Rift between URFA and U of R continues

Tensions rise on campus/Jeremy Davis

Union and administration still at odds

Just over one month after a signed collective agreement, waves of discontent began to appear among University of Regina academic staff regarding the touchy subject of pay. Fair pay for academic staff members has been one of many issues that nearly resulted in members of the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) taking job action in April. Tensions between administration, academic staff and even students saw new heights as the University verged on a strike.

The stalemate in negotiations came to a close on Mar. 25, 2019 as both parties reached a tentative collective agreement which then went on to be ratified. However, a visible divide still exists between the administration and the faculty association.

Several URFA members exemplified such disillusionment upon being notified of a clause that URFA alleges is different from what was agreed upon at the table. On May 10, 2019, URFA contacted its members with an update from the Academic Bargaining Committee, informing its members that legal counsel has been engaged regarding a discrepancy in what is known as the “add one/drop one increment” clause.

This clause exists in previous collective agreements and deals with the increments by which the various pay families’ (faculty, librarians, lab instructors, etc.) salaries increase as well as the pay floors and ceilings within which these salaries are restricted to.

In the 2014-17 collective agreement, the add one/drop one clause included the ranks of librarians, lab instructors and instructors while in the newly negotiated agreement, faculty – a relatively large portion of academic staff – were added. In the 2017-21 collective agreement, those top earners at or above their normal pay ceiling are eligible for an increment raise.

The new collective agreement also raises the pay floor: the minimum amount staff can earn. Provost Tom Chase affirms, “academic staff members who are below the new floor shall have their salary increased to the new floor.”

For those keeping track, that leaves a little bit of grey area for those earners in the middle of the scale. Tricia van Hardeveld, Compensation Advisor with Human Resources, explained that for these earners, the increment isn’t automatic and is dependent on their earning it as a part of regular performance reviews.

“In the year of the drop one/add one (2019), everyone who is eligible (i.e. meaning the increment wasn’t denied in their performance review) gets an increment as a result of the scales shifting up-ward by one increment.”

Apart from the add one/drop one clause, all URFA members will receive a 1.75% salary increase effective July 1, 2019 as outlined in the 2017/21 collective agreement. This 1.75% increase is a part of the economic settlement and is separate from performance. For the past two years that the University has been without a collective agreement, that rate sat at zero per cent.

So, those at the top and bottom of the pay scale will receive their increment increase, as per the add one/drop one clause, as well as this 1.75% raise, while those in the middle of the pay scale will be eligible for the increment increase and guaranteed the universal 1.75% raise. URFA’s understanding of the clause however, differs.

URFA declined to be interviewed for this story, but in the public communication to their members wrote, “When we agreed to include an ‘add one/drop one’ in the collective agreement we believed, based on the representations of the university administration made at the bargaining table, that every term, tenure track, and tenured academic staff member of the URFA bargaining unit would receive a benefit of the add one/drop one in year three [2019] of the contract.”

Administration is admittedly confused why members are upset with this clause. Summarizing van Hardeveld, the Provost said, “The only people who therefore, under this contract, would not get…the additional increment would be someone whose performance review has said no increment this year and the number of people to whom that applies annually is very, very small.”

The waves of this dilemma have not gone unnoticed for students. Mikayla Koronkiewicz, a Philosophy, Politics and Economics major entering her third year of studies in the fall spoke to a feeling of unease regarding the administration’s transparency.

“I feel like I can go to URFA and they’re going to tell me straight up what’s happening whereas the administration act kind of like politicians. The 2014-17 [collective agreement] didn’t include the faculty members.”

“I feel like just leaving out little things that, it kind of makes you question what the bigger picture looks like. And [the administration] might not feel like it’s a necessary thing, but the whole strike and job action – the core of that was coming from the faculty. It’s just a good example of how the administration isn’t really as clear or as transparent as they should be and that is where the lack of trust maybe comes from for me.”

Students felt pushed aside during the spring at the peak of negotiations with notions of disenchantment stemming from uncertainty as exam period approached. Now in the fall, tuition will be rising another 2.8%, the 11th year there has been an increase, adding to a growing tension between the university and its students.

Certain members of the academic staff are feeling a definite divide between administration and staff. One URFA member, who asked to remain anonymous, said that, “as an URFA member speaking with several other URFA members, the only thing I’ve heard over and over is the absolute disappointment and low morale around the university.” This member in specific spoke to the issue of the add one/drop one clause as “yet one more thing.’

“Again, tuition has gone up but no one knows where the money is really going…the proportion of funds going to paying the front-line people – the teachers – has gone down every year despite huge increases in student body and tuition.” Responding to this notion of low morale, the Provost responded by referring to the difficulty of negotiating with a high amount of people.

“It’s regrettable when some feel that morale is low, but this is a large group of people and I think you would find a varied reaction to that statement. Those who feel that way obviously have every right to. We believe, in the current economic circumstances, we’ve negotiated a fair settlement with the Faculty Association.”

“We regard the confusion that seems to have arisen, but that [clause] was not something new or completely out of people’s experience. So, we look forward to going ahead, the agreement has been ratified, it’ll carry us through for another couple of years, and then we look forward to going back to the bargaining table and bargaining another collective agreement with the Faculty Association.”

“These are valued people; faculty are valued colleagues and we want to do everything we can to ensure that relations remain good. But, labour relations can be contentious and certainly collective bargaining, around salary and benefits, can be…challenging at times.”

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