Negotiations Update October 2017: Equity and Stability?

Our collective agreement expired June 30, 2017 and we have begun negotiations with the employer. We do not anticipate this being an easy, or a quick, round of negotiations.

While our theme for negotiations planning has been “equity and stability” including issues of scope and rank for academic clinicians in the College of Medicine (see Minutes of the USFA Spring General Meeting, April 1, 2017), we will be facing some hurdles in terms of the Employer’s stated interests in this round of negotiations.

We have heard at the table that these key interests translate into goals to give Deans more authority, including disciplinary authority, to implement measures for increased accountability for faculty members, and to ease back on the growth of our salaries in comparison to other universities in the U15. There is also interest in reducing the role of the USFA in collegial processes.

The USFA and the Employer have both committed to interest-based bargaining, but the beginning of negotiations this August showed significant tensions. For example, the Employer has stated that it has little interest in discussing the College of Medicine, and has been reluctant to provide requested information about new hires of clinical MDs to the faculty, and about the nature of their relationship with the university. That said, we recognize that the Employer is facing a difficult mandate, and so we are both working to get to points of agreement where we can find solutions to meet one another’s interests. There is no doubt that the process will pose some challenges, and will be time consuming. In the meantime, our current Collective Agreement still applies, including the awarding of special increases and the implementation of regular career development increases (Articles 17 and 18 of the Agreement).

Finances and Compensation

Financial issues will certainly be at the forefront for this round, and the Employer’s expressed desire to give Deans more power seems to be in part stemming from the university’s new system of “Responsibility Centre Management” wherein resource allocation to “Revenue Centres” (otherwise known as Colleges and Schools) is determined by the so-called transparent, activity-based budget system (TABBS). In this system, budgetary responsibility is placed at the local level (“Empowerment”), and decisions and planning leading at the local level will result in the teaching and research activities that formulaically determine the budgets distributed to units (“Accountability”). But how can Deans ensure activities of faculty translate into dollars? We have already seen some attempts to use goal-setting by faculty members for their planned achievements, including desired research output, number of publications, and grant applications, as concrete assignment of duties and tied to merit awards.

To compound some of the troubling aspects of this system appearing at the bargaining table, the Provincial Government’s austerity budget is also contributing to a challenging round of negotiations. The university’s operating funds have been in the government’s crosshairs for some time now, translating into the goals to reduce inflation of faculty compensation, and to reassess our merit system to better reflect accountability as a means to reward “excellence.” As a reminder:

  • For the 2015–16 fiscal year, the Government of Saskatchewan withheld $20 million in targeted funding.
    This was followed by, last year, the university receiving a 0% increase in base funding from the provincial government for 2016–17. The provincial government also implemented a second $20 million reduction in targeted funding for the College of Medicine.
  • Last January, the Minister of Advanced Education gave a Directive to the Board of Governors, which stated that “All public sector employers are expected to ensure that there are no increases to the total cost of employee compensation as a result of any ongoing negotiations or negotiations for contracts yet to expire.” It went on to request that the U of S would “share in the effort required to contain and control compensation costs,” and for 2017–2018, total compensation costs “will be no greater than in fiscal 2016–17. In order to achieve these goals, negotiations will need to commence immediately. There may be a need to consider such things as freezing in-range increments, general wage increases and performance/bonus pay, … in order to meet the requirement to contain and control the total cost of public sector compensation.”
  • Then, in February, of this year, the Saskatchewan Party government announced its $1.2 billion debt. The government’s position was that “everything is on the table” and that “very deep cuts” to education, health care, municipal revenue sharing and civil service salaries would be possibilities.
  • When the 2017–18 provincial budget was announced in March, it outlined a 5.6% budget reduction for the University of Saskatchewan. Adding to the difficulties this reduction poses, the province was requiring the university to provide $20 million out of this operating grant to the College of Medicine.
  • With $20 million to the College of Medicine reinstated this fall, the picture is a little more promising, and while the university has asked the Board of Governors to approve a budget with a $17 million deficit, the closing balance of the university’s General Fund is projected to be $151,795 million (see Minutes of University Council, and Operating Budget Fact Sheet 2016–17).

