Bargaining update #6: Rolling back our rights

In this round of bargaining, the York University administration (hereafter “the Employer”) is seeking radical changes in our compensation, working conditions, and academic freedom. At the same time, outside of bargaining, the Employer is actively seeking to roll back our members’ rights.

Governance

The Employer is interfering systematically in the process of collegial decision-making in academic hiring for professorial and teaching focus (alternate-stream) positions. York has authorized additional tenure-track hiring across campus. This is positive. It seems that our administration has finally noticed that there are not enough YUFA members to teach our students. However, the administration has failed to provide colleagues with the time to write the job ads and plan the process for these positions. Units have been given less than a week and as little as 48 hours, in some cases, to write the ads for these jobs. Deans are interfering in the writing of these ads and dictating departmental hiring priorities over the will of colleagues who are the experts in their subject area.

This is an unacceptable interference in the academic freedom and collegial rights of YUFA members. By implementing impossible timelines, the administration can pay lip service to open hiring, while undermining the academic collegial processes that constitute the norm at most institutions of higher learning. YUFA’s bargaining proposals on governance arose in response to an emergent pattern of situations like this. They seek to halt the undermining of expert collegial decision-making with respect to the constitution, pedagogy, and direction of departments and faculties. The Employer has said no to YUFA’s governance proposals across the board.

Some colleagues have commented that YUFA cannot expect the Employer to move on these proposals and that YUFA is derailing bargaining by insisting that the administration implement reasonable governance reform. However, in YUFA’s bargaining survey, governance was virtually tied with compensation as the top issue for members. Even while bargaining is underway, YUFA continues to get requests from members who seek YUFA’s support in defending collegial rights against interfering administrators.

Workload and pay

In the last round of bargaining, YUFA members accepted a below-par salary increase in return for an application-based program of research release. While almost every other university in Ontario, including Brock and Windsor, has a two-course load across the board for the professorial stream, the administration wasted YUFA’s time for a decade in bargaining, only to provide a conditional, competitive, and reduced version of what was already standard practice at other Ontario universities.

In 2015, YUFA voluntarily agreed to a restructuring of the York University Pension Plan proposed by the Employer. YUFA is the only employee group at York that has a veto over Plan changes, and this restructuring would not have been possible without YUFA’s agreement. YUFA assented to this change in good faith to ensure the future stability of the Plan. As it turned out, the change did more than assure the future stability of the Plan. It netted an ongoing annual windfall of $8.8 million for York, while YUFA members saw their net pay drop permanently as a result of the increase in their contribution rates. Meanwhile, the York Plan fails to provide full inflation protection, which means that the value of retirees’ pensions erodes over time. YUFA’s current pension proposal seeks to ensure that, after contributing substantially to the Plan on every pay, members will receive a secure pension income.

Working conditions

The Employer is systematically eroding our working conditions. The Employer has told YUFA that members will owe teaching if their courses are cancelled for strike-related reasons. New YUFA members who are starting this Fall have been told that they will owe teaching if their courses are cancelled, despite the terms specified in their letters of appointment. In some units in LA&PS, YUFA members are in ongoing teaching debt to the Employer because of course cancellations brought about by the administration’s own decisions.

In reaction to this, YUFA added a bargaining proposal that would prohibit the Employer from forcing YUFA members to “owe” teaching in the event of course cancellations. That proposal was entirely generated by the Employer’s aggressive approach.

Several Deans, starting with the former Principal of Glendon College, Donald Ipperciel, have told YUFA members that the (every three year) Computer Renewal Program is a dead letter. Ipperciel told YUFA members at Glendon that they did not need a new computer more than once every five years. He claimed to know better than our members what their specialized needs were. Again, the administration threatens to pull back a support that is essential to our doing our jobs. Because of the Employer’s attempt to remove a right that we already have, YUFA moved this item into bargaining and is seeking to entrench the Computer Renewal Program in the contract. These are just a few examples of the way in which the Employer’s recent actions have caused YUFA to add to its bargaining proposals.

