Apr 17 2012

What Has Happened to the Once-All Mighty CUPE 3903?

Category: Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 2:26 pm

by Lykke de la Cour
YUFA CLA, Health and Society Program
Department of Social Science

Though no longer a member of the bargaining unit, I have been following CUPE 3903’s negotiations due to my own continuing concerns with the casualization of academic labour at York and elsewhere in the university sector. Having been deeply involved in the last strike, and in the final round of mediation for the last collective agreement, in the spring of 2009, I am utterly dismayed and perplexed by the current settlement that has been put before Unit 2. This is not even a concessionary deal … it is purely punitive.

I cannot fathom how either the Bargaining Team or the current CUPE 3903 Executive could ever have recommended this offer to the membership, or how an all-union SGMM voted to move forward with a vote on the settlement. In the 25 years that I have been following the politics of CUPE 3903 at York, this marks the lowest point I’ve ever witnessed in the union’s history and in the history of its collective agreements. The settlement quite clearly demonstrates that CUPE 3903 is no longer at the forefront of bargaining in the university sector, or progressive labour politics. The Local that once was a leader in the sector has now become the backwater with respect to Unit 2’s collective agreement.

The offer put before Unit 2 flies in the face of gains that have been recently achieved for contractualized faculty at other universities in Ontario and across Canada with respect to the regularization and stabilization of their employment, such as five-year renewable contracts and the continuing sessional appointments that the CUPE Local 4163 negotiated for contract faculty at the University of Victoria. It also fundamentally contradicts the political thrust dominant amongst unions today – i.e. not to enable but to fight against the casualization of labour.

The settlement that has been put to Unit 2 is de-facto contributing to the casualization of academic labour, not challenging it. This is ironic given that even with what most acknowledge as the dismal failure of the last brutal strike, the collective agreement achieved in that round of bargaining at least did not further casualization through its albeit meagre provisions that were finally negotiated. But now, with this settlement, without any strike or further negotiations, the Bargaining Team and Executive are recommending a new collective agreement that facilitates exactly what the employer wants, i.e. to keep contract faculty continually and forever precarious. The deal reached for Unit 2 does this by putting an overall limit on the number of contract faculty who can hold LSTAs (long-service teaching appointments) and by continuing to keep conversions appointments low. The provisions around enforcing a ‘hard’ CAP around the fractional (.17) excesses associated with Foundations teaching, also contributes to casualization.

More than a few members in Unit 2 have, over the years, argued for a more equitable distribution of labour amongst contract faculty, often calling for a reduction in the overall workload members are eligible to teach. Some have suggested that the 4.5/5.5 CAP be reduced to 3 CDs (or equivalencies) per member so that the work can be spread out. While this line of argument is often advanced as democratic, in reality it is not. This argument lines up precisely with what employers everywhere want these days, i.e. the elimination of full-time work and its replacement with part-time employees. The current administration at York would love nothing better than to see a CAP of 2.5 or 3 CDs per Unit 2 members as everyone would then be precarious, without a liveable wage, and thus much more vulnerable, less able to challenge the powers that be.

What was unique about Unit 2 at York, in the 1970s and through to the mid 1990s, was that through hard-won battles it managed to negotiate collective agreements that purposefully challenged the part-time and precarious nature of contractual university teaching – i.e. contracts that helped to facilitate members’ abilities to have something akin to full-time work, with respect to a liveable wage, benefits, pensions, etc., and job security through seniority provisions. This was organized around the principle of seniority as seniority was, and remains, the central, fundamental challenge to the managerial rights (i.e. the arbitrary ‘pick and choose’ approach) traditionally used and favoured by university administrators and tenured faculty … i.e. the approach used with tenure-stream hires, CLA hires, and conversion appointments.

Both the new restrictions around the LSTA pool and the ‘hard’ CAP on the minor excess (.17) associated with Foundations teaching essentially represent an assault on the most senior members of CUPE 3903. The right-wing within YUFA has basically been agitating for a purge of these CUPE 3903 members since our last strike, and now the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team has handed this to them on a platter by recommending acceptance of the offer negotiated for Unit 2. And what confirms this analysis is the fact that the employer didn’t turn back the CUPE proposal around the ‘hard’ CAP. Yes, it came from the union, not the employer and this CAP is going to be an administrative nightmare for the university to enforce. It essentially means that, for Foundations courses, UPDs will now have to make a large number of additional .17 appointments. And how will these be awarded? Will the person with the .17 appointment be brought in to oversee tutorials in the last 2 weeks of a course? Will they mark exams but nothing else in the course? This is an administrative and pedagogic nightmare.

So why would the employer agree to this? A number of possible reasons:

(a) it will create such a mess that the university will have arguments to justify no longer appointing Unit 2s to tutor 1 positions in Foundations courses.

(b) it helps to perpetuate divisions and resentment between senior and junior members within Unit 2

(c) it contributes to and fosters the organized assault on senior Unit 2 members … members who have been at York 10, 15, 20+ years and who helped to develop the strong collective agreement Unit 2 once had … members who in their sheer presence symbolically represent CUPE’s challenge to the administration’s feudal ‘managerial rights.’

