THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE LANCE, THE UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR STUDENT NEWSPAPER:
NEWS, REVIEWS AND COMMENTARY, COURTESY OF THE PAPER TRAIL

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 08 - update 19

WUFA strike update:

1) The UWSA open council meeting with the administration has been cancelled. Dr. Wildeman's secretary has indicated that he is in meetings and has had to cancel all of his appointments for the day.

Could this mean that they are back at the bargaining table?

Other updates:

2) Rumours surfaced last week that some 155 employees of the University of Windsor were laid off due to the strike. Lori Lewis (nee Koutros), manager of news services at Public Affairs and Communications, has said this is FALSE.

"No. I think you’re talking about food services workers. All those people are being paid and they’re working their regular hours. Nobody was laid off," says Lewis.

3) The meeting at the Caboto Club on Sunday for the public, parents of students and students being hosted by the Windsor University Faculty Association is in the Canada Hall between 2 and 4 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

4) For some reason the Mike Gasher shows from Dr. Winter have been taken down, but replaced with the identical Mike "Dasher" series. The difference is in name only, and one can only speculate why they have been removed, at this time. I saw James Winter the other day, but didn't know that there had been difficulties with the videos, else I would have asked. Sorry folks.

They can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uOHp1Y-jWU
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr53UUZUepY if you miss them.

5) The Globe and Mail have taken notice of the strike, and you can read 'University of Windsor Strike Gets Personal,' by Elizabeth Church. If you pick up the hardcopy edition today, and flip to page A4, check out the photo credit ;)

6) A transcript from the meeting that the WUFA set up yesterday in response to the administration's decision to go public in the Windsor Star with their offer that WUFA turned down.


Brian E. Brown: president of the Windsor University Faculty Association.

Brown: On my right is Mr. Peter Simpson from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

First I wanted to announce to you, that on Sunday between 2 and 4 p.m. at the Caboto Club, we’ll be having an information meeting for the students, parents and the public where we will answer questions that they might have. That’s Sunday, 2-4 at the Caboto Club.





As I said last night, I was not sure why the administration and Board of Governors decided to go public with their best offer. And I don’t understand why they want to negotiate in the media. And as I said last night, WUFA … will not negotiate in the media. We’re here today to give you some information in terms of explaining some of the proposals that are being put forward in terms of what they mean, such as promotions, tenure and renewal, and Mr. Simpson will deliver that message to you, and we will an explanation of that for you at the end of this conference.




Peter Simpson, negotiator for WUFA and secretary of the Canadian Association of University Teachers Defense Fund.

Peter Simpson:
Thank you. One of the features of the position that the administration has taken in the media is their representation of what they’re calling a fair and equitable salary offer. There’s a component of that offer that is difficult to understand for people who don’t work in the university sector. The reason is because it’s a feature of the university employment sector that is unique to that sector. No other employment sector has this feature. You’ll see the university referring to a certain percentage scale increase on something that they’ve called an adjustment, which has a value of a thousand dollars. I want to explain to you what that feature really is, and give you a sense of how it works in the university sector.
The university sector employs a deferred salary mechanism, which is to say, like a pension plan, part of your money is put away for later. It’s parallel to a pension plan, but it’s actually something that functions in the following way.

If the average salary over 30 years of a university professor or librarian, worth $92 – 93 thousand dollars. The way the system works is you start at $52, and over the 30 years you progress towards the ceiling, so you end up, at say $132. So the average salary of someone who works in a unionized workplace with a job rate, gets $28.75 an hour, and that’s their job rate, people who do their job get paid this. The university sector works differently. You take a greatly reduced salary to start and work you way back to the ceiling. The mechanism is called a ‘progress through the ranks’ increment. It’s a built-in feature of the system. The promise is you start low because you’re going to be moved back towards the top. What the university is calling a $1,000 adjustment, is actually (and this in my opinion, and I am not speaking for the union at this point, this is my analysis) a deliberate calculated misrepresentation of the PTR system. They’re treating it as some kind of bonus, it’s actually a promised built-in structure to the salary system.

So it’s very important that people understand, that they [the admin] know this, they’re not stupid. They may not be telling the truth, but they’re not stupid. They’re actually trying here, in my opinion, to create confusion in a way that harms the union, and in a way that harms the image of university professors.

No person in any other employment sector would take a 50 per cent reduction in their salary rates if they weren’t going to get it back over time. That’s the way it works.

