(please feel free to distribute to UGFA members)
July 3, 2014
From Prof. David Josephy, Molecular and Cellular Biology; UGFA negotiating team member
I've been involved in UGFA Collective Agreement negotiations since the time of our first agreement, back in 2007. These negotiations are always tough. Our Collective Agreement is more than 200 pages long, which is typical for the university sector. In negotiations, we have to go through most of that document, clause by clause, line by line, word by word, and, yes, even semi-colon by semi-colon. We've been at the negotiating table for months. Many Articles have been handed back and forth several times; they are now so heavily marked up with strikeouts and redlines that they are difficult to read.
I'm accustomed to the fact that the pace can be slow, and I'm used to management stalling tactics. But I've never experienced a negotiation as difficult as this one. That's because management's initial position consisted of almost nothing but "take-aways", targeted at some of the most important aspects of our contract: job security, workload, working conditions compensation, pensions. In the many hours of bargaining so far, there has been little movement from management on these critical issues. The most we have accomplished, on many Articles, is that management has agreed to mitigate, slightly, some of the take-aways. For example, on research/study leave (Article 22), they have shifted from a position of 80% salary to 85% ... but we currently have 100%!
The team has been united in its belief that we should not "negotiate against ourselves" - that is, think that we've won a victory when we move management from an "awful" position to one that is merely "bad".
We are continuing to do our best to reach an agreement. Indeed, we have scheduled further bargaining meetings with management for July 7 and 8. Why, then, are we now asking you to vote on a possible strike? None of us wants a strike! But from our vantage point at the negotiating table, we don't have any confidence that we can move management to a reasonable position - one where we could come to an agreement that satisfies the mandate we have received from our members - until we convince them that you, the members, continue to support strongly the bargaining mandate that you gave us, earlier this year. The only effective tool that remains available to us, to make this case, is the strike vote. And we know that that tool works. When we negotiated the first Collective Agreement, it was the decisive strike vote - and the willingness of our members to sign up for strike duty and to start painting picket signs - that finally convinced management to make a reasonable deal. Our members' unity of purpose - their willingness to go on strike *if* necessary, make the strike unnecessary - to everyone's great relief.
In the past few days, we have had a short break from daily bargaining meetings, and I've been talking to as many of my colleagues as I can. A couple of questions come up repeatedly.
People ask me, with whom are you actually negotiating? At this time of major transition in the administration, with a new President arriving soon and the Provost's position about to be vacated, who is actually making the decisions on the management side? Well, we don't know. We only know who we meet at the table - the Assistant Vice-President for Faculty and Academic Staff Relations; the Assistant Vice-President for Graduate Studies & Program Quality Assurance; the Dean of OAC; and a few other administrators. We don't really know who is calling the shots behind the scenes; and, under the Labour Relations Act, we don't have the right to ask. You just have to deal with the team that you are facing at the table.
Some people have also asked me, "Since a new President is about to take office, couldn't you approach him directly, and ask him to intervene, to move the bargaining process forward?" Well, again, we just can't. That would be bargaining in bad faith. Maybe the incoming president is being consulted and maybe he isn't; that decision is up to management and they don't have to tell us.
I am confident that a strong Yes vote from our members can provide our team with the bargaining power that we need to conclude negotiations successfully. But I also want to take a moment to explain the likely consequences of a negative or weak strike vote. Talking to my colleagues, I realize that some people believe that if they vote against the strike, the team will just go back to the table and pick up where we left off, except that the threat of a strike will have been removed. Unfortunately, that's not how things work in practice! A marginal vote will indicate that we have insufficient support from the members. It would be tantamount to a vote of non-confidence in the bargaining team and in the mandate that we received from the members. We would have to go back to the table in a position of weakness and it would be exceedingly difficult to get anything more than the last proposal from management - which includes a compensation package that would propel us downwards in the Ontario university system, removing our annual career increment, changing merit pay from a base increase to a onetime increase, removing merit pay from members rated as "good", and with across-the-board salary increases of less than 1%, far below what is being agreed to at other universities; management's right to make unilateral changes to DoE (increasing members' assigned workloads); and the intolerable attack on job security (Article 24).
Please support your negotiating team and give us the clear mandate that we need, so that we can go back to the table from a position of strength. I urge you to vote Yes next week!