URFA vs. University = Strike?
author: elisabeth sahlmueller | staff writer
To me, the phrase “We Are U of R” embodies a sense of belonging. As a part of a family, team, or community we at the U of R should support and want the best for each other. Unfortunately, this motto is one which the management of the University of Regina cannot live up to, as demonstrated by their failed negotiation with the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA). Instead of working with URFA to create fairer working conditions for the university’s academic staff, university management remains unwilling to compromise. As a result, there is some worry regarding the possibility of academic staff striking, as 87.4 per cent of URFA voted in favour of a strike mandate this previous fall.
URFA represents and bargains on behalf of over 1400 full and part-time academic staff at the University of Regina. This number includes instructors, sessional lecturers, librarians, lab instructors and faculty members from the University of Regina and its three confederated colleges: the First Nations University of Canada, Campion College, and Luther College. In June 2017, the URFA contract expired, meaning it was time to initiate the process to develop another one. However, the new proposed contract did not adequately address academic staff members’ concerns. Unfortunately, despite a lengthy negotiation process, which has been ongoing since April 2018, no agreement has been reached between the two sides. Although I respect university management, they are handling this situation incorrectly by refusing to compromise on the important issues concerning URFA members, and thereby creating the potential for a strike to occur.
While a strike mandate doesn’t guarantee the occurrence of a strike, it does suggest that people are unhappy with the lack of process being made and are willing to take action in order to make their voices heard and their requests accepted. It also shows university management that the members of URFA are united in regard to what they want and this can sometimes be a way to encourage successful negotiation. Unfortunately, this tactic did not work for URFA, as “University Management stuck to proposals that [URFA] members [had earlier] resoundingly rejected when they voted in favour of a strike mandate.”
The fact that URFA has failed to get their concerns addressed is ridiculous, especially since negotiation between URFA and university management has lasted for over nine months without much progress. Over the course of those nine months, some progress or advancement should have been achieved.
In terms of what URFA wants, their requests center around five main topics. First, instructor ratio – a fair ratio of research faculty to the number of students currently enrolled within that faculty. Second, liability insurance – all academic staff should be covered by liability insurance in case they face legal charges for what they say or do during their research. As of right now, the University of Regina does have liability insurance, but it only covers the entire institution, rather than individual academic staff.
Third, teaching hours – notice should be given to staff if they are given a class that will occur outside of the typical workday time frame, as well as twelve hours in between the end of a teaching day and the beginning of another. Fourth, pension – a pension which matches those of University Management. Fifth, compensation – a salary to adequately match inflation rates.
These requests are not at all unreasonable. Academic staff members are not simply interested in an increased salary – they are seeking foundational issues like academic protection, security in life and conditions that are not only more fair but would also improve their ease and quality of work. With this in mind, it is difficult to understand why university management has not yet agreed to URFA’s requests.
Despite the lack of progress toward obtaining university management agreement, there is still hope that an agreement can be reached with the involvement of a mediator. At the beginning of the month, URFA applied to the Ministry of Labour for a mediator to be appointed to help with negotiation. If appointed, the mediator will have sixty days to help the two sides reach an agreement. However, if a mediator is not granted or an agreement is still not reached after sixty days, it is possible that some form of strike action will occur.
This action may not involve a full-out stoppage of work by university academic staff. It is likely that it will begin with more subtle action, such as displaying posters or people wearing buttons in support. If all of this still fails to obtain the university management’s agreement, however, then the only cause of action left will be an actual strike. Despite this possibility, it is the hope of URFA that this situation can be worked out before this occurs.
Although I believe that everyone has a right to be heard and argue for important issues, which sometimes requires dramatic action, I sincerely hope the situation can be resolved without a strike occurring. While a strike may effectively make URFA’s voices heard and secure an agreement on their requests, it may still take a while, and this action would be disrupting for both academic staff and university students. University staff members would lose money if they stopped working in order to strike, and students would be set back in terms of when they finish a course or graduate. Additionally, the money that some of us have paid for our classes might be effectively wasted, because if our professors are striking, we won’t be able to attend the classes we paid for. Despite these inconveniences, though, I do think that some form of action by URFA is necessary, because simply trying to negotiate with the university management has not gotten URFA any further ahead.
Moving forward, university management should get down from their high horse and consider how much their uncompromising attitude could affect the entire university if there were to be a strike. The university should stop to consider not just how important all of the academic staff is, and not just the inconvenience posed to students, but also the wellbeing of the university as a whole. That is because without these individuals in our faculty to keep things running, the university would not be the same.