Unit 2 members need to reject this offer and order the BT back to the bargaining table. There has been a signal failure in this round of bargaining that is unprecedented in the history of negotiations for Contract Faculty at York. But it is not too late to turn the offer back.

Contract Faculty at York (CUPE 3903, SRCs, CLAs, and CUPE exempt in Schulich, Osgoode, and Continuing Ed) now number around 1700. There are roughly a little over 1200 tenure track and tenured faculty at the university.  Casualization, in other words, has grown since the last strike. Contract Faculty are the majority faculty at the university. When will Unit 2 really get this and get what it means? When will Unit 2 start standing up for itself and demand what it rightfully deserves?

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Apr 16 2012

What will Happen if we Vote No?

Category: CUPE U2 VP ReportsBob Hanke @ 1:11 am

by Sharon Davidson
CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Vice President

The ratification vote will take place from April 16- 20 in the Vari Hall link on the Keele campus and outside the cafeteria on the Glendon campus from 11 a.m to 3:00 p.m.

In my previous post, I explained why I am voting ‘No’ not only as your Unit 2 VP but also as a member of the local. Many Unit 2 members may believe that voting ‘No’ means that we may be on strike a week from Monday. They do not want to entertain a scenario that takes them back to 2008-2009 – a concern that I completely understand. To address these concerns, I want to put forth various scenarios that position us in a very different situation than 2008.

By voting ‘No,’ we would give the union leverage to go back to the bargaining table and get an agreement that moves the Unit 2 Collective Agreement forward in meaningful ways in this round and not some future round of collective bargaining. We would go back to the bargaining table with a small list of demands with a specific timeframe. This was what happened in 2001. Of course, we would have to be prepared to strike to get this extra time at the bargaining table but we could agree to give the bargaining team one more opportunity to negotiate with the employer without striking. We could also agree to have the outstanding issues sent to binding arbitration instead of going out on strike.

How is our situation different from 2008? First, we are negotiating at a different time in the academic year and are better positioned to have a short, effective strike. York cannot afford to have another labour disruption for so many reasons. Many summer courses are directed by Unit 2 members and many of us still have not submitted our grades for the fall/winter and winter sessions. It is much easier for us to set up picket lines in warm, spring weather than in the cold days of November and December. The union is prepared to mount a strike both logistically and financially; in fact, the purpose of the special levy was exactly for this circumstance. Also, the earliest a possible strike would take place is after the week-long ratification vote, so members will receive the bulk of their pay for April before going out.

Would we be legislated back to work?  No. First, First, we would not be out long enough to make such legislation necessary. Second, the provincial Liberals have a minority government and the NDP, now in a much stronger place than it was in 2009, would not allow such legislation to pass. Third,  the McGuinty government made it quite clear last time that York could not ask the government to solve its labour problems again.

The absence of many Unit 2 members on the lines in 2008 and 2009 makes it clear that if we are to be taken seriously and if our demands are to be taken seriously by the employer and our colleagues in Units 1 and 3, we have to be prepared to show signs of solidarity and strength as a bargaining unit and not rely upon other members in the local to defend and to advance our rights.  We have the collective agreement we have because those among us and before us have done this in the past. Does anyone want to go on strike? No.

But simply saying that we can build demands for equity and security at some point in the future loses sight of what is possible right now.

The current settlement offer is a bad deal. Even the union’s legal counsel advised the Bargaining Team against recommending the provisions put forth in the offer, which stunts the LSTA program by placing limits on the numbers of these types of appointments. This should be an evergreen program that grows and to which members automatically become eligible after completing the specified years of teaching service.

Please be sure to make your voice heard this week. Come out and vote down this settlement offer.

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Apr 13 2012

The Day After the CUPE Local 3903 Meeting

Category: CUPE U2 VP ReportsBob Hanke @ 10:38 pm

by  Sharon Davidson
CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Vice President

Ironically, it is Friday the 13th, the day after our local’s consultative general membership meeting. This is the meeting where members get a chance to decide again whether or not they want to go on strike after getting a full report back from the bargaining team. The reason for this meeting has often been framed as a time when the local can display its solidarity since voting yes on a joint recommendation to accept the three collective agreements is not a unit specific vote. Hence a member is not voting on whether or not they like their own collective agreement but whether or not they think that all members of the union have gotten enough at the negotiating table to take the deals to a ratification vote which is a unit specific vote. For now, I will reserve my opinion on the advisability of continuing this practice in our local but instead focus on the fact that it was made clear by members of the bargaining team and executive as well as members speaking at the meeting yesterday that Unit 2 got very little and yet the membership overwhelmingly voted to accept the recommendation of the bargaining team and executive. I am still waiting for that show of solidarity.