There’s a second feature of their $1,000 adjustment that’s important. The number of steps that it takes to get from this reduced salary up to the ceiling, is fixed. It’s between 30 and 40 [steps]. That means that the value of each step as you go back is relatively fixed and typically in collective bargaining in the university sector, it is adjusted for inflation, so the value of each step as you work your way back up, is adjusted by inflation in bargaining. No other university has ever insisted in cutting in half the size of the step as a condition for a collective agreement. [Cutting it from $2,200 to $1,000] And I’m not talking about Ontario, I’m talking national. This is unprecedented in this sector and constitutes a breach of an undertaking that gave people the incentive to take the reduced salary in the first place. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, last year the value was $2,200 for this increment. They’re cutting it in half. Now, instead of in 20 years and getting to that $132 number, I’ll be lucky to get back to that 92, which ought to have been my average over my career.

It’s extremely important for people to understand, that they have harmed people who are working on this system, and in good faith came in with a progress through the ranks mechanism in play. Those people are being harmed because it’s a breach of an undertaking made by the parties when they started. I would add further that the PTR, the university is saying that the union’s proposal would cost them millions of dollars and create a deficit. It’s important to understand that at least the $2,200 set value from last year, if it were repeated this year, would not be an increased cost to the university. It’s a fixed amount, it’s the way the salary system works. That would be like saying that the university would have an increased cost of paying members their salaries next year. That’s not an increased cost, people earn their salaries each year, they ought to be budgeting for it. Again, this is a misrepresentation that cuts to the heart of the salary system in the university sector and the difficulty that is being exploited in my opinion, is the difficulty of explaining to people, in any other employment sector, why people with PhDs would accept making $40,000 less at the beginnings of their career, in order to make $40,000 more at the end. It’s a difficult system to understand, it’s a difficult system to explain.

At the heart of the university’s so-called best offer, is a gutting of the salary system people accepted in good faith when they came to this university.

I want to say something else, every other university has it. Every other university in Canada has it. The 2200 step value here is among the lowest, so the union’s position is actually lower than contracts that are being settled right now in other universities in Ontario. The union’s proposal is competitive with those, in fact we would find our self behind some of them. What they’re doing is trying to twist this, and trying to create, in my opinion, a confusion of what the system even how it works. One of the consequences of the move they’re making is that’s it’s going to be incredibly difficult to attract new faculty when it will take them more than twice as long to get to their average salary at Windsor, than it would at Carleton, or Ottawa, or Queen’s, or Toronto, or Guelph, or Laurier. It’s going to be really hard to compete for new faculty if the people re going to take twice as long to get the same salary.

That point and other shave been made to no avail. But it’s extremely important that the people of Windsor understand what the impact would be on this university of this so-called best offer.

Apart from creating confusion, why would the university do this?

In my opinion, the university is trying to save money to correct financial management errors that it has made, not the union, the university administration has made, and they’re trying to do it by clawing money out of the salary system. And what people need to understand, is people are looking at this $1,000 adjustment and thinking it’s some kind of bonus. It’s actually less than 50 per cent of the step value they’re entitled to. It would be good to ask Dr. Wildeman, or Mr. Cook, why they’re doing this. I have no idea. What I do know, they understand the way the system works.

How much would they save under this new system?

Well, on the face of it, the existing step value is $2,200, and remember this is the step that returns you to the average salary, they’re going to by their proposal, by next year, they’re going to save $1,200 per full-time academic staff member, and there are over 500 of them. This is literally asking members to pay for the financial management mistakes of the administration. To not just take it out of their salaries, but to take it out of the salary structure. It’s one thing to say ‘we can’t give you as much of a percentage increase this year, for a variety of reasons we can’t do that, but this is gutting a system that’s a deferred salary system. It’s effectively the same as saying we’ve decided we’re going to give you half as much pension, we know you’ve been putting money away, but we’ve decided it’s a little rich for our blood, and so we’re going to give you half as much pension. It’s not a one-year thing they’re doing, they’re fundamentally altering the entire system in a way that betrays the good faith of those who entered it. It affects people who are junior faculty members disproportionately, but it affects everybody.

I think they’re quite candid about their budgetary problem. It’s certainly not mistakes anyone else made. We have neither the privilege nor the responsibility of directing the university’s finances.

They’re facing a $5 million deficit. If they accept this unions’ contract, that will be doubled. Where will they stand?

