This has been a challenging year.

We were just putting the final touches on this issue of Academic Matters when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Canada. A few final tweaks and the journal would have been on its way to campus. Except that, suddenly, there was no one on campus to read it. So, we decided to wait.

As the virus spread, it became clear that faculty, librarians, and other academic staff would not be returning to campus any time soon. Along with increased concerns about health and safety, the pandemic created many additional challenges for academic staff. Courses were quickly moved online while schools and childcare centres closed, leaving parents with more work, more responsibility, and limited access to support.

As COVID-19 continues to cast its shadow over our lives, anxiety about employment and financial security continue to grow—especially for contract faculty. Most of us are still struggling to find a balance in this new normal.

Although this issue of Academic Matters was largely written before the COVID-19 pandemic, its central theme, the role of collective bargaining in shaping Ontario university campuses, has been integral to the ways that institutions and faculty associations have responded to this crisis.

Since the Ryerson Faculty Association became the first group of Ontario faculty to unionize in 1964, most university faculty associations have followed suit and certified as unions with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Even in cases where faculty associations have not formally certified, they still collectively negotiate terms and conditions of employment for their members.

Faculty recognize that negotiating agreements and contracts collectively is the most efficient, effective, and equitable way to ensure their members are being treated and compensated fairly—and that these agreements play a vital role in protecting members during times of crisis.

As Ontario’s universities plot a path forward in the shadow of COVID-19, it is through this process of collective negotiation that faculty associations are arriving at agreements with university administrations on how to effectively carry on teaching, research, and librarianship during this health crisis.

We already had a fantastic issue lined up when the pandemic struck. And, with publication delayed, we reached out to faculty associations to see how they were responding to the crisis.

This resulted in two additional articles specifically about collective action during the pandemic. As Stephanie Bangarth writes, the King’s University College Faculty Association, facing an uncooperative administration, successfully unionized during the crisis. Meanwhile, Larry Savage reflects on the remote negotiation and engagement work that led to strong collective agreement gains for the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA).

Also from BUFA, Michelle Webber and Linda Rose-Krasnor describe the vital role collective bargaining plays in advancing the principles of academic freedom, tenure, equity, and institutional autonomy that are core to the academy’s mission.

Former OCUFA Research Director Donna Gray reviews the history of bargaining at Ontario’s universities, with a focus on who has benefitted under the limits imposed by the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

Geoffrey Hudson, President of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine Faculty and Staff Association, highlights the benefits of integrating and prioritizing equity in the collective bargaining process.

Academic libarians and archivists face particular challenges in the workplace, many of which University of Ottawa librarian Jennifer Dekker discusses as she details the importance of bargaining for these sometimes overlooked groups.

Finally, Annabree Fairweather, Executive Director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia, provides a critique of BC’s Public Sector Employers’ Council, how it interferes in the collective bargaining process, and what it might mean for public policy in other provinces.

A big thank you to these contributors for their work and patience. The ideas they advance are more vital now than ever. As the impacts of COVID-19 reverberate through Ontario’s universities, collective negotiation has been key to protecting the integrity of our postsecondary education system. This has been a challenging year, but this issue’s contributors have shown just how much can be accomplished through collective action.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Lewis is the Editor-in-Chief of Academic Matters and Communications Lead for OCUFA.