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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 1998

Dialogue with Membership is Key to Success

By Robert Chernomas & Sylvia D. Jansen
During our recent negotiations at the University of Manitoba a sow's ear was turned into a silk purse. The administration's efforts to divide the faculty on the issue of mandatory retirement was thwarted by the faculty association's careful attention to membership process.

On Nov. 15, about 10 hours before our strike was to begin - we settled with the administration team with the assistance of a mediator. The process had been a long and difficult one that began in June of 1997 when the administration made us an offer to avoid bargaining altogether.

That offer included a token amount of money, mandatory retirement for members over age 65 (something contrary to the provincial human rights act but authorized by special legislation affecting only academics), and a promise not to declare a financial exigency. This they offered as a "maintenance agreement."

Under Attack
We had been on strike in 1995 resisting the administration's attempt to gut our exigency clause and effectively end tenure. In the interim the provincial government had passed legislation that required the university and the newly established Council on Post Secondary Education (COPSE) to collaborate on generating performance indicators for the University of Manitoba.

In due course, we learned COPSE was considering the possible closure of one of our faculties. It seems we had too many full-time professors who made our program more costly than either Brandon's or Winnipeg's where they use more sessionals.

Not surprisingly, performance indicators became one of our bargaining priorities.

During this time we also became acutely aware of potential problems evolving with information technology through issues raised by our own members, the York strike and a CAUT-sponsored conference on technology.

Our administration also began to introduce a system-wide annual comprehensive faculty evaluation process that looked suspiciously like annual tenure reviews and without the due process protections incorporated into hiring, tenure and promotion procedures.

Other contentious issues included protection for long-serving members hired on contingent funding, and release time for UMFA officers. Finally, the membership told us repeatedly how concerned they were with faculty renewal.

Broadening Our Team
The first thing we did was reject the administration's pre-opening offer after a general membership meeting. Then we put together a collective agreement committee. The committee members included people skilled in dealing with the issues the administration and the government put on our agenda.

We had a contract that was largely 20 years old, and we believed it was time to write one for the 21st century. In July our committee began to write contract language for articles either to be added to the collective agreement or to amend the existing language.

The committee was to meet regularly with the faculty association executive to ensure a solid and synergistic relationship with the elected leadership. Regular reports were made to the Board of Representatives and bargaining priorities were authorized by the membership in January of 1998.

By the time bargaining began in March, we had established positions and written contract language.

Getting Our Message Out
During this process we produced 25 newsletters styled by a professional journalist committed to trade unions and with whom we worked closely on content. We also arranged dozens of constituency meetings both for individual departments and for the general membership.

We presented our positions to our students through advertisements in the student newspaper and through direct contact with student leaders. We wrote letters to the local press and conducted media interviews (the job of the president in our association). A few days before the strike deadline the bargaining team also held a news conference.

Financing Our Proposals
During bargaining we formulated a plan for how the university could afford to finance our proposals. We took the administration's own numbers from its recently suspended early retirement program, projected the net savings from renewing this plan over the next five years and concluded it would generate $15 million in savings.

When the administration said it could not afford the upfront costs, we offered a loan from our strike fund to provide the bridge funding on condition a strike could be avoided and the loan repaid before the contract expired. This proposal was strongly endorsed by our membership.

Building Membership Support
What made this round of bargaining successful was the relationship of the bargaining team with the membership. Logical arguments, facts and analysis matter but what distinguishes a successful round of bargaining from a less successful round is membership support.

We repeatedly explained our positions both in writing and in meetings and tried to maintain maximum contact with the membership. We modified and pursued bargaining positions and stuck to priorities based on the feedback we received from the membership. This resulted in a successful strike vote and a clear message that the membership was behind its bargainers.

The new contract contains improvements in all the areas we had identified as important and several lower profile changes that improve the life of academic staff.

On performance indicators, the university has agreed to study the issue jointly with the association. Moreover, for the life of the contract, no member will be discontinued for academic reasons. In practice, performance indicators cannot be used to trigger closures of academic units.

On faculty renewal, the administration has agreed, where the university grant is stable, to maintain existing human resources, with comparable positions, at or above the current levels. A joint committee will study retirement options, retirement incentives, and renewal and report back to the community.

For the first time, an article on performance evaluations will appear in the collective agreement. Protections for tenure, due process and procedural fairness are key elements in the article.

The agreement gives the academic staff the right to choose whether or not to use various educational technologies, the right to exercise copyright and intellectual property rights whatever the medium, and protection from job loss that could otherwise result from the use of such technologies.

As an alternative to the administration's demand for compulsory retirement, we negotiated a provision for reduced appointments to occur following age 70.

We also achieved the improvements we sought for those members on contingent ("soft money") positions. These members will, under general conditions, now have the right of first refusal for new appointments doing the same or substantially the same duties.

An article on release time for association officers will also appear in the new contract. A formula for compensation has been set, and association service is explicitly acknowledged as service to the university community.

A number of other improvements were gained in existing articles of the collective agreement and several joint committees were established to study intellectual property, promotion, salary structures and a tuition fee scholarship plan.

Full increments have been restored, scale increases will occur for the first time in some years and days without pay are gone.

Robert Chernomas was the chief bargainer for UMFA during this round of negotiations at Manitoba.
Sylvia Jansen is Executive Director of the Faculty Association, and a member of the bargaining team.