Bargaining Update – March 17, 2015

After ten months and fifteen bargaining sessions without a single proposal signed, the TSSU contract committee has concluded that the only way real bargaining will occur is with the pressure of a strike mandate. Despite bargaining since May of 2014, SFU’s Administration has consistently refused to engage in a meaningful conversation on our major issues. Consequently, many of our opening positions are still on the table. The employer has not provided substantive critiques of these first positions, and we cannot table amended proposals without knowing the specific concerns the employer has with our proposals. We refuse to bargain with ourselves. The TSSU is committed to meaningful negotiations to address the issues facing our members now, but our bargaining committee has been faced with protracted posturing instead of progress toward an equitable Collective Agreement.

For example, in early December, the TSSU tabled a 2nd position on our Health and Safety proposal. While SFU’s bargaining team initially indicated that they could likely agree to it, even suggesting that we sign it via email that weekend, we haven’t heard back on the proposal for three and a half months.

The ability not to pay you on time

The employer continues to ask us to bargain for less than the law offers. Due to recent grievances on unpaid wages, we have proposed adding the basic minimum law of the province on paying wages to the Collective Agreement. SFU brought in a response which would have provided for less than the law, and legally allowed them to avoid paying us on time, saying that “Under normal circumstances, the first paycheque will be received at the end of the first regular pay period…,” and that “wherever possible” any failure to do so would be addressed within four business days. The law requires unconditional on time payment, and any failure results in cheques being prepared within a specific time period, not “wherever possible.” We advised them, therefore, that the proposal was invalid, and it was withdrawn. At a subsequent bargaining date, we refused their attempt to discuss the withdrawn proposal no longer on the table.

More work = less pay

TSSU proposals address the increased workload occurring for our members due now to larger class sizes, and in the future to increased use of technology that will result in more students. We have grown concerned that the employer’s underlying plan is to stall bargaining to avoid paying any increases for as long as possible. The last round of bargaining went on for 29 months, and productive bargaining occurred only following a successful strike vote and strike action. Government wage restrictions mean that little is available for wage increases (the “mandate” dictates 5.5% in wage increases over a five year period), but all of our issues discussed so far are non-monetary, and would have been addressed and negotiated by a constructive bargainer with an intention to settle. We are, therefore, also concerned that the employer might be hoping to avoid paying wage increases for the years that we sit at the bargaining table, and to deny you the increases which other public sector employees have already received for 2014/15 and forward.

We need a “YES” to say NO to concessions

In this round of bargaining the SFU Administration has come to the table with a significant package of “takeaways” – concession proposals that would remove rights & benefits from our current language. TSSU is seeking to codify within the collective agreement best practices of many SFU departments. SFU’s Administration has said no. We require a strong strike mandate in order to send a clear message that we will not accept concessions to our current agreement, and that we expect a serious effort to conclude a collective agreement sooner rather than later.

Though we have not yet begun to address either party’s monetary proposals, as part of its “non-monetary” issues, the Employer proposed: “Review the Health and Welfare Benefit Plans with the intention of converting them to pay in lieu of benefits.” In most instances where items on the Employer’s list of issues wants us to “review” a right or benefit it means they want to take it away.

The current situation with regard to benefits is:

  1. ELC/ITP members, who are longstanding continuing employees, currently have the same benefits as temporary management employees working elsewhere in the university, and need to be brought in line with other continuing employees in the department.
  2. Sessionals, given that many are cobbling together enough employment to sustain themselves and their family, require access to Extended health benefits and 100% employer paid MSP
  3. International TAs’ MSP enrollment through the Employer helps them escape expensive private insurance premiums.
  4. The government of BC raises MSP premiums every year, and premium assistance is only available to Canadian citizens and those with permanent residency status, whose family income is less than $22,000 per year

Giving up MSP as an employer paid benefit is a direct loss to our most vulnerable members. We know that about half of our members rely on this benefit in order to survive month to month, and that any amount “in lieu” would not come close to the value of enrollment for these members. TA Unions that do have these “health” funds are strangled by the average 6% rate of inflation for health costs, and do not have enough money to compensate all of their members for the actual cost of the reimbursement offered by premium-paid benefit plans. SFU’s Administration is coming to take our benefits to fund their other priorities.

The only way we can fight off these concessions is to speak with our collective voice. We need a YES strike vote to tell the SFU Administration to get serious and to actually negotiate to help find solutions to our member’s ongoing problems.

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