AASUA Ratification Vote: What is a Pair of Zeroes Worth?

This is a public version of a letter posted to the AASUA Members’ Forum on 7 April 2019. 

Dear Colleagues,

I have already written to you about why we must not ratify the Gender Pay Equity MOA. I now write about why we also need to vote “No” on ratifying the tentative agreement.

  1. The tentative agreement does not contain gains that make up for agreeing to take a 0% ATB for two years.
  2. The tentative agreement contains several very significant noxious elements.
  3. To ratify the agreement as is would be to weaken us as we go into successive rounds of negotiation across the decade.

This ratification vote comes down to the question of how much members believe they deserve in return for agreeing to take a zero across-the-board ATB settlement for two years (2018-19 and 2019-20). A zero ATB has, of course, a differential impact across the membership. Full professors will feel the zeroes the least; our precarious members will feel them the most. The question is what is fair across the Association’s seven constituency groups.

With this agreement — our first “common” collective agreement under the new labour relations regime — we set the foundation for bargaining over the next decade. It is our responsibility as the academic staff at the University of Alberta to ensure that this agreement is one that establishes a healthy foundation for the future of the academic staff and the institution.

The tentative agreement before us is, as it stands, simply not good enough to justify our agreeing to zero ATB for 2018-19 and 2019-2020. Nor is it a good foundation for bargaining over the next decade. Here’s why.

I.     The tentative agreement lacks essential things.

Academic Freedom. Faculty members made clear during the bargaining consultation process of spring 2018 that one of their highest priorities for this round of negotiations was to strengthen our academic freedom protections to the level of most other academic staff associations in Canada. The employer has refused to grant academic freedom language that includes explicit right of intramural critique. The Lead Negotiator reports that the employer did not wish to extend such powers of critique to APOs. In the academic freedom language before us, however, APOs are explicitly excluded from all of the provisions of the article, yet the employer still refuses to allow for explicit language of intramural rights. That right of critique is an essential component of academic freedom and the foundation of collegial governance. It is unacceptable that the following clause is NOT part of the tentative agreement:

Academic freedom ensures that members have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to criticize the administration of the institution or the Association.

Management Rights. The tentative agreement contains a new provision, in Article 4, “Management Rights.” The purpose of a “Management Rights” clause is to constrain the employer’s actions to that which is “fair, reasonable, equitable, and non-arbitrary.” It is also to ensure that the employer cannot make changes to the working conditions of its staff outside the collective agreement. The agreement before us has the first provision and not the second. Article 4.4 requires merely “consultation” with the Association should the employer wish to introduce or change any policy or procedure that affects the working conditions of academic staff. This is insufficient. The agreement must require the Association’s agreement to any such change before it can be implemented.

II.    The tentative agreement lacks significant gains that might merit two years of Zero ATB. 

As part of the Bargaining Planning process, the Association identified major gains that it would seek at the table to offset the predicted request from the employer for a 0% ATB. Bargaining is an iterative process, and it was always generally understood that the team could only gain so much. The problem is that the tentative agreement before us contains virtually none of the significant gains for which elaborate proposals were prepared. Key items we sought and did not get were:

Conversion & Complement. The single most important thing we might have gained for our pair of zeroes is a conversion process for the appointment of long-serving members of the Academic Teaching Staff to academic faculty positions. At the same time, we need to protect the faculty complement against attrition. The team went to the table with a set of sophisticated proposals to achieve these two things in tandem. These are exactly the kind of gains that might have made two years of zero on the ATB front acceptable to our members as they simultaneously involve essential fairness to members of the Academic Teaching Staff while securing something crucial to the flourishing of the University, a robust faculty complement. This is precisely the kind of gain the employer, with its eye on both the short- and long-term health of the institution, should have wanted to grant.

Workload. The team also went to the table with innovative “workload” provisions that would have given the academic staff, within their respective groups and units, control over key workload issues. The tentative agreement contains only the bare minimum that the employer should have granted on this front. To get an idea of what a good workload clause looks like, check out those at Queen’s or Western. The one approved for our team was even better.

Key Supports. The team also went to the table with a cluster of requests for various kinds of support for the work of the academic staff. These varied across constituency group. For faculty, the most important of these were sabbatical provisions. The tentative agreement should have presented us with new language in which sabbatical is an earned entitlement, and, consistent with our comparator institutions, the rate of pay for the first sabbatical should have been 100%, and subsequent sabbaticals, 90%. This is the kind of gain of longstanding consequence that two years of zero ATB should have purchased, with the employer’s happy acquiescence, since such provisions are standard and important support for the academic mission. We also sought “assisted” leave for other groups. As you can see from the table in clause 8.01, we gained nothing on that front. Key supports also could have come in the form of the improvements to the benefits plan, most urgently the extension of benefits beyond the faculty. We gained nothing on this front.

