Bargaining Unit Meeting: The highs, the lows and the “no’s”
1. Members met on both March 21 and 22 in order to update our Bargaining Unit on the status of negotiations which are slated to go before a conciliator on March 30 and April 6.
2. Chief Negotiator, Sheila McKee-Protopapas, began the meeting by providing a summary of the articles and clauses that have already reached tentative agreement.
3. To this date, improvements have been negotiated that will standardize CAS application and appointment procedures – including standardized forms for both job postings and for roster applications – as well as improved transparency in the hiring process itself. These provisions will also provide more consistency in hiring practices across departments and programs.
4. In addition, improvements have been negotiated for CAS working environments, including access to office space over the spring/summer term, the ability for Members to increase meeting room booking times (DAWB especially), and regular updating of computer equipment in CAS offices.
5. McKee-Protopapas also informed the Membership of more recently agreed-to clauses. There are improvements in Article 18: Leaves, and improvements in Article 13: Appointments for Members in the Faculty of Music.
6. Unfortunately, though, the good news stopped there, with the Chief Negotiator’s confirmation that a number of the most important items up for negotiation have continued to meet with the University’s consistent refusal to enter into discussion.
7. Proposals for an improved seniority system that will recognize long-serving Members through both expanded seniority rights and increased compensation have been flatly denied.
8. This refusal is regardless of the negotiating team’s repeated efforts – through their revising of WLUFA’s proposals – to satisfy the University’s concerns that it needs the “freedom” to hire the “best qualified” candidates.
9. Most CAS, of course, are left to wonder what the University means by “qualified” if our Members have already been hired to teach twenty or thirty or sixty times for their departments.
10. The negotiation of a Part-time Continuing Appointment has also proved to be troublesome, with the Parties differing significantly on the basis for, and make-up and implementation of, this type of hiring.
11. While a Part-time Continuing Appointment will remain on the table into conciliation, the contradictions inherent in the University’s willingness to bargain for a CAS appointment that is continuing, juxtaposed against its refusal to recognize Members’ long-term service, will continue to make the negotiations of Article 13: Appointments, problematic.
12. Less surprising, of course, is the University’s stand on any matters connected to money.
13. These include not only CAS compensation for courses, but also marking/grading allowance and assistance, professional expense reimbursements, large-class supplementary remuneration, health-care spending accounts, research funds and grants, and funds to recognize Members who provide service to academic groups, committees and associations.
14. Of this list, the University has provided answers only on salary and on the proposed health-care spending accounts – each of which has been less than satisfactory.
Standing behind a claim of “financial crisis” (see the article included in this newsletter, below, for WLUFA’s response on the “crisis”), the University’s compensation offer looks to turn what was a “gap”, between Wilfrid Laurier CAS and their colleagues at both Guelph and Waterloo, into a chasm – a fact that, again, the negotiating team expects the conciliator to notice.
7. The University has a system in place that recognizes seniority in the course-based seniority system, which has worked in the best interest of the institution and its students for quite some time. The system we currently have in place is the same system used in the majority of other universities in the province. The University put forward progressive proposals for improving the course-based seniority system.
8 & 9. The current process of course-based seniority ensures that CAS members can obtain seniority in courses they have taught. Those with the most course seniority have the first right of refusal to teach courses within their area of expertise. The question being negotiated is not course-based seniority; it is university seniority. University seniority could give a CAS member preference to teach a course they have never taught over someone who has already taught it.
13 & 14. The current collective agreement already makes provisions for many of these items, and many of the issues were dealt with in previous negotiations.
Crisis – What Crisis?
In the wake of the University’s recent claims at the negotiating table that, due to its current “financial crisis” it cannot possibly entertain the compensation proposals put forward on behalf of our Members by the negotiating team, WLUFA requested an overview of the University’s financial situation from one of our full-time colleagues. His report follows:
CAS Members make substantial contributions to Laurier at very low cost. These Members currently teach approximately 33 % of all classes and 40% of WLU’s students. Paradoxically, however, CAS Members cost Laurier only six to seven percent of its total revenues. Even in the face of these statistics, the University contends that Laurier is facing a financial crisis and cannot pay CAS Members compensation that is commensurate with their contributions.
The fact, though, is that there never has been, nor is there currently, a financial crisis at Laurier and there are a number of reliable indicators that uphold this view:
(1) The Dominion Bond Rating Service has rated Laurier debt as investment grade and stable with low risk of default for each of the last five years. This fact alone renders the University concerns re: pension liabilities a non-issue.
(2) The unrestricted fund of the University has generated a cumulative surplus (2006-2010) of over $50 Million. In every year a surplus was observed.
(3) The 2010 surplus of almost $18 Million was the largest in Laurier’s history.
(4) The Province has fully funded all unfunded students this year. This will result in many millions of extra revenue well into the future.
(5) Tuition rates and the number of students have increased in the past three years generating millions of extra revenue.
(6) Over $58 Million was transferred out of the unrestricted fund for capital assets. In other words, inflation-related operational concerns are not an issue.
The overall picture here is that there are substantial revenues and increases in revenues available to the University to pay its CAS Members competitive wages. Given their substantial contributions – to the University, to its students and to University coffers – CAS Members deserve to be paid appropriately.
The University’s Vice-President: Finance has been completely transparent to the University community using Town Hall presentations and website updates to describe the current financial, government funding and pension challenges facing the University. Nothing different was presented at the bargaining table.
Please refer to the most recent credit rating from the Dominion Bond Rating Service, which states Laurier’s greatest single item of financial concern remains its pension plan deficiency, and states that the University also shares the same challenges as other Ontario universities with regard to uncertainty surrounding future tuition and provincial government funding policies.
Full funding for students from the province goes up to 2010 academic year, but there are no guarantees going forward, and no accounts made for inflation. Student increases fluctuate, and there are no guarantees future enrolment patterns will unfold in the same way each year.
The financial picture WLUFA is painting, and the numbers provided, are distorted. Please refer to the audited financial statements on the website of the Vice-President: Finance for accurate figures.
The University values the contributions made by CAS members – they play an important role in the University. We have a competitive compensation program, as evidenced by the fact that our stipend is at or above the midpoint for all institutions in Ontario, and ahead of several other institutions such as McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario, among others. The University is interested in maintaining this program, which is why we offered a wage increase, while respecting the demands on the institution’s financial resources from other employee groups.