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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2010

Victories Large & Small in Fight for Pro-Rata Terms

By George Davison
Since CAUT adopted the pro-rata model of compensation for work done by contract academic staff, there has been considerable effort by member associations to highlight the per-course ghetto problem and look for solutions at the bargaining table. Several associations have put the pro-rata proposal on the table with mixed results: the University of Western Ontario was largely successful and Mount Allison used it to bargain improvements to the per-course stipend.

The ability to achieve a goal all at once or incrementally depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is timing, the availability of money to pay for it, and the will of all academic staff to support the concept both at and away from the bargaining table. Having been involved in both approaches over the years, I think a case study might illustrate the benefit of the incremental approach, especially when the alignment of stars might not occur as frequently as contract academics might wish.

The College of New Caledonia was esta­blished in British Columbia’s central interior in 1969 and merged with the Prince George branch of the provincial vocational school in 1971 to form a comprehensive community college. The CNC Faculty Association was also established in 1969, and though members unionized in 1975, only full-time members were represented.

It took almost 10 years and a major arbitration in 1983­–1984 to get part-time faculty into the bargaining unit. The compromise was a collective agreement divided into two sections, A and B, with B consisting of different language, an hourly wage scale, and minimal benefits for contract academic staff. It was a start.

In 1987 negotiations, contract academic staff got recall rights for courses taught if they’d held three or more appointments in a four-year period. In 1989, that recall provision was
improved — those with 12 months of continuous appointments, or intermittent appointments separated by less than six months, got recall rights. To keep track of who was doing what, a “blue book” was created, recording the name, discipline/area, start/finish dates, hours of appointment, course(s) taught, and campus (CNC has five campuses).

In the 1992 bargaining round, which took almost two years of negotiations, continuing part-time status was established for contract academic staff, whereby those who worked 90 hours per year (the equivalent of two university half-courses) over two years got the right of first refusal for courses for which they were qualified (note: this was often more than what they had taught, as those with dual certification could teach in more than one area).

Benefits such as vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, professional development, and partial remuneration for cancelled courses were improved for continuing part-time and sessional (full-time for more than one month but with contracts for fixed periods) faculty. The union also began its own database of members to track work done with monthly information received from the employer.

While bargaining early in 1995, CNC was trying to hire faculty outside of the bargaining unit to give it more flexibility in pay and working conditions. The college president tried negotiating contracting out language with the faculty association’s bargaining team over several evenings at the union office, but failed to reach an agreement. Faculty went on strike for almost four weeks. An arbitrator later awarded the language negotiated before the strike.

Also in 1995, unions that had tried co-ordinated bargaining once before were more or less forced to co-operate in light of the government’s new bargaining structure that came out of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service and Public Sector (the “Korbin Commission”) published in 1993. Compensation guidelines became mandatory for employers, and non-monetary issues also faced concerted resistance. The result was rotating strikes by eight locals of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators’ of BC (formerly the College Institute Educators Association) early in 1996, where urban and suburban institutions were paired for co-ordinated one-day strikes.

The threat of increased job action forced the appointment of James Dorsey as arbitrator, and he imposed a “framework agreement” consisting of a common salary scale and the beginnings of a system approach to labour relations. At CNC, administrators and the faculty association blended the two parts of the local agreement into one, thus ending the separate section for the contract academics.

Unfortunately, union bargainers were not able to get rid of a bar to accumulating work (those who worked less than two-thirds of full-time work were paid on the secondary scale) and the secondary scale itself. CIEA locals were encouraged to standardize collective agreements (i.e., have workload, grievance and arbitration provisions and benefits in similar sections) and set expiry dates to line up with other faculty associations in BC.

Thus, in 1998, 24 unions — 17 CIEA locals and seven locals represented by the British
Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU represents vocational instructors) — banded together to negotiate a common agreement.

One of the priorities was to eliminate the secondary scales; another was regularization (incremental). Though the former was not achieved, two of the last pieces bargained were
common language (parameters and process) to bargain regularization locally and a letter of
understanding promising to regularize the 13 most senior contract academics at CNC.

