Collective Bargaining Update, Nov. 26/ 14

As we prepare to enter collective bargaining, we want to thank all of those who have provided feedback to us on priorities for contract negotiations.

This round of negotiations marks our first time meeting for collective bargaining as a certified association. But while our legal status is new, our relationship with the University is well-established, and we have a strong bond of mutual respect.

We look forward to a collegial, open and successful negotiation to achieve a first collective agreement that works for us all, and that will provide the basis for many years of productive and harmonious relationships.

The Association and the University sit on opposite sides of the table in this process, and we have different and sometimes competing interests. But there is, too, significant common ground between us.

We believe the administration ultimately wants an agreement that promotes the smooth and effective running of the university, supports excellence in teaching and research, controls costs, limits future risk, and permits the various levels of university governance to do their jobs.

For its part, the Association ultimately wants an agreement that promotes the smooth and effective running of the university, allows all members to achieve their scholarly potential, provides fair compensation and a positive working environment, promotes financial security in retirement, strengthens collegiality, and recognizes the freedom and responsibility of scholars.

These are not opposing interests. They differ, and we may disagree strongly on certain things that arise, but our interests are not fundamentally incompatible, and in many respects overlap. We expect this period of negotiations to be lengthy and complicated, as we are entering a process that is new to us at SFU. But if we remember, at each stage, the fundamental interests of the other party, and if both sides take the time and care to consider each proposal in light of those general interests and ask questions of what is unclear, then we can expect a successful round of negotiations.

We have entered this process with the following as our guide:

We believe in bargaining for agreement, not impasse.
We will not put forward any proposal that we do not believe is achievable – that is, that we do not believe the administration can reasonably agree to. That is not to say that we expect to achieve everything we put forward – this is a process of negotiation, of give and take. But if we include an item in our package, it should be because we genuinely believe that it is workable for all parties.

Taking the above as our starting point, we have developed a draft collective agreement that is rooted in existing policies and procedures and designed as much as possible to maintain stability in terms and conditions. We are certainly proposing substantive changes, but the starting point of our proposals is the current framework. As far as improvements are concerned, we have drawn upon feedback we have received from member consultations and the most recent bargaining survey. That survey identified a number of areas of concern, as well as some very specific suggestions for improvement, but the following areas are of particular note:

Salaries: members continue to be concerned primarily about salaries and SFU’s declining ranking in this regard compared to other institutions.

Workload: workload remains a key issue for members in all job categories and at all ranks. In particular members note that both teaching and service commitments continue to spiral ever-higher while the pace of recruitment lags behind the needs of the institution.

Pensions and retirement security: it is no surprise that this topic was identified as a priority for members, but there are a range of opinions on how we might address it. Many explicitly ask that we bargain a defined benefit plan, but many others simply want more information – independent, accurate, and easy to understand information on the various options. SFUFA is engaging an independent actuary to to look into our plan, the college plan, and common investment opportunities so as to provide reliable information on how various options impact members of different ages, career stages, and income levels. What specifically comes forward in bargaining will need to be based on member opinion after that information is available.

Equity: the bargaining survey indicates a widespread concern with equity – and particularly gender equity – at SFU. This is a huge problem, and clearly one that demands far more attention. The joint salary equity review is underway, and we hope to see the results of that early in the new year. But clearly that is only part of the solution. We need to develop ongoing processes to monitor and address equity in salaries, and establish mechanisms to deal with non-salary matters that disproportionately impact women – child care and elder care being the two most commonly-noted examples.

Positives: SFUFA members value their work, their colleagues, their students. Members appreciate the positive and collegial relationships between and among SFUFA, administrators, and individual members. They value academic freedom and SFU’s commitment to it. They value flexibility and decentralization. While pensions and salaries cause concern, the survey provided generally positive feedback on the benefits plan; not to say that there are no improvements identified as important, but there is general satisfaction in this area.

With all this in mind, the Association intends in bargaining:

1) to present proposals for a complete Collective Agreement that takes as its starting point the existing terms and conditions of employment;

2) to amend most existing terms only insofar as necessary to recognize the post-certification bargaining relationship;

3) to draw together terms and conditions affecting all members into one section, maintaining separate sections of the agreement for those terms and conditions that differ according to classification;

4) to introduce a clause addressing protocols in the event of financial exigency – a standard component of faculty agreements which addresses the unlikely event of major financial crisis for the institution;

5) to introduce an accessible third rank for lecturers;

6) to address the inadequacy of the SFU Academic Staff Pension Plan and identify ways to provide greater security in retirement and to allow and encourage advance planning for retirement and renewal;

7) to seek a salary structure that is both fair and flexible and that recognizes and rewards performance at all career stages;

8) to achieve for all members a fair and reasonable salary increase;

These are, of course, only generalities; more detailed mechanisms and specific language will be available shortly, and ultimately the agreed terms will emerge in the course of the negotiations process. These do, though, represent what we hope to achieve in this round of bargaining, and together would provide for a collective agreement rooted in SFU’s own history and culture, able to provide fairness and transparency while maintaining the flexibility so necessary in academic life and deepening our strong tradition of collegial decision-making.

We are currently incorporating the latest suggestions from our consultations into a proposal package which will be shared with all members. We expect to have this available within the next two weeks, and continue to welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

SFUFA’s 2014 Collective Bargaining Team

David Broun (Physics)
Brian Green (SFUFA)
Carla Graebner (Library)
Carolyn Lesjak (English)
Carl Schwartz (Statistics and SFUFA Chief Negotiator)