Monday, March 11, 2013

Talking unionization

Today and tomorrow, I'll be attending some (maybe all!) of the events being hosted by the UVic Faculty Association to talk about unionization in an academic setting. For the record, here's the info about the sessions, and below this outline, I'll talk about the issues in a little more detail*:
Monday, March 11: 3pm-5 pm: Mac D116: “What are the faculty union experiences at other Canadian universities?”
Panel Discussion: Dr. Neil Tudiver, Asst. Executive Director, CAUT, and Dr. Nancy Burfoot, Professor, Queens University, former President Queens FA 
Monday 11 March: 5:30 to 7:30: Wild Rose Room, University Club (refreshments and snacks provided)
Informal discussion with Drs. Tudiver and Burfoot, and UVic FA Executive Committee 
Tuesday, March 12: 2:30pm-4:30pm: Mac D116: “What does the unionization process look like, and what are the challenges?”
Panel Discussion:Dr. Neil Tudiver, Asst. Executive Director, CAUT, and Dr. Nancy Burfoot, Professor, Queens University, former President Queens FA
Here's the thing.

People keep asking me if I'm in favour of unionization, and there's just no straight answer for that. I'm in favour of a healthy relationship between employers and employees, which in my case means the University of Victoria and the UVic Faculty Association. Plenty of workplaces out there function perfectly well without unions, and one would think that a university'd be one place where thoughtful people would be able to get along.

Given my experience on the Negotiating Team over the last 18 months of work, with the last 12 months being taken up with bargaining and mediation, and with arbitration coming up at a date still TBA, it's clear to me that at present, the relationship at UVic between employer and employees is not healthy. The non-union structure means that when the employer takes liberties, declines to engage, and skirts its obligations, the employees have few non-judicial levers -- and few judicial ones, actually -- to push the employer to behave decently. A union structure wouldn't compel the employer to behave all that differently, but in theory, it'd install additional levers that should lead to a more engaged relationship between the sides.

That term "sides," of course, is at the heart of most people's worries about unionization at UVic: why can't we just be truly collegial, and why can't we just get along? Why should there be "sides"?

First of all, I'd suggest that you raise this question with the university's senior administrative team, because they seem pretty comfortable with their opposition to the Faculty Association and to the association's efforts to represent librarians and faculty members both individually and separately. Of course administrators should have a different perspective on the world than should librarians and faculty members, because they've got access to different and additional information, and because they've got different kinds of decisions to make. My point is that there's no reason for this to generate the kind of oppositional climate that we're seeing here.

Second, what makes you think that unionization is guaranteed to perpetuate division into "sides"? Under our current non-union structure, it's clear that the administration already sees itself oppositionally to the association, so this wouldn't change for the worse under unionization (except possibly by degrees). My fondest hope -- "fond," you know, meaning both "affectionate" as well as "foolish" -- would instead see unionization as a trigger toward a more equal relationship between the sides, which would make for something more like a partnership than whatever the hell it is that exists now between the university and the association.

Am I in favour of unionization? I'm in favour of respect, consultation, and a healthy employment relationship. Under our current non-union structure, I'm seeing none of those things in the quantities and degrees that I'd see as the minimum requirements for a top-notch university. Because I want the University of Victoria to be a top-notch university, I see no alternative but to seek unionization.

Would I change my mind if the administration demonstrated its commitment to those conditions I mentioned above, namely respect, consultation, and a healthy employment relationship? Absolutely I would. In declaring my support for unionization at UVic, I'm not speaking out of a conventional political position (ie, lefty = unionist): I'm speaking out of love for my university, for my vocation, and for my colleagues.

And I'm trusting everyone else to do the same, because that's how collegiality ought to work. I hope that today, lots of us will be able to speak together in person or online about these questions.
*New readers, incidentally, may be interested to see that I've talked about some of these issues before:

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful post, Richard. I expect nothing but a well-written and measured post from you. Wait, you are in English! In all seriousness, your points are key: respect and collegiality. Thanks for fighting the good fight for all of us.