URFA and University of Regina update

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author: john loeppky | editor-in-chief

Bing, bong/Brett Neilsen

Situation escalates as both sides still at odds

Formats of quotes received for the purposes of this article have been edited for clarity

According to a source close to the negotiations, members of the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) are preparing themselves for possible job action.

“We’re (Urfa) looking at renting a space [for a job action headquarters], we’re gathering alternative contact emails and preparing for job action. We’ve had meetings every day and all next week. This is serious…”

When asked about the impact on students who are close to graduation or in other precarious circumstances, the person said that discussions around the issue are continuing.

“In our meeting today [Mar. 15] we specifically spoke about not hurting students in special circumstances.”

One possibility, according to the person we spoke to, is that professors could submit grades for students during any strike as part of a direction by the union.

A question and answer session hosted by Regina Public Interest Research Group will be on Mar. 20 in the rainbow pit of the education department and URFA is holding their own town hall for members next week.

When reached for comment RPRIG Executive Director Krystal Lewis detailed why RPIRG was hosting the event and inviting URFA to speak.

“As noted in the event description, we think there is a need to provide some background to students about: What a strike is; What parties are involved and the power dynamics involved; What student rights are if there is a strike; And how they can support faculty”

“We know that students have mostly only been hearing one side of this story: the university has sent out two all student emails, a mode of communication that the faculty association does not have access to.”

“It is our intention with this Q & A to give people a chance to engage directly with faculty members – They want to avoid class disruption just as much as students do!”

“Besides answering general questions about a potential strike and the bargaining process, we also think it’s important to challenge the austerity rhetoric of both the university and as of Friday our own student union.”

Lewis pointed to statistics published by the university.

“For example they are claiming that funding cuts and wage increases directly lead to increases in tuition, however: a) Those numbers don’t add up, and b) We don’t have to accept that framing. We can demand more of our university and government, and working in solidarity alongside faculty is a good way to do that.”

Two more days of bargaining, that have been confirmed as being previously scheduled, are to happen next week.

The University of Regina Students’ Union released a statement on Mar. 15 that some have branded anti-union and was not endorsed by all members of the executive.

“On behalf of over 15,000 students, the University of Regina Students Union is calling upon the bargaining committees of The University Of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) and the University of Regina to return to the bargaining table at the end of the cooling off period. URSU recognizes that the process of collective bargaining is complex and subject to several setbacks. The parties’ resistance to coming to terms in this dispute in no way support the Mission of the University of Regina.”

“The risk of a strike or lockout is not an action that either party should consider lightly as it has a potential to delay graduation, extend the Winter semester into the spring, and force students to take on additional debt to finish their semester.”

“The students recognize the need for lower faculty to student ratios and quality instruction but also that the current university funding model posits the provincial grant and existing employment agreements as a limiting factor to this growth without a significantly larger contribution from students’ wallets. The bargaining units must find a middle ground between these two ideas that helps students.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Jermain McKenzie wrote in the Facebook comments of the release that he did not endorse the release of the document.

” I stated my opposition clearly, especially if the falsehood [the link between tuition raises and faculty compensation] was not removed. So, I am surprised it went out as I was told that it would not go out publicly. I can clearly state that the sentence linking fair compensation for faculty with tuition is one I do not support as it is completely false. However, some thought otherwise and feel they are the boss and can’t take correction. Anyway, I will not and cannot allow such a false narrative to go unanswered.”

URSU Operations Manager, Neil Middlemiss, clarified how the release came to be released in the same thread.

“FYI [for your information] the URSU media policy requires only a majority among the executive, not a consensus and the board does not have a say at all. (No comment on whether that’s appropriate or not, just pointing out how it works).”

University of Regina student Hannah Senicar asked later in the thread what had changed since URSU released a statement in solidarity with URFA earlier in the semester.

“So has URSU officially retracted their support for URFA? I would have hoped to see a more educated response coming from a union that is currently fighting for a tuition freeze and seems to share a lot of the faculty’s concerns.”
“URSU could have used this opportunity to educate students on the collective bargaining process and labour rights, but has chosen to disseminate misinformation and dismiss student and faculty concerns.”

Another commenter, Marina C. Magalhães pointed to the desperation of students to finish their degrees and to meet their basic needs.

“The problem is between faculty and administration, both should find ways to fight for their rights and minimize harm to the student body. Labour rights are important but the parties involved here are different than regular contractor/employer. I am upset about this strike and do no support it at all. URSU has been in many cases tone death to the needs of students, we need our interests represented and not a student union that is more interested in university politics than students voices.”

URSU has also announced that they will be holding a press conference on Mar. 18.

“Please be advised we will also be hosting a press conference in the Riddell Multi-Purpose Room, Monday March 18th, 2019 at 9:30am, to address the impact of a strike or lockout on the students. You are all invited to attend and we will be answering questions at that time.”

When reached for comment URSU President Shawn Wiskar said that the goal of the release was to encourage both sides to continue bargaining.

“”We [Derrick Gagnon and Shawn Wiskar] felt that, instead of making a statement that was of directed more at one party than another we would release a simple call back to the bargaining table with how the funding situation has been presented by the university.”

“Jermain’s response to that was that even though that’s what they’re presenting that it’s not necessarily the reality of the situation and we should be calling upon them to change their onus of thinking.”

Wiskar went on to reiterate that media decisions lie with the executive, but stood by the executive’s two to one vote to stay neutral.

“… There is definitely a time and a place to call on the university to rethink its funding structures and develop something that is more representative of meeting the students’ needs and the faculty needs, but in this moment, bearing down, that the university is only willing to offer [their final offer] and nothing else, and the faculty is not willing to accept it, we think it’s more suitable to call for both of them to change their thinking than to necessarily call for a complete rewrite of the funding structure. ”

One board member, Jacq Brasseur, tweeted their displeasure with the URSU leadership in their approach to the negotiations.

“What do you do when your student union president is anti-union and refusing to support faculty?”

When asked about the tweet and the role of the board, Wiskar said that they, as an executive, had not yet received direction from the board.

“We’ve called on the board members multiple times to set a strategic mandate for the executive team on the strike and they have failed to do so, so we had to kind of move forward with the approach that majority of the executive felt was fit which was a simple call for them to come back. Effectively, we can’t take one side or the other without the board decision and they haven’t done so.”

Wiskar later expressed that the executive was “working with” the board to establish a mandate in relation to the negotiations.
When reached for comment Brasseur disagreed with that characterization of events.

“As a board member, I have openly expressed my concerns regarding our President’s response to the URFA-U of R negotiations to both the Executive and the rest of the board.”

“Prior to the release of the statement that was put out by URSU on March 15th, I requested that the board discuss and approve any statement about the negotiations and was informed by our President that ‘Media statements need to be approved at an executive level.'”

“When I further inquired and expressed my desire for this to be discussed and approved at a board level, the President responded with the statement as written and informed the board of directors that it was sent to admin and URFA.”

“It is true that our board of directors has never set a mandate to the executive in terms of the negotiations, however multiple board members have expressed their concern over the current approach.”

“I believe that the fact that the President of URSU has chosen not to take those concerns into account when developing statements does not constitute a failure on behalf of the board.”

We will continue to update as this story develops.

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