In BUFA President, Collective Bargaining

Fast forward to 2014….

It is the fall of 2014. BUFA and the University have just finished a tough bargaining session that produced a tentative Collective Agreement.  It contains improvements to the tenure and promotion process, a clearer definition of Chairs’ responsibilities, a reasonable travel reimbursement policy, and a compensation package that includes very modest increases in each of three years. Both the Board of Trustees and BUFA ratify this Collective Agreement. But now it must be submitted to the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities for approval. He says it doesn’t meet the Province’s mandate for universities that are not in the Province’s top research tier.  He sends it back to Brock and BUFA with instructions to eliminate the compensation increase and also to raise our teaching load to three FCEs and change our redeployment article so Brock can lay off faculty who teach in programs that are losing money.  Further, the Minister wants us increase the percentage of courses taught by sessional instructors from 14% to 40% so that we can move to a fully trimester system. When BUFA and the University cannot agree on these changes, the Minister unilaterally imposes a new Collective Agreement that implements his provisions.

This is not just a scary Halloween story.  The Provinical government’s proposed legislation “Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector) 2012”(Schedule 2 to Protecting Public Services Act, 2012) could lead to just such a scenario.  This legislation purportedly is intended to deal with the Provincial fiscal deficit by constraining compensation expenditures in the broader public sector. But it doesn’t stop there.  To quote an OCUFA-commissioned report on the proposed legislation[1], “…it would give the Government unprecedented control over collective bargaining, the right to strike, interest arbitration (in the case of essential services), and the content of every term and condition of every collective agreement” (p. 1). What’s in this bill that would lead to such consequences and thus should be of serious concern to us all?

Content of the proposed legislation.  The Management Board of Cabinet unilaterally will develop “mandates” that will establish the criteria for collective agreements; these criteria may include not only compensation but also a wide range of factors affecting the delivery of services and anything else the government may find relevant.  These may include, among others, changes to job security, workload protections, and course delivery methods.  Collective agreements must be consistent these criteria.

Once a Collective Agreement is settled (e.g., ratified by a university and union, determined by an arbitrator), it must be submitted to the Minister for review.  If the Minister decides that it does not comply with the mandate criteria or does not meet the general goals of deficit elimination and protection of service delivery, he may send the collective agreement back to the parties for revision or impose agreement terms, following consultation.  The Minister also may impose an agreement if the university and the union do not reach a settlement.

Reasons for concern.  As described in the hypothetical scenario above, implementation of the proposed legislation may have serious negative impacts on Brock, including the ways in which we teach, conduct research, participate in governance, and are compensated.  But there are other, even broader reasons to be extremely concerned with this proposed legislation.

The proposed bill represents a major threat to our fundamental right to bargain collectively.  It sets up a process that will determine the outcome of bargaining in advance, imposing ministerial decrees in place of collectively negotiated terms and conditions of employment, as well as overturning decisions made by impartial arbitrators when negotiated settlements cannot be obtained. Collective bargaining rights are based on rights of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights[2] and protected by UN international labour guidelines[3].  As CAUT observed, “Collective bargaining is intimately tied up with core Charter values, such as human dignity equality, liberty, workplace democracy and the autonomy of workers, because they enable employees to assert an effective voice in the workplace” (p. 2)[4]. This proposed legislation, along with the recent passage of Bill 155 that undermines collective bargaining for Ontario’s teachers, appears to reflect a coordinated government attempt to interfere seriously employees’ ability to control their own labour and influence their conditions of work.  Indeed, OCUFA and other labour organizations intend to mount a court challenge to this legislation.  The ironic naming of this proposed legislation as the “Respecting Collective Bargaining Act”, clearly owes considerable debt to George Orwell.

The proposed bill also seems to be part of a multifaceted strategy by provincial politicians to seriously constrain university autonomy in developing curriculum and determining pedagogical approaches.  This autonomy has been a fundamental aspect of the academic freedom that is essential to the university environment.  We have seen outlines of the government’s vision of transformation in post-secondary education in its 2012 discussion paper, entitled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge”. This paper emphasizes common curricula across universities and community colleges, e-learning, productivity, job training and credentialing, student engagement, and year-round learning.  Similar themes are found in the instructions for the development of the Strategic Mandate Agreements, in which Ontario universities were required to identify a limited number of priorities consistent with the government’s vision.  The link between these priorities and selective government funding creates almost irresistible motivation for universities to reshape themselves in top-down and politically defined ways.

So, what can be done? 

You can find out more about the issues described here.  The summary and analysis of the proposed legislation by lawyers from Sack, Goldblatt, & Mitchell, prepared for OCUFA, is a good resource and available on the BUFA website (seanc129.sg-host.com ).  The bill itself can be found at http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/savings/protecting.html .

BUFA has formed an ad hoc Committee to Protect Collective Bargaining, which is in the process of planning educational and other actions on this issue. The Committee is organizing a panel discussion, in which participants will discuss the meaning, context, and implications of this Government initiative, as well as providing members with an opportunity to ask questions.  Other planned activities include developing a section of our website dedicated to this issue,  producing an education video, and implementing an information picket.  Jonah Butovsky is the Committee Chair.  Please contact the BUFA Office ([email protected] or x3268) if you are interested in joining or finding out more about the Committee’s activities.

BUFA also will be working with the other unions on campus to develop a response strategy.  OCUFA, CUPE, and the Ontario Labour Council, along with other labour organizations, are developing local and province-wide campaigns to address the proposed bill.

I encourage you to express your opinion to your MPP, as well as contacts you may have in any of the Provincial parties.

There is a window of opportunity to influence the legislation before it is passed. The recent resignation of Premier McGuinty and possible proroguing of Parliament will likely extend this window, giving us additional time to influence its potential passage.

In conclusion.  The government may need to address the fiscal deficit, but this draconian legislation is not the way to do so. Its radical provisions go so far beyond compensation issues, it is hard to see the connection.  Indeed, the provisions of this legislation may become even worse than currently proposed.  The minority Liberal government likely will need Conservative votes to pass the legislation and Tim Hudak has indicated that he thinks the bill is not strong enough and, for example, should be extended to include rollbacks of previously negotiated compensation packages.  As individuals and as a collective, we need to act to stop this legislation and reveal the flaws in its underlying principles.

 

Linda Rose-Krasnor,

BUFA President

October 15, 2012.

 

 


[1] Barrett, S., Poskanzer, E., & Payne, V. (2012).  Summary and analysis of the draft “Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector), 2012” (Schedule 2 to Protecting Public Services Act, 2012), Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, Toronto (October).

[2] See Fudge, J. (2008). The Supreme Court of Canada and the Right to Bargain Collectively: The Implications of the Health Services and Support case in Canada and Beyond.  Industrial Law Journal, 41, 25-48.

[3] International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

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