OUR: Bargaining Report: “Pushing ahead as hard as possible”

Published by OCUFA in Ontario University Report, 4:3 (14 September 2010)

Bargaining sessions are being scheduled at all faculty association tables currently in negotiations. The University of Toronto Faculty Association is still awaiting an arbitration award from arbitrator Martin Teplitsky.

Employer demands for concessions in such areas as promotion and tenure, academic freedom, and privacy protection are appearing at several tables, just as employers are also demanding no net compensation increases.

But faculty association negotiators are reacting vigorously: ramping up communications to members; strategizing via weekly conference calls; planning general membership meetings and strike votes; accessing conciliation services, in the case of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

“We continue to push ahead as hard as possible,” said Ian Sakinofsky, chair of OCUFA’s Collective Bargaining Committee.

It is also to be expected that employers may point to a settlement reached last week by the University of Waterloo Faculty Association and ratified by the association’s board of directors last Thursday as a precedent for enforcing the government’s demand for two years of no net compensation increases for public sector employees. The settlement, reached within the context of final-offer-selection arbitration, features a five-year collective agreement with no scale increases in the first two years of the pact and three-per-cent increases in each of the last three years.

However, the situation at Waterloo is unique and should not be regarded as having set a precedent.

First, the Waterloo faculty association is not a trade union. It is a staff association that is not certified under the Ontario Labour Relations Act and hence does not have the rights (such as the right to strike), the scope of bargaining (all terms and conditions of employment), ministry services (such as conciliation) and procedural requirements (such as union members having the right to ratify or not ratify their collective agreements) that certification brings.

A large majority of all other faculty associations in Ontario are certified.

Second, the model of final-offer-selection arbitration, which is used at Waterloo, is fraught with difficulty (see Bargaining Wire below). As with the scope of bargaining, the scope of arbitration is limited to salary only, thereby preventing the type of “trade-offs” that parties in normal bargaining can negotiate.

Third, given that they have the power to decide, arbitrators occasionally intervene heavily with the parties in order to influence the shape of final “voluntary” settlements. “We could have rejected the arbitrator’s offer to mediate in this final offer selection process,” said Metin Renksizbulut, chief negotiator for Waterloo faculty, “but given the risk we detected from his remarks about whether or not he would give effect to the government’s wage restraint plan, we decided that it was in the best interest of our members to seek a settlement where we could recover any lost ground over a sufficiently long period of time after the restraint, rather than end up with a wage freeze.”

Fourth, since contract ratification is restricted to the faculty association’s board of directors, employers should not assume that other faculty associations would not have their members’ full support in rejecting an unsatisfactory employer offer and fighting for a better one.

“We are not going to allow other university administrations to tell us their hands are tied, either by the government restraint exercise or by the Waterloo settlement,” said Sakinofsky. “When we say all faculty association bargaining is determined at the local level, we mean it.”

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