Faculty and admin, now in mediation, still far apart

The two parties have returned to the table, but are far from resolution on major issues

TRUFA president Tom Friedman speaks at a union rally held outside the Clock Tower on Jan. 15, 2016. (Sean Brady/The Omega)

TRUFA president Tom Friedman speaks at a union rally held outside the Clock Tower on Jan. 15, 2016. (Sean Brady/The Omega)

The TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) commenced mediation with university administration on Friday, Jan. 15. Both sides have expressed a need to try something different in order to prevent job action, but admit that they remain far apart on a number of serious issues.

When asked which issues the administration and faculty bargaining teams were the furthest from an agreement on, VP Admin and Finance Matt Milovick said that money and collegial governance issues were the most divisive.

According to Milovick, TRUFA is pushing for a change in the way administrative decisions are made, which would give a committee made up of mostly TRUFA members the ability to veto decisions made by faculty deans.

“That’s not collegial governance. That’s union governance. It’s not even close to collegial, and we’re not going there. I can tell you definitively it will never happen,” Milovick said.

“We feel faculty and admin have to be equal partners in making those decisions. Faculty are the ones who know the programs, know the students, know the classroom conditions. What we’re seeing is a reluctance on their part to hand over any authority. They want the deans to have the final say. What we say is that they have to be accountable,” said TRUFA president Tom Friedman.

Matt Milovick, TRU's vice-president of administration and finance, addresses media at a press conference held in the Clock Tower immediately after Friday's ralley. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

Matt Milovick, TRU’s vice-president of administration and finance, addresses media at a press conference held in the Clock Tower immediately after Friday’s ralley. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

According to the bargaining update posted on TRU’s website, the university is offering the faculty a total increase of 5.5 per cent to salaries to take place over a five-year period, and TRUFA has demanded a total of 49.5 per cent in wage increases.

“That 49.5 per cent translates to about $28.8 million. That puts us about $23 million apart. It’s untenable. We don’t have the means or ability to pay that, nor could we pay it given the public sector mandate,” Milovick said.

Friedman said that the proposals were put forward expecting that negotiations would follow and that there would be a back and forth between TRUFA and the university, but he said there hadn’t been. Friedman describes many of the figures publicized by TRU as opening offers, expecting them to be pared down during the negotiating process.

Friedman provided UNBC and UVIC as examples of universities where faculty are better paid than TRU.

“I believe at UNBC they got 10 per cent over five years, so that differential is the result of the union giving up specific management rights, giving rights back to the management. Management was able to convince PSEC (Public Sector Employers’ Council) that those management rights returning to us had a value equivalent to 4.5 per cent. So far, TRUFA hasn’t given us anything,” Milovick said.

Growth of the university’s administration, both in budget and number of positions is a major point of criticism that TRUFA has levied against the university.

“The administrative bloat has taken resources away from student support services,” Friedman said.

A leaflet circulated by TRUFA claimed that the number of administrative positions has increased by 97 per cent between 2006 and 2013, and that full-time faculty only increased by 10 per cent in the same period.

“We lost two very valuable co-op education coordinators over the last couple years. The number of co-op placements is increasing because co-op is extremely valuable,” Friedman said.

The increase in administrative positions was required to staff new university initiatives such as the research office and to expand the Marketing and Communications Department to combat declining domestic enrollment, Milovick said.

“We spend the most on the academic enterprise of any teaching and research institution in the province,” Milovick said.

Whether or not mediation will bring an end to the months-long negotiation deadlock remains to be seen, but both sides agree that they need to try something new.

“I think something different has to occur between the parties, because we have been bargaining with them, and I use the term ‘bargaining’ loosely. We’ve been in discussion with them since Feb. 2015 and we haven’t seen a lot of movement, so we hope that if we can put an objective third party mediator in to speak and work with both sides, then we might be able to gain some ground,” Milovick said.

When asked if he was optimistic about resolving the issue, Friedman said: “I tend to be optimistic when we’re dealing with people of good will and desire, and we haven’t seen significant evidence of that on the employer’s side.”