Salaries Anomalies Process. This is totally missing. The tentative agreement before us would allow for a massive increase in the SAF (Salary Adjustment Fund) without creating an anomalies fund, matched $ for $ with the SAF, to deal on an ongoing basis with salary inequities. The employer should not have the discretion to compensate some members as it wishes even as it refuses a cost-of-living ATB for all, and offers no adequate remedy for resolving, on an ongoing basis, gender and other pay inequities.

Employment Equity. Finally — and by no means least amongst this set of concerns — is the absence of any article on employment equity. This is an inexcusable omission in 2019.

We have members who would have liked to be bargaining for other big things, such as changes to FEC. In this round, however, the team could negotiate only for priorities approved by AASUA Council. (The membership has not yet given Council a clear consensus on what it desires of FEC changes.) The point is that the less we get in this round, even for two zeroes on the ATB front, the harder it is to build towards other gains in the next round.

III.    The tentative agreement contains things it should not.

Finally, I need to note that the tentative agreement before us contains several noxious elements. The most urgent of these are:

Contracting Out. In the LOU (“Letter of Understanding”) on page 69, the tentative agreement gives the employer the right to contract out services that would result in the loss of jobs to our members. This LOU flies in the face of the instructions to the team, which required “Job Security” issues to be amongst the highest of priorities at the table. Many of our members are on precarious appointments. The tentative agreement should contain provisions that strengthen the job security of our members. Not only have we not gained the job security provisions across groups that the team was mandated to achieve, we have before us a provision that allows the employer to contract out in ways that could lead to job losses for our members. 

Non-Disciplinary Suspension (7.18 and related MOU). It is Orwellian to refer to any suspension of a member as “non-disciplinary.” By definition, any suspension is disciplinary and should entitle the member to all the rights in the “Discipline” article. The employer should not be able to suspend any member of the academic staff without the member’s access to processes of appeal. All suspensions must be grievable.

USRIs. The evidence of gender discrimination in student evaluations of instruction is decisive, and the evidence on discrimination by race increasing. The tentative agreement before us should contain language prohibiting the use of USRIs in employment decisions. This is exactly the kind of concession the employer should have been eager to grant: here it had the chance to do the morally right thing at no cost to itself.

Post-Tenure Review Process. The tentative agreement before us leaves in place a post-tenure review process (familiarly referred to as the “0D” process). We are almost unique among Canadian universities in having post-tenure review — the University of Calgary joins us in this illustrious regard. No agreement in the country should contain a provision that is a fundamental offense against tenure. Here the employer had an opportunity to agree to eradicate, at no cost to itself, something that the agreement should never have contained.

I must note that none of the three lists above is exhaustive. I have simply sought to identify the most urgent problems and the key gains missing from the tentative agreement before us. No one is arguing that the employer should have been willing to grant us all the major gains we sought. But the employer should have been willing, for two years of no ATB increase, to agree to a package that featured things essential to any good agreement; no provision that is demonstrably discriminatory; and at least language on other non-monetary items up to the norm in other academic staff agreements across the country.

We have heard from the team that they could not gain anything more because every time they declared to the employer’s representatives at the bargaining table that they had to be able to “return to the membership with more” they were met with “blank faces.” Now, with a tentative agreement before us, is the moment for the membership to show that the team was telling the truth every time they made such a declaration. Now is the moment for us to return the team to the table in a position of strength by sending as clear a signal as possible that we require more in return for accepting two zeroes on the ATB front.

When the ratification vote opens at 9 am on Tuesday, I’ll be voting “No” in the hope that we may return the team to the table to get us a better deal. I hope you will join me in doing so.

As I have said repeatedly from the outset of this process, our only real strength at the table is the force of the membership behind the team. At this moment, the membership has the opportunity to supply that strength with the simple act of refusing to ratify this agreement and sending the team back to the table to get us a better deal — a deal that gets us at least a few of the things showcased above. We need a decent agreement now, to set us up for success in future rounds, starting with the very next. We need, in short, an agreement that allows members both now and in the future confidently to declare that for a pair of zeroes on the ATB front in 2019, we got a few things that truly mattered — things of long-standing consequence for the academic staff, and things of real importance to the health of the University.

Some have argued that perfection is the enemy of the good. That’s true. But the agreement is not good, and in many respects it is very bad. The only chance our team has to get a better agreement is a resounding vote from the membership that we will not ratify this one.

Yours for a more democratic, more effective, member-run Association,

Carolyn

 

 

 

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