We are seeking to retain what we already have, while the Employer systematically seeks to roll back our rights.

Arbitration: Is it the solution?

Some colleagues have suggested binding interest arbitration in place of collective bargaining. Members should know that arbitration is risky and that our results would vary from issue to issue. Arbitrators do not order changes such as the restructuring of pensions. They do not order the Employer to hire tenure-track members (our complement proposal) or endorse innovative Equity policies. YUFA might do well in binding arbitration on an issue such as PTR, on which the Employer is far out of touch with other Ontario universities. But YUFA might not do well on other issues that are important to members.

Arbitrators are trusted professionals. They are also affected by their perception of mobilized member support for union proposals. If YUFA members do not express support for their union’s own proposals, an arbitrator might not take them seriously, either. Furthermore, an arbitrator might not understand the culture of York that continues to draw impressive faculty and students to our institution or grasp the details of micro-situations such as Appendix P release for small programs such as those in Math and Admin Studies. The Bargaining Team can go to bat for those niche proposals that address concrete problems in particular faculties and units, while an arbitrator will not have that detailed knowledge.

If YUFA agrees to refer an issue to binding arbitration, YUFA will not be able to raise that issue in the future, unless conditions change. The Employer will be delighted that they will not have to deal with YUFA’s proposals again any time soon. We do not believe that this approach is in the best interests of our members.

YUFA members should be aware that binding arbitration is very expensive. Every small issue will be litigated by the hour by expensive lawyers, paid for by YUFA member dues on the one side, and by York students and Ontario taxpayers on the other. If forced into arbitration to resolve outstanding issues, YUFA would face a very expensive bill, and possibly on an ongoing basis as each issue slowly makes its way through the arbitration process. Who would benefit if YUFA were weakened by hefty legal bills? Binding arbitration is not a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. Your Bargaining Team must take these issues into account as we strategize about how best to advance our proposals in bargaining.

Your Bargaining Team

As of September 11, the Bargaining Team has met 18 times with the Employer and has spent many hours debating and responding to the Employer’s position. YUFA dropped 20% of its proposals in the middle of the summer, as indicated in a recent bargaining update (see “YUFA 2“). This information is available in full to all YUFA members and to the public. Furthermore, YUFA has offered responsive counters to the Employer on many issues. To give just one example, the Employer states that members do not use their PER and that PER increases are therefore not justified. In response, YUFA withdrew its proposal for PER increases in the second and third years of the contract, and has requested that the money be funnelled into the Minor Research Grant fund, which has not been increased in over ten years.

In response to the Employer’s questions about the pension proposal, YUFA substantially revised our proposal and converted it to a “going forward” proposition, which will reduce the cost while ensuring protection for younger members who will benefit most from the revised proposal. In these and other ways, YUFA has listened to the Employer’s perspective and responded fairly to it, while safeguarding members’ interests. Your Bargaining Team continually engages in reconsideration of our proposal package. It is false to suggest that YUFA is unwilling to change its positions or to consider the Employer’s viewpoint or concerns.

The General Membership Meeting

At the end of the day, you must decide if you want to work in a university that rolls back your rights year by year or in a university that values collegial rights and compensates you fairly for your professionalism and commitment. Should York be able to attract the best new colleagues across the faculties with salary increments and pension security comparable to other universities? Or, do you want us to sink year by year as our compensation, benefits, internal research funds, conference funding, and sabbatical support erode in the face of the escalating cost of living? Do you want administrators telling you how to manage academic matters or do you want to retain professional and administrative autonomy and dignity?

The Bargaining Team hopes that you will come out to the General Membership Meeting on September 17 to discuss the current state of bargaining and to vote on the motion calling for a potential strike mandate vote.

The details of the meeting are as follows:

General Membership Meeting on bargaining
Monday, September 17
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Founders Assembly Hall
152 Founders College

The GMM will be followed by lunch and a social.

For more information about the General Membership Meeting, please click here.

For more information about bargaining, please click here.

To see the FAQ on the motion for a strike mandate vote, please click here.