USFA e-Letter: USask is OurSask

The unions on campus are increasingly troubled by labour relations at the University of Saskatchewan. Recent labour updates brought to your attention in the “YouSask Faculty and Staff Newsletter” (email January 26 and February 23, 2016) do not fully describe the situation.

Labour relations extend well beyond the bargaining table. In fact, most of the labour relationship takes place outside of bargaining and the “University’s” approach to it appears to be moving from bad to worse despite notable changes in Administration.

The following has been prepared by some of the unions representing workers at the U of S to provide you with a labour update from their perspectives:

ASPARoadblocks & Delays

Over these last few years ASPA seems to be encountering a common theme or themes in our dealings with Human Resources. ASPA has found that the University delays or throws up roadblocks to individual member issues, collective bargaining, or larger joint efforts between the employer and the union.

We’d love to share some examples with all the employees on campus so you can see why it seems to us like nothing ever gets resolved here in a timely fashion:

Grievances

Resolutions to grievances have been hard to obtain. Grievances take a significant amount of time to get to a Stage 1 meeting, if ever. Many of the grievances end up being forwarded to Arbitration prior to a resolve happening. ASPA filed a grievance for members who were denied benefits back in April of 2015, we are still waiting for a Stage 1 hearing. It has been almost a full calendar year and no formal meetings have been offered from the employer to find a resolve. Roadblocks and delays do nothing to help the employees on this campus and they only cost the union and the institution exorbitant amounts of money.

Collective Bargaining

ASPA has just recently achieved a tentative agreement with the employer after one of the longest negotiating periods in ASPA’s history. Negotiations formally began with the employer in November of 2014. ASPA has been without a collective agreement since May 1st 2014. The University used the ultimate delay tactic, by refusing to negotiate and talk with the union bargaining team for months and months on end.

Jurisdictional Review

The longest outstanding piece ASPA finds itself in is the eternal jurisdictional review that began in partnership with the employer, CUPE 1975 and ASPA back in 2008. All three parties have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal bills and mediation over the last 8 years to fix a problem that is largely only that of the employer’s. After countless last minute roadblocks from the employer, all three parties seem to be no closer to a resolve.

These are just a few examples of what we are experiencing in our dealings with the employer.

CUPE 1975 – On September 24, 2015 the University of Saskatchewan chose to file a grievance against CUPE Local 1975 to challenge our right to have a say on the future of our pension plan.

The Employer’s grievance essentially seeks a third party arbitrator to determine if the University can make unilateral changes to the pension plan. In the past, pension changes have been negotiated, as is required by our collective agreement. The Union will respond to the Employer’s grievance to advocate that any changes to the pension plan will continue to be negotiated at the bargaining table. This grievance will be heard by an arbitration panel – NOT the Labour Relations Board as has erroneously been reported on the University of Saskatchewan website.

The Union’s own outstanding pension grievance has also now been referred to arbitration. The Local’s grievance was filed in May of 2013 and had been held in abeyance while pension discussions were ongoing. It asserts a history of improper employer “contribution holidays” (where pension plan surplus was used to reduce the amount the University paid into the plan).

To be clear, the Union’s position is that any changes to the pension plan must be negotiated at the bargaining table. We strongly disagree with both the spirit and substance of the University’s grievance. In our view, this is a time-consuming and wasteful proceeding that can only damage labour relations on campus. As we’ve told the University many times: we remain open to discussing the pension plan in the proper forum: the collective bargaining table.

CUPE Local 1975 will continue to work to protect our members’ pension plan, and to hold the University accountable.

Sessional Lecturers’ Union (CUPE 3287) – Negotiations resumed between the employer and CUPE 3287 on February 3rd after a long hiatus. Progress was made on a number of issues and further bargaining is planned. CUPE 3287, which has been without a contract for a year and a half, is hopeful that negotiations will be concluded and a new collective agreement ratified in the next few months.

Public Service Alliance of Canada – More than 1,100 academic workers at the University of Saskatchewan have joined the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). The bargaining unit was certified by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board on April 23, 2015 and comprises all registered graduate students, including teaching assistants, teaching fellows, student assistants and research assistants. The academic workers voted 96 per cent in favour of joining PSAC.

In October 2015, a full slate for a local executive was elected as well as bargaining team members. In preparation for bargaining, an online survey was conducted. Student workers and teaching fellows have expressed concerns ranging from unpaid overtime and low or stagnant wages to discrimination on campus and a lack of professional training. The bargaining team and negotiator have finalized a package of demands and will be exchanging the demands with the employer in early March.

While first agreements are always more difficult, we are committed to ensuring a basic level of protection and compensation for our members. We have also filed for certification for post docs at the U of S and are awaiting final decision from the Board.

We look forward to working with other unions on campus to ensure fair working conditions for all.

USFA – The deadline for College of Medicine clinical faculty to confirm acceptance of the voluntary severance package has been extended to May 31, and members still need clarity about future terms and conditions of employment before making such a significant decision. The USFA has serious concerns that the employer has not yet provided appropriate information and we will continue to meet with members, individually or in groups, to ensure they get that information.

Grievance matters are difficult: resolution of grievances internally has been next to impossible and the result is costly arbitrations. As a result, we are proceeding to arbitration on issues to do with the assignment of duties, including the violation of assignment of duties guidelines, discrimination with respect to the assignment of duties, unilateral changes to credit unit values for courses, the combining of two courses into one assignment, and retaliatory actions by a Dean against a member who raised issues with respect to the assignment of duties. In addition, the employer’s inquiry of members about reporting of outside consulting will also proceed to arbitration. We continue to be frustrated that the employer will not expend more effort to find a mutually satisfactory resolution to these issues.

A further labour update for USFA members will be part of the Spring General Membership Meeting, scheduled for April 22, 2016.