author: john loeppky | editor-in-chief
University of Regina challenging legality of move
The University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) served the University of Regina with an official strike notice on Mar. 22 with the document dated for Mar. 28 at 10 a.m. If an agreement is not reached during the Mar. 25 and 26 bargaining days strike action could commence having cleared the 48 hours required in Saskatchewan labour law for a cooling off period.
In a Mar. 22 release, URFA spoke about the service of the notice.
“Today, URFA served strike notice to the University of Regina, with strike action commencing on March 28, 2019 at 10:00 am.”
“This means that, unless the bargaining team reaches a tentative agreement before that time, members of the URFA University of Regina Academic Bargaining Unit will engage in job action.”
In a letter by President Vianne Timmons sent to the union and posted to the University of Regina’s bargaining-specific website, the University of Regina indicated that they oppose the serving of the notice on the grounds that the two-week cooling off period will not have expired.
“I write in response to your letter of March 22, 2019 serving strike notice pursuant to s. 6-34 of The Saskatchewan Employment Act (the “Act”). Your notice indicates that strike action will commence March 28, 2019 at l0:00 am.”
“The University takes the position that the strike notice contemplated in s. 6-34 of the Act is not valid and cannot be served until after the cooling off period contemplated by s. 6-33(1 )(d) of the Act has expired.”
“If URF A or the University of Regina Academic Staff Members take any strike action before strike notice is properly served, the University will make application to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board to enjoin such activity.”
A source close to the URFA negotiations has confirmed that the union has been told bythe government conciliator involved in the negotiations, as well as with their own legal counsel, that the move is legal. Our source has said the union are to “triple check” on Monday, Mar. 25. Kent Peterson and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) also confirmed, via email, the same position.
“Yes my understanding is strike/lockout notice can be served during the 14 day cooling off period, but a strike/lockout cannot occur during the 14 day cooling off period and not until 48 hours after the servings of notice.”
With the rhetoric around possible job action intensifying, the carillon has confirmed, as first noted by Dr. Alec Couros after a domain search of a university website, that the University of Regina has hired a large public relations firm, NATIONAL Public Relations to handle the communications sent during the strike, including the aforementioned website.
In an email that confirmed the news, Provost Tom Chase gave the reasoning the U of R has for obtaining the Montreal-based company’s services.
“As we have been working hard at the collective bargaining table for an agreement with URFA, a top priority for the University is to ensure that all members of the campus community and the wider community are receiving important updates and information in a timely way.”
Chase wrote that the bargaining related website, ureginacollectivebargaining.ca, is part of this effort.
“Our focus on communications includes the dedicated website, which is key to ensuring that students and their families, faculty, staff, and the wider community are informed of all aspects of the process.”
“To support our team in these communications efforts, we have sought counsel from NATIONAL Public Relations. It is common for the University to seek outside expert counsel, which is what we’ve done with NATIONAL.”
“Timely and accurate communications with all stakeholders will remain a high priority for us as we continue to seek a bargaining agreement with URFA.”
Reactions from union members have been negative. Dr. Tom McIntosh voiced his displeasure on twitter, as did many of his colleagues.
“I’m just so disgusted w[ith] my university. After years of trying to rebuild the relationship between the admin and the faculty they’re now willing to throw it all away.’
Dr. Andrew Stevens of the business faculty questioned how money is being used by the administration.
“So this on top of the legal fees the University is already forking out to protect the privacy of oil and gas companies who are paying for research? Now a PR firm when we have a communications department.”
Stevens’ reference is to the legal battle currently being fought by Dr. Emily Eaton in regards to a freedom of information request asking for information about funding sources for oil and gas research projects at the University of Regina.
In a post on Facebook, the Regina Public Interest Research Group shared an article by journalist Zoe Cormier about NATIONAL’s role in resisting the Kyoto Accord, written in 2006.
NATIONAL’s website highlights the services they provide to institutions such as the University of Regina during labour negotiations.
“Negotiations are underway. Your people depend on a set outcome. By relying on opportune communications, we can influence the outcome in your favour.”
“Experience has taught us to plan for all possible outcomes – when to go quiet and when to step it up to attract attention. Our greatest assets are our objectivity and our consistency. We take pride in the work and success we have achieved.”
Meanwhile, the University of Regina Faculty Association has released frequently asked questions documents related to students and members in URFA’s various bargaining units, including highlighting how important cohesiveness is to them during the negotiation process.
“URFA solidarity is dependent upon all members participating in strike action. If some members choose not to participate then, bargaining leverage is weakened.”
The release also includes general guidelines for academic staff and how they are meant to act during a strike in accordance with union principles, as well as steps being taken to help education about the possible action.
“You will be expected to withhold teaching and administrative service in order to support job action. URFA will not deny access that would result in irreparable damage to ongoing research and/or materials for teaching such as damage to plant, human, and animal life, loss of life, loss of live and/or decomposable materials, damage to equipment or supplies, or loss of nonrepeatable research/experiments in progress.”
URFA has established its strike headquarters and arranged strike workshops (Monday March 25 at 10:00 a.m. (ED 230) and Tuesday March 26th at 1:15 p.m (Ed. Auditorium 106.1). Pickets, finances and all other aspects of strike preparation have also been arranged”
The document provides clarity in relation to the position of those on leave.
“It is URFA’s position that the Collective Agreement remains in force until the negotiation of a new agreement. In the event that a strike is necessary, the URFA executive will argue that sabbaticants and those on approved leaves should not be considered on strike because they were not engaged in teaching, or involved in supervisory or administrative duties. This is conditional, of course, on our Employer’s position.”
“URFA considers the following groups to be non-participants in the strike and should continue to receive salary and benefits from the university: sabbaticants, persons on approved sick leave, and pregnancy; parental or adoption leave; persons on pre-approved paid leave of absence (including compassionate leave), court leave, education leave, and exchange leave.”
URFA also confirmed that it is their position that research funds still be dispersed and acted upon.
“Unless suspended by the University, all research funds from university, federal, provincial and any other external granting agency will continue to be available to researchers, and can be used for pre-approved research, travel and other approved research expenditures.”
The section relating to support provided by academics such as support letters and academic reviewing, urges quick action.
“Do what you can before the strike starts to minimize any lasting consequence of a strike action on others: write those letters of recommendation now; finish reviewing that MS; contact editors/grant administrators and explain what could be going on in the event of a strike. What you choose to do once a strike begins, however, is between you and your conscience.”
The student FAQ provides URFA’s reasoning for strike action, along with how convocation, Saskatchewan Polytechnic classes, and students facing unique circumstances may be affected.
“Classes will almost certainly be cancelled in the event of a strike, and your instructors will likely be prevented from accessing UR Courses and email. Your instructors will not be coming on to campus for office hours. Although URFA regrets this very real disruption in your academic year that a strike may entail, all of this is done in the long-term interests of improving the quality of your education at the University of Regina.”
“You will see picket lines at university main entrances. These picket lines will not prevent access to the university grounds. Please feel free to stop and chat with instructors and librarians on the picket lines. If you want, you can even join us! We appreciate your support.”
“Spring Convocation is in June. Historically the average length of a faculty strike in Canada has been four days. It is the responsibility of our Employer to ensure student grades have been submitted in a timely fashion.”
“Faculty from Saskatchewan Polytechnic have expressed their support of our strike action. They will not co-teach any joint course offerings with our Employer.”
” URFA understands that some students face extenuating circumstances (e.g. international students with visa requirements, students requiring transcripts to attend/receive financial assistance from another institution). The university administration is responsible for handling such situations.”