FOS Arbitrator Vince Ready to decide preliminary objection; non-monetary issues still outstanding

In the Final Offer Selection (FOS) arbitration hearing between TSSU and SFU Administration on November 27th , TSSU filed a preliminary objection over the failure by SFU Administration to provide a full monetary costing, including methodology, to TSSU. In addition, SFU Administration proposed wage and benefit increases which fall short of the Provincial Government’s PSEC mandate by approximately $26,000 per year, leaving available money unspent. The arbitrator has contacted both parties for further information while he considers TSSU’s objection, and further updates will be provided as they become available.

The arbitrator will be ruling whether or not SFU Administration upheld their responsibility to provide accurate costing data in bargaining sessions with TSSU in November 2015. While a number of different steps could follow, your Contract Committee hopes that the arbitrator’s ruling will prevent Administration’s ‘creative’ accounting from diminishing members’ salaries and benefits.

These calculations also focus attention on TSSU’s proposal for improving Extended Health Benefit coverage (EHB) to include birth control, eyeglass coverage, and other incremental improvements. According to SFU Administration, these improvements will cost $900,000; more than 30 times the current total cost of EHB. Administration has forecast an enrollment of 1520 workers to reach this conclusion, while currently only 40-80 workers enroll in EHB each term. TSSU has objected to these cost figures, which Administration failed to produce any evidence for.

TSSU has provided our response to the arbitrator, including the costing data we have on the current plan, the historical enrollment, as well as our arguments against Administration’s costing methods. We will update you as soon as the arbitrator rules.

Final Offer Selection and Arbitration Hearing

During the month of November, TSSU met for bargaining with SFU Administration as part of the terms of Final Offer Selection (FOS). The Administration agreed to complete the changes to TA/TM Priority and the Centralized posting system that were left incomplete at the end of the 2012 bargaining round. While SFU Administration initially expressed interest in addressing TSSU’s other core issues, they withdrew their counter-proposals just before FOS, reverting to the status quo on all other items. This unwillingness to change is a continuation of SFU Administration’s pattern of behaviour over the last 15 years of Labour Relations.

On November 27th, your Contract Committee and the SFU Administration appeared before arbitrator Vince Ready for full-day FOS hearing. The TSSU presented our outstanding non-monetary issues to the arbitrator, including our three remaining core issues of sessional seniority, equity for instructors in ELC/ITP, and protecting the integrity of the TA pay system. The Administration, despite describing the significant increase in precarity for instructors across North America, told the Arbitrator there should be no changes to the contract for ELC/ITP and Sessional Instructors and also argued that the current workload review process is sufficient to protect TAs from overwork. TSSU was able to preemptively counter all of these arguments with results of member surveys, stories from members, and research from comparable Collective Agreements across Canada.

In addition, your Contract Committee presented our monetary package, including proposed wage and benefits changes within the PSEC mandate, as voted on by members. SFU Administration refused to provide the Union with complete or accurate reports on the University’s finances or the costs of our proposal — which they had agreed to do as part of FOS — while claiming that the Union’s monetary proposal was “substantially over” the mandate of the provincial government (without providing empirical evidence). TSSU urged the arbitrator to withhold a monetary ruling until Administration provides this information, giving TSSU an opportunity to resubmit a monetary proposal if necessary. In addition, TSSU demonstrated that the Administration’s monetary offer was substantially below the PSEC mandate, a fact which was not rebuffed by Administration during the hearing.

Your Contract Committee awaits either confirmation that our costing is correct or provision of accurate numbers to adjust our proposal accordingly. TSSU will announce the arbitrator’s decision or any developments on the monetary process as they occur.

SFU’s all-or-nothing package stalls bargaining

Last week, TSSU reaffirmed our commitment to the bargaining process by agreeing not to picket the 50th Anniversary celebrations on Wednesday in exchange for VP Academic Jon Driver taking over as Chief Spokesperson for SFU Administration. Because SFU Administration could not come to the table on Wednesday, they committed to provide proposals via email during the day. SFU Administration did not provide the promised proposals, and came to the table Thursday morning with an all or nothing package of issues designed to sidetrack bargaining.

Of TSSU’s proposals, SFU Administration showed verbal interest in the following:

  • expanding access to internet accounts from 1 to 3 semesters. This, for example, would allow Sessional Instructors to keep their email thoroughout the length of a grade appeal,
  • delivering TSSU members’ work-related mail to their place of work, important for members who work away from their home department,
  • clarifying that the Intellectual Property Policy of SFU applies to TSSU members’,
  • beginning a process to find shared space for TSSU and other employee groups to meet with their members at Surrey and Vancouver campuses,
  • establishing payment of wages provisions in the Collective Agreement to guarantee members’ rights to timely and understandable wage statements as required by BC Employment Law,
  • delivering money from TSSU’s Childcare Bursary into the hands of parents

On each of these issues, TSSU has moved significantly from our opening positions to accomodate the concerns of SFU Administration while protecting our members. On Thursday Morning, SFU Administration responded with a counter-offer on these six issues, asking us to remove our informal problem solving mechanism with Department Chairs and their designates by involving Human Resources at each step.

SFU Administration has proposed that TSSU call HR’s Director of Labour Relations every time a member brings union representation to a problem solving meeting (the same Director who has been stalling bargaining with TSSU for 16 months). This proposal would end TSSU’s practice of respecting the right of Department Chairs to choose when to involve Human Resources, and has been tabled without any explanation for its necessity.

85% of the problems brought to the union by our members are solved without Human Resources’ intervention. The remaining 15% of problems are pushed toward arbitration by Human Resources, costing the Union and the University thousands of dollars.

SFU Administration is telling TSSU that they will only provide the basic necessities required for members to complete their work if we undermine Department Chairs, stall our grievance process, and expand the portfolio of Human Resources. This is the third time SFU Administration has tried to package this cynical proposal, in an attempt to force us to capitulate. This is not the behaviour of an Employer who wants to get to a deal.

Members’ pressure secures two extra July bargaining dates

As we reported on June 26th, the Contract Committee is seeking additional bargaining dates in July. Last week, we informed the Employer that we were available for three full weeks, including weekends and Canada Day. Thanks to pressure from ongoing strike action, they have agreed to two additional dates: July 9th and 23rd.

Your Contract Committee is hopeful that these dates will feature meaningful discussion of each of our core issues. We also hope to generate further dates in July in order to quickly conclude a collective agreement.

Members are encouraged to attend as advisors: email if you want to see bargaining in action on July 8th, 9th, 22nd, or 23rd!