The university has decisions to make and they will make those decisions. I’m trying to explain here, where they’re taking that money not just out of the salaries of individual faculty members, but out of the system itself. And it’s important that you understand, it’s one thing to say to people, you have to take less of a scale increase this year because we have to save money. It’s something else to take this deferred salary system and now claw it back. That’s the point, and I think those are distinct issues. It’s one thing to come to the table and say ‘There are tough times, we’re going to have to do this thing this year, and hopefully we can correct it down the road.’ But they’re betraying a deferred salary system, that is saying, I spent years at $40,000 less on the understanding that I’ll be working back up, and now you’re telling me, oh sorry, we changed our minds. That’s the part that’s particularly galling. And that’s the thing that’s really done a lot to mobilize the faculty.

This is not about money, this is about quality in education, all of a sudden it’s about money?

This is not the place to identify or remunerate or articulate bargaining proposals, there are several bargaining proposals outstanding. I’m here to explain to you of the things they’re claiming, they’re claiming it’s all about money, it’s not, there’s lots of things outstanding, but I’m here to clarify in particular detail, this element of what they’re presenting to the public. They claim it’s all about money, but within their claim that it’s all about money, there is what I think a deliberate misrepresentation, so I’m here to clarify that misrepresentation.

Brown: It’s not all about money, it’s about the quality of education that we deliver to our students, its’ about the research that we do, it’s about academic freedom, its’ about the collective agreement, the protection that’s there for our membership. There are many outstanding issues that are contained within the administration’s best offer that are just not acceptable as a package in its entirety at this point. The university administration, can if they want to, repackage that money. We have tried. We have a proposal, that we have tried to deliver to the university negotiating team. We have not been able to get them to the table so that we can present that proposal to them. I do not know why they are not coming to the table. The board of Governor’s met yesterday, I thought after that meeting that they would have returned, however, it is my understanding, that they’re still not at the table, and I’m still hoping that the mediator will get both sides back to the table, so that we, the Windsor University Faculty Association negotiating team, can present our proposal to the administration.

I don’t know what it’s going to take there was a student rally yesterday, there were faculty out there, librarians, ancillary academic staff, sessional members of WUFA who were there, to try and send a message to the board of governors when they went into that building to say get back to that table, that’s what I thought the message would be when they left that room. However, the message was entirely different. They decided to go public in the paper with language on salary, they left out an awful lot. That is just a little bit of what we are negotiating at this point, a very little bit.

We are ready to go to the table.

Peter Simpson: I would like to explain here a particular detail that is particularly galling for me as this goes on, it’s immensely frustrating. First of all, the reason they say it’s all about money in their media campaign, is because they don’t want to release the rest of the details. It would be extremely useful since they’re campaigning in the media, for them to show you the other things that we’re supposed to also accept, along with having the salary structure disfigured. You’ve proposed to someone the deformation of the salary structure, and put that in the media and say it’s all about money, well, there are a lot of other things that they proposed that are not acceptable that are not money things, that are actually in some cases just as egregious, and they’re putting that stuff out there as if it were just about money, they’re not showing you the other things, the other 20 things that were in their proposal.

The second thing is, the one thing you have to understand about the language of collective bargaining, when someone puts an offer on the table and says ‘this is our best offer,’ that means you have to accept that it will not get better. So your counter proposal is only intelligible to us to the extent that you’ve accepted the terms of our offer. Now you tell me, if someone said to you, my best offer is that I’m going to steal your car, and you come back with a counter-proposal, but remember, the offers not getting any better. You come back and say, ‘well, here’s $20.’ They say, no, no, no, you didn’t hear me, we’re not here to negotiate, we gave you a best offer. Coming back to the table’s great, we can all sit and get hotel tans till the end of time, negotiating is what has to happen. Being at the table is not sufficient. What’s necessary is for people to negotiate, and when people throw down a gauntlet and say, this is the best offer, it’s not getting better – oh, well, that leaves me a lot of room, let’s see, what does that leave, yes, or no?

Apparently not, that’s why it’s called a best offer. That’s why there’s elements of this campaign that are a fundamental misrepresentation. Hold on a sec, what’s the difference between a best offer and final offer. A best offer means, no offer could cost more than this one costs. It’s the richest offer we’re prepared to give you. We’re not prepared to move on the cost of the proposal, so what that means is, you accept that we’re gutting the deferred salary system, or else.

