Negotiations continue as university sends campus-wide email
author: john loeppky | editor-in-chief
Email outlines impact of potential strike
With the negotiations still not settled between the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) and the university, an email has been sent to all students outlining what the administration views the impacts of a strike will be.
Sent Feb. 11, the linked document of the email outlines ten questions and the university’s answers.
Questions one and two have to do with the length of the negotiations and the issue at hand. The university’s view makes it clear that they believe the process has been progressing favourably.
“There are a number of issues on the table, as is the usual process when negotiating a collective agreement. Outstanding issues include the following: salaries, pensions, work-life balance, and improvements for sessionals. However, our focus is always on ensuring that any agreement is positive for students.”
This puts the campus at odds with URFA who, as reported last week, have resisted emails sent in the past by Provost Tom Chase. In a release on Feb. 5, it resisted the use of an email system that the Carillon has confirmed the union has no access to.
“The employer is not altering the facts in the messages; however the context is blatantly pro-employer, because it presents the bargaining process as efficient and collaborative, while the truth is that our bargaining team has been struggling for 10 months against a stubborn employer and had to secure a strike vote before finally obtaining the meager gains described in the messages.”
“I [Sylvain Rheault, URFA President] am also appalled by the ‘information’ e-mails sent by the employer to the students. URFA does not have access to the student mailing lists and therefore can not [sic] reach every student. It will be up to our members to provide students with our perspective.”
Rheault, URFA President, reiterated this stance when contacted for comment.
“I found it a little bit unfair because the university administration has access to students’ emails, so it gives them the opportunity to present their opinion pretty easily, let’s say.”
“Of course professors and sessionals can also present their opinions to their students, but we have to do it one class at a time and not all professors are willing to do it. There’s a bit of [an] imbalance there, and so that’s why I felt a bit upset.”
When contacted for comment, Provost Dr. Thomas Chase noted that the university was well within their rights to communicate with the campus community at large through a listserv according to labour laws, a fact that Rheault acknowledged.
” Well, the university has the right to communicate with its employees, as you know, from the labour standards act. Negotiations affect, or potentially affect, all employee groups on campus, including students, and we have an obligation to do our best, within the law, to communicate to the campus [the] progress of negotiations from our perspective. URFA, of course, has the right and ability to communicate with its members.”
Later in the recent email to students, the university reiterates their stance that the negotiations have been “positive and constructive.” Much of the rest of the document outlines the process involved in a strike mandate and focuses on the fact that “at this point there is no indication that exams or graduation will be affected.”
This something that Rheault took issue with.
“So the administration, in its communication with the students and also with our members, is providing a perspective that is, we think, overly optimistic in the sense that it does not take into account the fact that the gains that are described in the message have been obtained after over eight months of bargaining and, also, that these gains were obtained after we secured the strike vote.”
The second-last question broaches the subject of students’ position in a strike situation in relation to crossing the picket line.
“If your classes and/or labs continue, it is your responsibility as a student to attend, meet deadlines, and take exams. Class attendance is recorded during a strike the same way it always is, and normal procedures should be followed. Information about how to cross a picket line safely will be shared in the event of a strike.”
One faculty member, whose name we have withheld, took issue with much of what the statement put forward to the students.
“The university came to the table from the start with extreme, bizarre, and provocative discussion items that would were misguided and disrespectful – for example, evaluation procedures that could have turned the current rigorous model into a popularity contest – it’s all very unfortunate faculty have been without a contract since July 2017. From my perspective, if things escalate beyond mediation, blame rests with the administration.”
They went on to urge students to communicate with their professors in regard to the impasse.
“Since faculty do not have access to the massive listserv of the administration, it’s important for students to get a balanced view by asking their professors about negotiations. We all want to get back to what we do best: teaching, research, and service.”
The member also took issue with how the university has handled their communications in regard to the negotiations.
“Well one thing[‘s] for certain, it seems quite disingenuous of the university to make the claim they don’t bargain in the media and then turn around and send thousands of students updates that are clearly misleading and one-sided, and furthermore, to post that email to a public website.”
“It’s important for students to talk to their profs if they want to get more than the one-sided updates that serve the employer in these troubled times – we care deeply about students and want this resolved, but sometimes one must fight to maintain freedoms, and that unfortunate responsibility falls on us at present.”
Rheault called professors talking to students about the negotiations a “good exercise” and stressed that this method allows for “real-world examples” to be put forward by faculty.
This frustation was one echoed by University of Regina student, Hannah Senicar.
“In my opinion, a piece of communication like this is nearly useless.”
“The university seems uninterested in actually educating students about the collective bargaining process…and refuses to actually explain how any of their proposals would be ‘positive for students.'”
“They completely avoid the question about how a strike could potentially affect classes, yet are all too eager to inform students that crossing a picket line is not only a possibility, it is our responsibility. I am unsure why they decided on a FAQ format when they are unwilling to have a real dialogue.”
Chase put forward that it is too early to be speaking about job action possibilities.
“It’s premature to talk about a strike or a job action.”
“We remain fully committed to achieving a negotiated settlement at the table with the assistance of the mediator and working with our colleagues in URFA. We are very, very hopeful that that will be the case, and that job action is not what happens.”
Rheault described a strike as being “very far” away.
Both sides declined to go into specifics about negotiations, citing the need to keep bargaining from taking place in the public or the media. Chase said he felt that students were being prioritized in these negotiations.
“I would say to students that we are doing everything possible to ensure that we do negotiate a good agreement and that the university continues to operate and to thrive, and to educate, and mentor, and graduate students as they come to us and as they progress through their programs.”
Rheault struck a hopeful note at the conclusion of the interview while shifting perspectives to the role of the provincial negotiations while pointing to a feeling of “sentimental solidarity” on campus between URFA, CUPE, and URSU.
“It’s [bargaining is] respectful, and we’re hoping that the administration will see our views, and that we’ll be able to reach an agreement during the next step.”
“If you underfund your post-secondary education sector, two things will happen: first, the tuition fees will go up and that creates a barrier for students; and second, you create a climate of austerity, and it means either you hire fewer profs or you pay them less, and this has consequences on the quality of education as well.”
Bargaining is set to continue with a mediator.
“As we bargain, we are very conscious of tuition fees, as well, and we hope that the province will eventually realize how underfunded the post-secondary sector is and that it needs some investment, and that will result in both lower tuition fees for students and also better work conditions for professors.”