Impending university strike: Dennis Fitzpatrick comments
Should the U of R expect a strike in the near future?
The University of Regina has been dreading an impending strike by APT staff, and with the details still muddled under corporate language and uncertain futures, the Carillon reached out to Professor Dennis Fitzpatrick, head of the University of Regina Faculty Association [URFA], to get a sense of what actions have taken place in the past few weeks.
In a pre-interview email, Fitzpatrick brought us up to speed with the current situation, saying, “The APT negotiations weren’t going anywhere. Management asked that their latest offer be taken to the membership. It was overwhelmingly rejected.”
Fitzpatrick went on to say “the Faculty Association asked the membership from APT to demonstrate their support by voting on strike action. They did. Now that does not mean a strike is forthcoming.”
But what does that mean for the University? If a strike is going to happen in the near future, when will it happen?
“Many people think the act of authorizing a strike means one immediately,” says Fitzpatrick. “This is not the case. APT and management are back at the bargaining table. Management claims there is no money. The audited financial records of the university suggest otherwise.”
The Carillon caught up with Fitzpatrick later in the afternoon.
Hannah Grover: Is there currently an APT strike?
Dennis Fitzpatrick: It is not a strike. Negotiations have gone on for some time. The contract expired almost two years ago. We negotiated much of the fall. When we were at an impasse, the University suggested they knew our membership and they asked us to take their final offer to the membership. We did, and the membership soundly rejected it. More than 85 per cent voted no.
We then took a strike mandate vote. The membership strongly endorsed it, with more than 85 per cent of the membership authorizing a strike. Now that does not mean that a strike is going to happen immediately. What it does mean is our membership is very unhappy with management’s position. This is a strong signal.
HG: What are the main sticking points?
DF: Salary is an issue, but it is only a proxy issue. I think the underlying issues are fairness and respect. The average settlements within other job categories – the professors and the out of scope workers – have been more generous. This is what I hear from APT members. If the times are hard, we are more than willing to share the hard times. The campaign slogan ‘not on our back’ resonates with the APT members, because they are being asked to take less than other campus workers. APT provides essential services. They face an ever-increasing workload as positions are lost. They would like a little respect and they would like to feel appreciated.
HG: How long have negotiations been going?
DF: Well over a year. Contracts lapse, and then negotiations begin. They have been negotiating in earnest since Sept. 2015. You have to understand negotiations tend to be protracted, and it seems like the smaller the stakes, the longer the negotiation. The backdrop is one in which their workload is significantly increasing because positions are being lost or reallocated within the university, so they are being asked to do more and not being recognized. It is as simple as that.
These people are really important to us. They are often the first contacts that a student has with the University. They do scheduling, they do advising, they do IT, they do any number of what I would call high-end jobs, and these are professionals. They are important, they are well trained, and they really care about the university.
HG: Do you expect a strike?
DF: You know, I don’t think that anybody wants to go on strike. I think that they [APT membership] have sent some fairly strong messages. No one is rushing into a strike. APT’s demands are modest, reasonable. We have signalled that the offer on the table is unacceptable. The ball is in their court.
HG: Is this the fault of administration, or the small increase in provincial funding?
DF: Management chooses how they allocate resources. They have chosen to invest in some groups, but declined to invest in APT. It is an issue of fairness. Before we point fingers at the provincial government, we should examine U of R’s own house, move beyond budget projections, and look at how money is actually being spent. The audited financial statements suggest U of R’s budget position is relatively robust.
HG: Are any other unions experiencing similar conditions?
DF: I think this is the first union to face this challenge. I anticipate that a poor settlement would set the benchmark for others.
HG: The University of Regina said they expect this to be resolved quickly. What are you expecting?
DF: There have been two bargaining sessions since the strike vote. Management could resolve this issue quickly. My expectations are low.