Back to the bargaining table

CUPE and TRUFA ready to renegotiate agreements with TRU

TRU faculty and staff are hoping to raise the bar in their relationship with the university. The TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) and the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are going back to the bargaining table after being without a collective agreement for almost a year.

The agreements, which lay out TRU’s obligations to its employees and vice versa, expired last March, although they are still in effect until a new agreement can be reached.

According to TRUFA president Tom Friedman, the association delayed negotiatons in order to better understand faculty desires. TRUFA members were consulted for suggestions before TRUFA announced that it was ready to head back to the table last week.

Sweeter deal for sessional instructors?

While TRUFA will not release specific details, Friedman told media the association hopes to bolster the programs offered at TRU, as well as tackle compensation, benefits and job security for sessional and limited-term professors.

TRUFA president Tom Friedman announces that TRUFA will be renegotiating its agreement with TRU Jan. 19. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

TRUFA president Tom Friedman announces that TRUFA will be renegotiating its agreement with TRU Jan. 19. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

“This is one of the priorities that our membership has said is most important for them,” Friedman said.

“The majority of our members are tenured faculty who would not be directly impacted by this, but they have told us loud and clear that this goal should be one of the guiding principles of our bargaining.”

According to TRUFA chief bargainer, John Turner, the university has used sessional faculty as a cost-saving measure, as they are paid less and are employed under a short-term contract.

“There are a number of people on this campus that have been here for years, upwards of over a decade, with virtually no job security and a pay scale that is a fraction of what a tenured faculty would make,” Turner said.

Contract staff make 80 per cent of the lowest step on TRU’s 28-layer pay scale. Turner went on to say that a TRU sessional faculty makes about $5,200 per course, compared to the $6000 to $8,000 per course offered by other undergraduate Canadian universities of similar size.

Friedman also challenged what he calls a lack of transparency in TRU’s allocation of resources.

“From what we’ve been told, we’re in a financial crisis,” Friedman said. “We’re not. We show a surplus every year as an institution. I think this is a question of priorities, and the priorities of the Board of Governors up to date have not matched the priorities of our programs and students, and I think that has to change.”

In 2014, TRU reported an unrestricted surplus of $173,000, down from $197,000 the year before.

“The university has had a continuous dialogue with university employees as well as the unions’ representatives on financial matters through various means, including meetings with employee groups, town hall presentations and senate.

“The fiscal challenges we all face will only be overcome if we work together, keeping our students and their experience the primary concern,” said Christopher Seguin, TRU vice-president of advancement.

Stress test

The negotiations come a few weeks after both administration and TRUFA conveyed a desire to improve relations between the two.

Tensions came to light last semester through a letter drafted by

Friedman to the TRU Board of Governors. In it, Friedman cited widespread discontent among faculty.

“Faculty are the experts. They are the discipline and program experts and yet their voices were not being heard by administration,” Friedman said in a recent interview.

The letter was sent as part of the university presidential review process. TRU president Alan Shaver later said he hoped to improve relations with faculty.

“The university has signaled to the Faculty Association that we remain willing to meet and discuss concerns at any time,” Seguin said when asked how Shaver’s goal might affect the coming negotiations. “We have regularly scheduled meetings for this purpose. However the university does have a responsibility to the students and the taxpayers to provide education and services through the expertise and dedication of our faculty and staff.”

Bargaining is expected to begin in the next few weeks. Turner said he hopes to have the new agreement on paper by the end of semester, although he acknowledged some of TRUFA’s priorities could cause friction. The last round of negotiations took eight months.

Also, CUPE

CUPE is also putting the final touches on their bargaining list be- fore heading back to the table.

No bargaining goals have been announced, although CUPE president Lois Rugg said health and working conditions will likely make an appearance.

The last agreement ran from 2010 to 2014, but was not ratified until 2013, at which point it was rolled over without any changes being made.

“We didn’t get to the table for quite and while and when we did [begin negotiations], it took a long time. … So really, we ratified it and then essentially it expired a few months after that,” Rugg said.

She added she is hopeful that a resolution can be reached quicker this time around.

Despite the long negotiation, Seguin said the conversation in the last round remained respectful.

“It is not uncommon for negotiations to drag particularly when the adjustments to wages follow a provincial pattern … we would anticipate a settlement could be achieved in the next few months,” he said.

While TRU is not discussing specific goals for either of the up-coming negotiations, Seguin said they hope to address issues of “performance, accountability, competiveness, sustainability and cost containment.”

TRU will also try to extend the collective agreements to five years instead of four.