Thursday, October 13, 2011

Strike Information Forum #2

Today we had another forum where we had members of the Administration team and the BUFA teachers' union at two separate back-to-back meetings to discuss student concerns about strike-related issues. Here are my notes on the key issues discussed during the forum. (They may be slightly biased as I have omitted the details of what was said by certain individuals when I felt their comments were unprofessional.)

Session 1 - School Administration

- Administration get the same settlement as BUFA teachers in regards to the raise in pay scale increments discussed in the contract

- University President says Administration are suggesting a pay scale increase of 13% over 3 years (this contradicts the statement made by BUSU yesterday about -14% for pay scale)

- Dean of Education says student practicums will start on Monday and all Education students will receive an email later today. Dean says he has been in communication with the President of the MTS and that student teaching should not be affected by the strike. He says that he is working on a contingency plan for any students who may have Faculty Advisors who will not work in a show of support for BUFA.

- BUSU says that they, as an organization, stand with BUFA although this may not be representative of the opinion of the student body. BUSU suggests a meeting at a future date to discuss this in more detail.

- University President says she wants to hear student opinions on these issues.

- University President claims she wants to meet somewhere in the middle with negotiations with BUFA but that this has not been happening so far.

- University President says both sides always have a lawyer in negotiations. She justifies her choice of lawyers by saying they needed a new dynamic in order to try to prevent these negotiations from going in the same way they had in the past. She picked someone from out of town in hopes that they would be unbiased and act as a new voice. She justifies the cost saying he is a highly respected lawyer and she hoped hiring him would make negotiations go faster in the long run, thereby equaling out the cost of his fees. She says he does not charge for his travel time.

- Member of Administration states that questions related to the quality of education received by students during the strike should be addressed to the University Senate. It is stated that Senate meetings are generally open to the public unless dealing with a sensitive issue. The date and time of the next Senate meeting could not be given.

- Student asks about why the President will not meet with her. The President skirts around the question. In the process it becomes clear that this student has tried to meet with her many times before and has successfully at least once. The President claims she would love to meet with students but cannot give suggested office hours... continues avoiding addressing the issue appropriately.

- The Dean of Education says that all the Deans are also willing to talk with students and to please drop by. He makes a comment about appropriate discussions only, which is somewhat confusing as to what was meant by it. He also suggests that more meetings like this forum should take place between students and Administration.

- Member of Administration says that the Administration has been fair in its bargaining with BUFA but claims that specific details of what is being bargained are private.

- Member of Administration talks about conciliation stating that both parties are fairly far apart in opinions. A collective agreement has to be reached at the table. The current issues have to do with wages and benefits but more importantly with reconciling the language being used in regards to these money-related issues. (Example: Sabbaticals and how it costs the University and extra $1 million annually for a replacement for someone on sabbatical. These replacements are the sessional professors.)

- Dean of Education says the Administration and his department want to see quality of programming for students.

- Member of Administration states that tuition would double if the faculty get the increases they are asking for. They also state that an 11% increase from the government is required just to maintain the status quo. 90% of the current budget is going towards paying staff and there is nowhere to cut away more fat from the budget. It is going to start affecting the staff. Fingers are pointed at the provincial government because it is claimed that we live in a setting created by provincial mandates on university funding, etc.

- President says that the disability coordinator will remain available to aid students during the strike because she is an essential service. A tutor is also available for these students. When a student tries to clarify whether this would mean students have to cross the picket line to access these services the President chooses to question the intelligence of the students present with her remarks. She proceeds to define what an essential service is while effectively avoiding the question.

- Student asks about why a new Admin position is being created when there is no room for it in the current budget. Member of Admin says that our university has one of the thinnest Adminstration teams in the country. Our university chooses to put any excess in the budget towards improving classes. The position that will be created is an Associate VP research position. The Admin claim it will be an income generating position as it will give them more negotiation power and interaction with the government. They claim our university will fall behind if this position is not created and that even the neighbouring college (ACC) already has this position.

BUFA is met with arguments from the President.

- No answer is given when students ask if the Admin have a contingency plan to keep future strikes from causing similar problems for students at the end of the next contract.

- Students from BUSU ask why the President will not provide them with a copy of her contract which they claim should be publicly available. The President responds that she feels that names and earnings are public-domain but not the terms and conditions of her employment. She refers to the office petitioned by BUSU in order to get a copy of this document and says that it is up to their discretion now. She says that the house she lives in as part of her contract is one that she has to pay rent for and that she would prefer to live elsewhere.