What it meant was pro-rata pay, full benefits, and the right to accumulate work up to full time, but college officials protested. Locally, the parties agreed to merge the continuing part-time and sessional lists to create a non-regular seniority list, whereby any member with 25 weeks of cumulative service would earn the right of first refusal and some benefits.

It took almost two years to bargain regularization and nail down the letter of understanding. The process involved notice to bargain for those who wanted to do so, a period of bargaining to narrow issues, a referral to the joint administration and dispute resolution committee, and then a named arbitrator, Donald Munroe.

It became clear very quickly that local employers wanted nothing to do with negotiations, and at CNC, wanted to tie together the letter of understanding with the outcome of regularization negotiations. CIEA took its two strongest cases (i.e., those closest to regularization language we wanted) at Malaspina and Kwantlen to arbitration: the former lost the right of first refusal, but other parameters were clarified, and further bargaining led to agreements by the fall of 2000.

The dispute over the letter of understanding, which saw CNC threatening to take the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association (its agent) to the province’s labour board for agreeing without the local’s say so, was settled when the institution was assured that costs were part of the provincial settlement and would not come out of its budget. And what was estimated at costing $75,000 ended up costing $250,000 — the difference between secondary scale pay with minimal benefits and pro-rated jobs on the provincial scale with full benefits.

These settlements opened the way for dozens more to be regularized, a major step forward at CNC and several other institutions around the province.

Progress for contract academic staff slowed down considerably in the last decade. Although common bargaining in 2001 achieved about 12 per cent over three years, a maternity leave employment insurance top-up and an employer-paid common disability plan, the Liberals
who won power in May of that year did not fund years two and three, and large numbers of faculty were laid off across the province.

The 2004 mandate, coming after core reviews, service cuts, wage roll-backs and stripped contracts, was zero per cent for two years. FPSE and BCGEU faculty negotiators put available money on the top step, mined agreements for a wage increase, and agreed to a third year for 1.5 per cent + x, one year beyond the mandate, with the x tied to the first-year settlement of the BCGEU master agreement. The amount turned out to be 63 cents per hour, which did not translate well to our salary grid, so we ended up with 2 per cent while the rest of the public sector got 2.6 per cent.

Finally, the 2007 round was the famous bonus/bribe round, where the public sector was given about 2.5 per cent per year along with a $4,000 bonus if we agreed to contracts that expired after the 2010 Olympics, when we’d get another $1,500 dividend if there was a budgetary surplus! No one was holding their breath for the dividend, but few foresaw the global meltdown either. Sadly, there was not much beyond the basic wage increase for contract academic staff, and as they are paid well below standard, the raises were also well behind regular academic staff increases.

One of the priorities in the 2010 round of bargaining is the elimination of secondary scales, although a staged phase-out might be a more achievable goal. Unions are also demanding more money for everyone, better inflation protection for pensions, and a small list of other improvements, including academic freedom for those who do not have it in their agreements.

The government, on the other hand, has frozen public sector wages. If we want something, we have to pay for it. This context does not bode well for any improvements, but we are committed to improving working conditions for contract academics, and our actions over the years show steady progress. We have also learned that political action can only help — as long as right-wing, cost-cutting governments are in place, our quest for better treatment falls on deaf ears.

The incremental approach will have to do until the stars align, and the pro-rata model is always our goal no matter what obstacles are placed in our way.

George Davison is secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC and a member of CAUT’s Contract Academic Staff Committee.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily CAUT.

CAUT welcomes articles between 800 and 1,500 words on contemporary issues directly related to post-secondary education. Articles should not deal with personal grievance cases nor with purely local issues. They should not be libellous or defamatory, abusive of individuals or groups, and should not make unsubstantiated allegations. They should be objective and on a political rather than a personal subject. A commentary is an opinion and not a “life story.” First person is not normally used. Articles may be in English or French, but will not be translated. Publication is at the sole discretion of CAUT. Commentary authors will be contacted only if their articles are accepted for publication. Commentary submissions should be sent to Liza Duhaime (