Dan Weeks’ Report – the FA Responds

[President Weeks’ report in black, FA response in blue]

After making considerable progress at the negotiating table

It took nine months of negotiations including 30 days of Labour Board mediation to negotiate an agreement in which most articles were either literally or substantially those of the 2012‒2014 Faculty Agreement. If the administration had not steadfastly denied the possibility of rolling over articles in the “old” agreement for the first six months of negotiations, we would probably not be on strike today. 

and following negotiations that continued through the first days of the Faculty Association strike, the Faculty Association bargaining committee chose to walk away from negotiations on Friday (See: http://ckpg.com/unbc-faculty-association-strike-into-day-two).

On Friday morning (March 6th), the Employer’s team came to the table to say that they would not be tabling a response to our last proposal. The FA team suggested that the President and/or Provost come to the table to help make the breakthrough that will get us all back to work. The Employer rejected this suggestion. Soon thereafter the Employer’s team left the table. Thus, when the UNBC FA’s bargaining team left the negotiating table on Friday, we were facing empty chairs on the other side of the room. The Employer’s team had chosen to leave the table. We have heard nothing since. The invitation to President Weeks to come to the table remains open. We are ready to meet at any time that the employer has ideas to discuss with us.

Nevertheless, I am determined to see that the current labour dispute is resolved – locally and at the bargaining table – so that all of us can get back to our regular duties.

In explaining the University position, let me illustrate some key points.

Proposed Compensation

UNBC’s current proposal incorporates minimum annual wage increases of 0 / 1 / 1.5 / 1.5 / 1.5% for all FA members over the five-year agreement, consistent with the provincial government’s Economic Stability Mandate. This mandate has been accepted in agreements for more than 200,000 people, representing two-thirds of the BC public sector.

How many first collective agreements are represented in this total? A union’s first agreement is by far the best time to get it right, as previous rounds of bargaining have demonstrated.

For UNBC, this would be a cumulative increase of 5.5% to faculty salaries, and comes after two fiscal years (2012-13 and 2013-14) when faculty wages increased by 2.5% in each year.

Indeed, and these two fiscal years followed two previous ones in which faculty compensation increased not at all. What’s more, 2012‒2014 increases were awarded by arbitration above the PSEC mandate precisely because UNBC faculty’s salary standing was so low. As Arbitrator Vince Ready said in his decision (Arbitration Award), the UNBC FA presented compelling evidence of UNBC faculty’s “low/bottom standing” in compensation among their comparators‒comparators relied upon by the administration for its own purposes (including advertising and institutional analysis). Because the GWI increased salaries overall, but did not remap salaries, the same problems we identified in the previous round persist. The administration‒rather than resting comfortably on having had a third party award a higher than average GWI on the basis of compelling evidence ‒ should have planned to address the problem in this round rather than digging in.

It is worth nothing that the 5.5% over 5 years being offered by the university pales in comparison with the average of well over 2% per year over the next two years already negotiated at our comparators across the country. Thus, the Employer is insisting that‒as bad as our salaries are now‒they ought to be worse, relative to our comparators, five years from now.

 For comparison, during those same two years, UNBC’s CUPE support staff wages increased by 2% in each year, non-management Exempt employee wages increased 2% in each year, and all managers, directors, and senior administrators experienced a wage freeze mandated by the Government of BC.

Labour market analysis rests on comparing like work to like work, as Vince Ready indicated in his analysis. In fact, exempt-group salaries at UNBC are comparable to those at other institutions, and senior management are compensated competitively with those at our comparator institutions.

Admin_compensation

Career Development Enhancement

The University recognizes that our fixed Career Development Increment has led to a growing compensation gap between faculty at UNBC and their counterparts at other universities. The challenge is to find ways to resolve a gap that has emerged over 20 years and as a consequence of previous agreements between faculty and the University. The University’s fiscal realities and responsibilities as a public university with an eye to a sustainable future create additional challenges. For example, the operating grant from the Government of BC, which provides 67% of the operating budget for UNBC, declined this year by $572,000. Moreover, enrolment has declined this year by 5.9%.  Additionally, the growth in the number of public universities in BC over the last decade has created an increasingly competitive environment.

The budgetary decline of $572,000 represents a small percentage of the university’s overall revenue (1.15% of provincial grant as per audited financial statements of 2013) and, as the administration admitted in 2014 hearings (UNBC arbitration submission), declining tuition revenues have been “more than offset” by growing international student admissions. In fact, relative to the universities that compensate their faculty much more highly than UNBC does, UNBC has a very comfortable situation.

OperatingRevenuePerFTE_10032015

 Even faced with these realities, the University has proposed to repurpose an additional $1.6 million in savings within the current agreement to enhance the range of the Career Development Increment from $0 to $1,111

In fact, that the actual current range of CDIs at UNBC is $0 to $2222, as members receive two CDIs during the first three years following promotion. For comparison, average CDI among our comparator universities is about $2700.

 to $0 to $3,700, with an average of $2,000 by 2018.