- International Student asks what broader issues need to be addressed to create a more permanent fix and restore harmony to negotiations between Administration and staff. An Admin member answers in such complicated language that the regular student body would have difficulty understanding the implications, let alone a student with English as an additional language. The just of the argument was that 3 different Presidents have been unable to come up with a way to prevent further strikes, and that they are uncertain that there is a good solution. A comment is made about it taking two to create this sort of situation.


Session 2 - BUFA Teachers' Union

- Negotiating Committee says that although negotiations began in the spring when their contract expired in March, the issue of money was avoided by Admin until the last couple of weeks. The reason for the strike is the Administration's unwillingness to discuss this part of the agreement. It is admitted the some concessions were made on both sides but the strike resulted from the Administration not giving a new counter-offer in regards to salary/benefits.

- Member of BUFA says that tuition pays less than a quarter of the university operating costs so it in unreasonable for the Administration to say that tuition would double if BUFA gets the salary they ask for. In addition the government regulates tuition.

- Union Members voice concern that asking students to cross the picket line to go to class on Monday, and asking teachers to cross the picket line to teach is an attempt to break the Union. It is stated that a broken Union will create a broken institution and that students should not support this. There is some concern about the President's previous political agendas and her approaching this negotiation as a politician and with the same ideals. Professors encourage students to continue to use the library, and gym, and other related services and say this will not be seen as crossing the picket line.

- Union Members express concern for student equity in regards to students choices to cross or not cross the picket line in order to attend classes. (This is concern the Administration is not acting with equity in mind and that they are putting students in a bad situation.) They urge students to consider the long term implications for the university if the Union is broken. The History department states there will be no classes held by any of the profs in their department.

- Negotiating Committee says that they have not been informed in the strike protocol that the disability centre would be open as an essential service but state they will be willing to work with that. They encourage students needing this assistance to access it.

- Negotiating Committee briefly outlines some of the issues currently on the table for the negotiations. They include procedures related to hiring, firing, and tenure as well as financial and benefit related concerns (ie. pensions). They say that they are not aware that any of the issues being brought to the table are private and that there are summaries of their negotiations on their website. This information is publicly accessible and the same as what is provided to all union members outside of the negotiating committee.

- Profs express their dislike for not being able to teach and say no one votes for a strike because they want one, but that their hands are bound because the employer holds more power and not providing a service (ie. teaching) is their best tool at this time to get negotiations to move forwards. They wish there was another way, but only the government can change this process. They stress that their working conditions inevitably affect students' learning conditions. They allude to compromises they have already made which are greater than those the Administration is willing to make. They also point out their working conditions have been going downhill over the last 10 years.

- Union Members say that when a concession is made a protocol will be signed that states that no penalties to the faculty will result from the strike actions. Union Members say they want to see the same clause in this protocol with regards to students who choose not to cross the picket line to attend classes.

- Negotiating Committee says the negotiations so far have been mostly over documents and procedures. The Administration wants to completely change the documents related to hiring, firing, and promotion procedures. There are "dozens if not hundreds" of changes proposed, which is what has been taking so long with negotiations. The Administration wants to remove protections from the faculty in regards to these procedures and place the hiring power completely on the Administration team and the Deans, with no input from the Union. There is some concern about the language of the documents excluding people the university actually wants to hire, which will result in the Administration hiring people that may not be "qualified" for the position based on the document of qualifications.

- Students ask why a conciliator was not brought in before the Union went on strike. The Union responds that this was because they were still talking up until 5am that same morning.

- Some students express concern that their professors obligations to certain activities go beyond their teaching normal classes at the University (ie. band performances) and ask how these issues will be addressed. The Union states that the Line Captain can give passes to professors who have justified causes for crossing the picket line.

- Students express concern about profs who do not have a PhD and their futures at Brandon University. A Union Member says some professors have been hired in the past based on having the equivalent of a PhD through related experience in the field, and that it has gone towards their tenure. She goes on to say that some areas taught at Brandon University (ie. Aboriginal Studies) do not yet have related PhD programs so the Admin will find it very difficult to find a qualified PhD for these positions.

- Negotiating Team says the Admin are not keeping open dialogue with them which is why negotiations have stretched since March. (ie. 3 and a half weeks in July when Admin were unavailable to meet.) They state that a concession must be made by next March because once their current agreement is 1 year expired they will no longer be protected by it. They point out the employer has the power and that they have been trying to work on them with logic. (Also, they are unable to strike in the summer because they cannot withhold a service.) Union expresses concern about the unwillingness of Administration to negotiate in the last few bargaining rounds.

- Union states that all professors at the university, including sessionals, are members of BUFA

- Professors support small class sizes in order to keep more options open for students. (Plus small class sizes are just "better.")

- Union states that they have never used outside lawyers for negotiations on their side of the bargaining and that their negotiating team is made up of volunteers who have made themselves available for negotiating whenever they are not teaching.

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