saw it wasn’t just the faculty and the flying pickets, it was the other unions within the province, and indeed, elsewhere within the country, coming out to show their solidarity and their support, providing funding and knowledge, and being on the line,” Brick said. 

The effect of standing together in the name of a common goal can create a collegial outlook that outlasts the strike, and can strengthen the union in additional bargaining years.

“The next time a union that’s been on strike goes into collective bargaining, they’ve been there,” Brick said. “They’ve had that experience, and they know the worst case isn’t too bad, actually. And the Employer knows they know that, so a lot of what might have been used as intimidation doesn’t work anymore.” 

Click here to see photos of Brick participating in the different strikes he attended.