All this said, when we are in negotiations, we can sense that the government is very much “there” in the room with us, and accountability and austerity will likely continue to be themes of this round.

Our expectation is that once again, our work at the bargaining table will include trying to understand expenditure choices the Employer makes in comparison to its stated mission to address the financial deficit. A hiring freeze is one option that might be considered, for example, that has not yet been mentioned. Last year, 2016–17, our faculty complement was 1,013, after reducing our numbers from 1,072 in 2014–15. This fall our faculty complement is up by 22, to 1,035.

The Employer is also looking into ways to fund the School of Architecture initiative by assuring start-up funding and ongoing operating resources to support the program, without depleting resources from other units. A feasibility study projects that renovation costs will be approximately $20 million. With a Director, Program Director, approximately 11.5 FTE instructors (faculty and sessionals), administrative staff, and a half-time librarian, the School would operate on a “direct cost” budget of $3.2 million per year, and a total yearly operating budget of $4.4 million, offset in part by tuition revenue of $1.44 million (see October 19 Council Agenda).

It should be stated clearly that the USFA is not in any way opposed to hiring faculty, or embarking on such ambitious projects as a new School of Architecture. However, any message at the bargaining table of the need for belt tightening in the face of a fiscal crisis will have to be reconciled against other expenditure choices.

The Employer has indicated it will be moving to a compensation strategy where it is aiming to be at the 60th percentile in the U15, still a lead pay strategy but lower in response to the current fiscal context. The Employer is interested in looking at pay programs and structures beyond base pay, and merit is on the agenda for discussion. We both agree that greater transparency is important in the process of awarding merit—but the Employer asks, is it achieving what we want? Is it sustainable and does it meet needs?

“Any merit is intended to recognize high achievers” is the message we are receiving, but we will be wary of any premise that suggests running a tight financial ship means rewarding certain kinds of work as meritorious while ignoring others such as teaching and administration.

U of S faculty are at a good place in terms of compensation. We feel we are compensated fairly. The Employer has achieved and surpassed its goal of reaching the 75th percentile among the comparators it chose when it adopted its lead payer strategy, but remember that goal was achieved through slow and steady progress, after years of being among the lowest paid. It is worth noting that the Employer’s lead payer strategy has begun to show results, as this year the U of S led the country in research income gains, with an increase of 27.8%—the largest of all Canadian universities. We are attracting good people to the university, and we do not want to lose them. Accordingly, at a minimum we are aiming not to lose ground and to maintain our standing among other institutions, and continue with our stated objective to maintain a position in the top quartile in the U15.

College of Medicine

Regrettably, too much of both our and the employer’s resources have focussed on the restructuring of the College of Medicine, but we continue to attempt to negotiate some of the salient issues that might otherwise result in costly consultations with lawyers through grievance processes and arbitration. Our Certification Order stipulates that we represent full-time faculty, and historically, since certification, a number of clinician faculty have been appointed as full-time academics in scope of the union.

As previously reported at our annual meeting, the employer has decided that all new hires of academic clinician faculty are independent contractors who are out of scope. This is not necessarily a unique situation in Canada, but at the U of S, hiring these faculty out of scope via processes described in the College’s recently approved Procedures Manual does disregard the provisions of our Agreement, and our Certification Order. We continue to maintain that these new hires, who are guaranteed a significant percentage of time for academic work, should be in scope of the Collective Agreement. Like contracting out too much of our teaching (see Article 10.8 of the Collective Agreement, Employment of Non-Members), contracting out our research is unacceptable, and we are hoping that we can convince the employer to have some productive discussions at the negotiations table about these issues.