Many members of Unit 2 held a caucus after the meeting yesterday to discuss where we go from here. Out of this discussion, many of us believe that the only way we can get more in this round of bargaining is to vote no in the ratification vote next week. I ask that every member of Unit 2 look carefully at what was negotiated and to reflect on what this will potentially mean for them for the next two years and beyond. I ask that every member of Unit 2 exercise your franchise and vote based on your assessment of how these changes agreed to by our bargaining team will impact your working conditions at York University. Ultimately it is your decision as to which way to vote.

Why I am voting NO:

    • There was no meaningful job security negotiated with the employer
    •  No protection against the continual manipulation of qualifications language in Unit 2 postings. The membership was told that departments now have to underline changes to postings language (this is being presented as a gain); but how is this different from the current collective agreement that requires departments to mark changed postings with ‘New’? The current system does not work in the interests of our members so why do we think this minor change will make our members’ positions any more secure?
    • While the renewal process for the Long-Service Teaching Appointments (LSTAs) was negotiated, it is the terms on which these renewals will happen that are problematic. The LSTAs was a new program that the union was awarded after we had been legislated back to work. It was awarded by a provincially-appointed arbitrator who told the union that he hoped that this program could be developed to help address some, but not all, of our issues regarding employment insecurity. If this were referred to arbitration, it is highly unlikely that an arbitrator would refuse a renewal process. What the bargaining team agreed to was a renewal process whereby members who currently hold LSTAs can apply for an extension of their three appointment but must demonstrate quality of teaching through a process that has not been fully and finitely defined in the collective agreement (remember that these are members who have been teaching at York for over 8 years at minimum and usually most over 15 years). Because of the lack of clarity in what a review of an applicant’s teaching will look like, it raises many questions. Does this mean that we will introduce the right of the employer to consider student evaluations for hiring purposes? This would be a serious departure from the way these evaluations are used currently only for professional development purposes. Will the review be the same from department to department?
    • The renewal application also does not consider the seniority of the applicant. Seniority is one of the three criteria that are to be considered equally in the awarding of the initial LSTA.  If the pool of eligible applicants was closed, this would not be as problematic in the renewal process; however, during the discussions between the arbitrator and representatives from the union, the union was clear that it did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past (Senior Renewable Contracts, SRCs,) and simply negotiate job security for particular individuals. The union wanted an evergreen pool and something to which members could eventually look forward to applying. If you remove seniority as part of the renewal criteria, you deemphasize the ‘long’ in Long-Service Appointment.
    • The other major problem with what was negotiated is that the bargaining team agreed to a cap of 51. This means that there would only be 51 of these appointments at any one time across the university. This essentially limits what the union can do with this program in the future and will forever be trying to negotiate this number upwards in the same way that we currently do with conversions. The LSTA program has the potential to be the regularized, ongoing appointments of the future but only if this concession is turned back by members.
    • While the Conversion Program provides a means through which our members in Unit 2 can be appointed to tenure-stream appointments, I do not see this program as job security but as professional advancement. If we continually rely upon this program as the only means to provide our members with meaningful employment and professional stability, what does that say about us as a union: that the only way we can truly protect our members, is to move them out of our union and into another union, YUFA. I am committed to the continuance of this program as an important means for our members to advance within the academy but we have to move away from framing conversion as the centrepiece of job security for our members. What the employer offered was 2,3,2. Is this acceptable? I don’t think so. Considering the number of potential retirements in YUFA and the pattern of targeted appointments made in the last three years, this is just not enough.  What we want is a percentage of tenure-stream appointments across the university rather than a fixed number of conversions; what we want is fair and equitable.
    • The bargaining team agreed to changes to the way in which the CAP is enforced. In the past it is the employer’s responsibility to enforce the CAP. There have been many discussions in the past four years regarding the arbitrary nature in which this enforcement has occurred. What was agreed to in the agreement you are being asked to ratify is that members when signing their contracts will have to indicate whether or not by signing the contract, they will be over their cap and thus giving the university the right to cancel the contract (see “Appendix B”). This has major implications for members teaching in Foundations courses with fractional appointments as it will restrict their ability to exercise their collective agreement rights to work up to the CAP since they will now have to work under it or risk the cancellation of their contract. For years, there has been a practice not to recover fractional overages (particularly of .17). This collective agreement puts a hard cap in force and moves away from the spirit and intention of the cap.

While I applaud the bargaining team on their hard work through this negotiating process and celebrate the gains that members in Unit 1 and Unit 3 were able to secure in this round, Unit 2 has achieved very little and it is not enough to say we can wait until the next round. York is rapidly changing. We need to continue what we started in 2008 and secure the kind of agreement that will provide better protection for our members. CUPE 3903 is in a secure financial position; we are organized and ready to defend our rights. Voting no does not necessarily mean that we will strike but we need to be prepared to do so in order to make gains. We need to send a very clear message next week and vote ‘no’ to an agreement that gives a few extra dollars towards benefits and funds. We have had enough of being treated as dispensable and invisible. What is on the table is not enough. I urge all of you to vote and to vote NO.

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