The $1.6 million “repurposed” (reallocated) was explained at the bargaining table as being $320,000 per year that was being reallocated from market differential salary payments into merit award salary payments. The rest of the so-called increased CDI (actually a merit award) is really just a reallocation of the existing $1111/$2222 CDI per member into merit awards. Effectively, any member being awarded an above-average merit award under the university management’s new proposal is being paid in large part from existing CDI money taken from other members. Evidently, the Employer shows far less concern with fixing our salaries over the next five years than it has shown to the 25th anniversary celebration, the renovation of the cafeteria, or the removal of kitchens from student residences. In effect, the money reallocated from one form of salary to another is a pittance when considered next to the acknowledged gravity of the salary gap and the funds UNBC has at its disposal.

The planned so-called “enhancement” of CDI represents an actual elimination of CDI, since the CDI system would be turned into a total merit system‒something not in effect at any of our comparators or at any unionized university. The proposed merit system is based upon – but even more divisive than – the broken system that led SFU faculty to unionize last year.

This proposal is consistent with both my choice to join UNBC as well as the many messages I have received from the University community who demand that UNBC remain focused on its mission as a regionally responsive research university committed to excellence in teaching, research, and service. Enhanced increments would be based on a review of career development and added to the base salary of faculty.

 “A review of career development” is better understood as a “forced ranking” under which all faculty would be evaluated and ranked against one another to render a certain number of increments on a seven-step system, rendering a set average.

This CDI proposal attempts to prevent faculty members from falling further behind those at other universities. Simply put, the CDI rewards career development and reflects a substantial effort to address the compensation gap.

First, we note that this new merit scheme was first introduced at the table two weeks ago and had not been mentioned at all in the previous 9 1/2 months of bargaining, or the previous round. To introduce such a major – and apparently immovable – principle at this late stage of bargaining is, frankly, irresponsible bargaining.

In fact, the administration’s “faux CDI” promises to further distort the salary scale at UNBC, which the administration’s own data show to be not only badly out of step with comparators, but internally broken so that salaries do not even reflect the current agreement, let alone a sustainable labour-market rate for the work being done by faculty at UNBC. It is a certainty that many of our Members will be even worse off under the Employer’s merit increment scheme than they would have been if the old CDI system continued as is. When presented with scenarios in the negotiating room, the Employer’s team admitted that this was true. Astonishingly, the Employer’s team acknowledged at the table that they had not actually attempted to model the effects of their merit scheme. If they had done so, they would have understood how flawed their proposal actually is. Even after being confronted by the flaws in the proposal, the Employer’s team adamantly stated that they would not change it.

We acknowledge that some unionized faculty in Canada do have merit award systems, but these are paid on top of a fair across-the-board CDI system. For example, at Lakehead University, faculty members can apply for merit increments on top of the CDIs of $2700 for each member. No similar proposal was made by UNBC management.

Summary and Next Steps

Financial commitments made to salary in collective bargaining are long-term and extend well beyond the length of a collective agreement. The total compensation package proposed by the University over the five-year agreement adds $4.5 million to FA member compensation and is a solid foundation upon which we can build. In comparison, the compensation proposal from the Faculty Association, costed over the same five-year period, has been estimated by UNBC to have a cumulative cost of more than $20 million, including benefits.

This is a disingenuous costing of a proposal we have not tabled. It is equivalent to the FA saying that the employer has offered 1% over the same two-year period we have proposed. On the employer’s own figures and assumptions, if this were a 2 year deal followed by a 3 year deal, the cumulative costing over the same 5 years would be approximately $9 million. Using the more conventional incremental cost accounting, the employer has costed our proposal at approximately $2.9 million. They have costed their own proposal at $1.9 million using this approach (excluding benefits in both cases). For  an example of the difference between these costing methods, please see Bargaining Bulletin 22.

There’s no way I could recommend such an increase within the context of an annual university operating budget of $68 million and risk the financial viability of our university.

The administration consistently and grossly underestimates its revenues and exaggerates its expenses. Every year, the University forecasts a tight budget, yet, according to UNBC’s audited financial statements (e.g. UNBC 2014 Financial Statement), the University has been substantially in surplus for much of the last decade. As Vince Ready pointed out, there is nothing to prevent UNBC from changing its priorities.

The University remains committed to flexibility and creativity in how the funds in the University’s proposal can best be applied in ways that promote and reward excellence and ensure a sustainable future for UNBC. With that in mind, the University remains committed to negotiations and I remain hopeful that the Faculty Association will choose to return to the table.

We reiterate that the Employer’s divisive merit-only proposal is unacceptable and will further distort UNBC’s already broken faculty salary system. There is not a faculty union in the country that would accept the Employer’s offer. President Weeks: get your facts straight. Then roll up your sleeves, pick up the phone, and let’s get to work negotiating a collective agreement like those at our comparator universities: an agreement that will ensure UNBC’s sustainability and continued excellence.