So, this is the difficulty people putting out a part of the story in the media, is that they conveniently forget to reiterate the details that make it difficult for the union to move. It’s fine for us, we have counter proposals on all outstanding items, but the employer has made it very clear that the terms of the intelligible or legible counter proposal in their eyes, till we satisfy the condition of the best offer business. It’s an artful dodge of the final offer, but not that artful. It’s pretty blunt when you get down to it, what that requires is not that we negotiate with them, it’s that we capitulate or reject. That’s why no one who’s interested in collective bargaining makes that kind of move, because things break down when you make that kind of move. It says, take it or leave it. Where’s the challenge of negotiating, where’s the actual, ‘Let’s try to solve problems constructively in a collaborative way.’ I do this for a living, I travel across the country. I do not see best offer practices, I hope I do not see it again soon.

How often do you see students left out in the middle like this?

That’s a complex question, let me just say this. The faculty association is absolutely open in trying to work with students in trying to figure out ways to deal with the circumstances. No term has ever been lost in any university in Canada because of a strike, it’s never happened. And there’s been some bad ones. And when this one is over, there will be accommodations made to ensure that people get hours taught and those kinds of things are part of any solution to the current problem. The concerns of students are relevant to the process in so far as any attempt to end the strike has to include ensuring that students get the contract hours and credits they need that they signed up for. No other university in Canada has lost a term.

Back to work protocol, it’s an extension of the collective bargaining process to cover how to deal with the issues arising from having to return to work after a strike. So people have to make up classes, the term gets delayed, there are a number of issues.

At some point, it’s conceivable that the province could be concerned enough to legislate people back to work, most places that I work in, that would be politically unacceptable to a government. I suspect Windsor might be an example of a place where it would be politically unacceptable to legislate people back to work. Generally people are permitted within the labour relations process to exercise their right, the right to strike is one, and to limit those rights is a very serious undertaking for a government.

What influence does the public have on the bargaining table?

First of all, the students, you have to understand these are professors who work very closely with students. This is not something that they like, this is not something that the professors want to do, the professors feel that they have no choice at this point. Influence the public has, they can tell Mr. Cook and Dr. Wildeman, that this kind of literally unprecedented attack on the salary system, is not the way to solve the deficit. There are ways to be fiscally responsible without going after this. I mean, ask, if you go to a press conference and you get a chance to talk to Dr. Wildeman or Mr. Cook, ask them why they want to gut a deferred salary system, instead of offering less money on a scale increase.

The employer of record in the university system, is not the government. Universities are individually chartered and legislated institutions created by acts of legislation in Queen’s Park, but the management of the university is at the mercy of a board of governors, mercy might be inappropriate, but nonetheless, the board of governors by the legislation, have the mandate to run the finances of the university. They have the legal authority to enter into agreements with legalized staff, there are ministerial or governmental appointees to boards, but they are not the majority, they’re supposed to be people drawn from the community. One of the things that people in the community need to hear is that no one’s going to come and work at this university if it takes them twice as long to get them back to the average salary. So the people who are supposed to be running university, the board of governors, the community really need to say to them, ‘Are you really sure that’s the best way to ensure the strength of this university? To make it fundamentally unattractive to people? To say ‘We’re going to play fast and loose with this whole deferred salary,’ every university’s got it, and one of the reasons that every universities got it, is that ensure the mobility of university professors from one institution to another. Everyone has to be on similar deferred salary system, or else you’d lose going from one place to another. So people are going to have to think twice as long to get to the same place that they would be at an other university. It’s tricky to explain, but in effect, it’s pretty simple, it’s takes you more than twice as long to get to the same place.

5 Comments:

Blogger Rogers said...

First off, Jordan - you like the jump cut? Only took me 45 minutes to figure it all out. There's too much random automatic html in here, man. I don't know how you do it!

Second, my 'puter isn't letting me upload images right now - so I'm going to toss in some visual updates of Simpson and Brown from home. Hopefully with better success.

3:24 PM

 
Blogger The Trail said...

I never said it was easy, Rogers! You're a better man for it, trust me.

They sure are clinging to that, 'no school's lost a term due to a strike,' mantra, aren't they?

12:04 AM

 
Blogger Rogers said...

Yeah - but I don't recall anybody at the press conference asking if anyone had lost a semester before? Although, the word 'unprecedented' keeps coming up whenever negotiator Peter Simpson speaks.

12:26 AM

 
Anonymous seven star said...

Those part time food services workers were to be laid off last week. However, an agreement was made that they would be cleaning the areas such as kitchens and serveries. Now that they are finished cleaning, there is no more work for them and they may very well be laid off next week.

9:08 AM

 
Blogger Rogers said...

Thanks seven star, we'll keep an eye on those developments. We've been following along with 'Democracy of hypocrisy.' Keep up the good work.

11:17 AM

 

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