Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Arbitration for UVic's Faculty Association

On January 21, 2013, the negotiating team for the UVic Faculty Association sent an email on its listserv that was intended to reach all faculty and librarians. It hasn't yet appeared on our website, though, so I've posted it here for anyone who might want to share it or see it outside an email context.

As the opening paragraphs note, this bulletin owes some of its approach and tone to its role as a response to the administration's announcement about mediation. I decline to provide a link to that announcement, as it simply doesn't deserve the traffic.

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Bargaining Bulletin #14

January 21,  2013

The End of Mediation: Where are we, and what's next?

The bargaining process between the University of Victoria and the UVic Faculty Association has been long, and we're disappointed to report that the mediation phase of this process has now concluded without an agreement, just as the negotiation phase did. We wish that we could say simply that an agreement was not reached, but it's more accurate to say that both negotiation and mediation have failed to produce an agreement.

We had intended to produce a measured, careful statement about the mediation phase, respecting the collegial governance model that is often said to be a hallmark of UVic. Unfortunately, an administration announcement, dated January 18 and reflecting either a gross misunderstanding or a deliberate misrepresentation of what happened during the mediation, has necessitated a more rapid response.

Salary

During negotiations, the Association presented the administration with Statistics Canada data indicating that salaries here are not only significantly below the national average, but are, in fact, among the lowest of all research universities in Canada. The only two comparator universities with lower average salaries are the University of Manitoba, and the University of New Brunswick. The administration declined to discuss these data.

During the October phase of mediation, the administration offered a 2% raise in each of the agreement's two years. Manitoba had a 2.9% increase for 2012; New Brunswick has 3.5% increases for each of 2012 and 2013. If we had accepted the administration's offer, the consequence would be that UVic's average salary would be the lowest, without exception, among the 21 schools that the administration views as our comparators.  We would also have fallen further behind at least 17 of these comparator institutions: not only would our average salary be the lowest, but it would be further below the average than it is now.

During the January mediation, we indicated to the mediator a willingness to repackage our request in different ways, including a 2+2 settlement with a 2-year increase in CPI as an alternative to a percentage increase. The administration’s claim is that we presented them with a “take it or leave it offer”. This is highly misleading, whether deliberately or otherwise: at no time did we indicate that we would stop negotiations if they produced a counter-offer which came short of our proposed settlement.

Ability to pay

The Association recognizes that this university, like every public institution (and indeed every private one), faces financial pressures of one kind or another. To describe UVic as unable to pay a settlement that would prevent it from being the lowest-paying university of its kind in Canada, though, is a stretch at best.

For one thing, it means that we would need to ignore the “unexpected” surplus that this university has run in each of the last several years, which the administration was pleased to tell the Board of Governors was $20.3 million in 2011/12 alone.

Take the current 4% budget cut that is being imposed across all units, for example. The impetus behind this cut has been publicly described, repeatedly, as the province's projected cut to grants into the university's general operating fund. The province is indeed cutting this grant, but only by 1.5%, and this grant represents significantly less than 60% of revenue into the operating fund. How does the province's decision to reduce its contribution to the university's operating budget by less than 1%, lead to a 4% cut by the administration?

Fundamentally, the Association in no way accepts the administration's claims about its ability to pay a fair settlement.

“Take it or leave it”

Finally, the administration's statement declares that the Association ended mediation by presenting what the administration calls a “take it or leave it” package. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The administration opened this final day by indicating that they would be willing to discuss the outstanding non-monetary matters, but only if the Association would a prioriaccept the 2/2 offer, thus making UVic the country's lowest-paid school of its type. Even at that, their “take it or leave it” offer came with no agreement of any sort to accept any element of our non-monetary proposals (including on the promotion tenure/reappointment issues we discussed at length with the membership in past bargaining bulletins) – only a non-committal “agreement to discuss.”  So we had to agree to falling further behind other Canadian institutions in exchange for the prospect that we might (or might not) see some non-monetary improvements. In no uncertain terms, the mediator reported to us that the other side was unwilling to discuss non-monetary matters further in the absence of a monetary agreement on the administration’s terms.

In other words, from our perspective, the only side making a “take it or leave it” statement was the administration.

Indeed, the very last thing that happened in mediation was that we offered to send all non-monetary matters to binding arbitration, along with monetary matters. The administration refused. It had no interest in resolving the non-monetary matters it describes in its bulletin; it was prepared to talk about them – not to agree with our proposals, but to talk about them – only if we agreed that this university's faculty and librarians should be lower paid than if they were employed at any other comparator school in the country.

The administration's description of this final moment as a “take it or leave it” package presented by the Association is so far from reality that we call on them to revise their bulletin and apologize for this mischaracterization of the mediation process.

What's next?

In brief, arbitration is the final step in negotiations. No date has yet been confirmed, but it is not likely to occur within the next month or two.

Financial matters will be presented to Colin Taylor, who has so far been the mediator and will now become the arbitrator, and he will be responsible for a determination that may select either side's position in total, may draw elements from both positions, or may fall between the two side's positions.

Non-monetary matters are not being presented to Mr. Taylor, because the administration refused to accept our proposal that he be asked to decide on those as well. In consequence, the current Framework Agreement is being rolled over for an additional two years, with the inclusion of whatever changes were agreed to during negotiation and mediation.

As for what happens next, as in what's next for the relationship between the administration and the Faculty Association, and the Association's members, we hope you'll reflect carefully on that.

We look forward to hearing from you, and to seeing you at the upcoming General Membership Meeting scheduled for 3pm on Thursday, February 14.

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