Joint Letter on Labour Relations at SFU
This message is being sent to members of all unions representing faculty and staff at SFU: CUPE, PolyParty, SFUFA, and TSSU. It is uncommon that we communicate jointly with members of all organizations, but recent trends at the University have raised common concerns for us all, and we are working closely together to address these concerns.
Over the last few years, SFU has become a less open, less consultative, less responsive employer. Each and every one of our organizations has seen more closed than open doors; each and every one has heard more spin and received less information; each and every one has seen proactive engagement grind to a halt, informal resolution of issues become more and more uncommon, and numbers of grievances and other legal disputes rise sharply. While it is the nature of our work to sometimes be in conflict, we have noticed a profound disengagement by SFU, with serious implications for how we work, and with long term consequences for the state of employee relations at this University.
We note in particular that there has been a sharp increase in bullying and harassment cases over the past couple of years. This is no doubt in some measure due to the challenges of COVID 19, and the isolation and stress all of us have felt. But it is, too, an SFU problem, rooted in overwork and lack of support in the workplace. And it is rooted, too, in SFU’s new Bullying and Harassment Policy, which we have seen make problems worse rather than better. We are collectively retaining a lawyer specialized in the area to advise us on the Policy, but in the meantime must state clearly that we have lost confidence in SFU’s ability or willingness to manage bullying and harassment complaints in a way that is transparent, fair to all parties, and effective at addressing problems.
In the area of collective bargaining, some of our organizations are still without complete agreements as SFU fails to commit the time and energy, let alone political will, to achieve settlement. The employer regularly cancels meetings or brings nothing to the table; and where they do have something to say, they often as not present positions only to change them at subsequent meetings. In those situations that bargaining has in the past been open and relatively collaborative, SFU has become increasingly closed and unwilling to look for places of common interest. When they can’t find a way to refute our position, or indicate it is reasonable and sensible, they then hide behind the excuse that the government won’t let them reach agreement because of the PSEC mandate.
For the past year, the highest levels of SFU have told us they wanted to build better relationships. However, they then unilaterally introduced a new VP People Equity and Inclusion position without any consultation, let alone support, from actual employees. Our organizations collectively raised concerns with the proposal, but to no avail. SFU ultimately proceeded, restructuring its employee relations operations while ignoring the concerns of those employees. From what we can see, the plan is to offload all of SFU’s problems to a single position. The incumbent VP has the impossible task of handling an incredible diversity of serious and acute problems and long term systemic issues. After this restructuring, then, all we as employee organizations are left with is continued dysfunction and little hope that the University will be a better place in 2022 than it was in 2021.
We write today to all of you to express our collective frustration, and to commit to work together as employee groups to coordinate on issues where we are aligned, and to explore collaborative and creative solutions where we may have different interests. We do, of course, hope that SFU will invest time and attention to meaningful engagement with us all, and we remain open and committed to doing our part to restore functional labour relations.
CUPE 3338, SFUFA, SFU Poly Party, and TSSU