The other side

Who we bargain with:

SFU Organizational Chart from:

On behalf of the Employer (the Board of Governors’ at SFU) negotiations are been handled by the Labour Relations department of SFU, with the Director, Chris Hatty, being the Chief Spokesperson for the institution. On the employers’ bargaining team sits an assortment of managers and HR advisors. In this bargaining round, Labour Relations has informed us they intend to have three different point people as spokesperson on different issues: Chris Hatty being the Chief Spokesperson with responsibility for Sessional Instructor issues, Jennifer Harrington being the spokesperson on TA/TM issues, and Jools Trasler the spokesperson on ELC/ITP issues.

A series of VPs and the President control the day to day operations of SFU. The most powerful VPs are the VP Finance and Administration, Martin Porchuko, and VP Academic, Peter Keller, who control the vast majority of the budget, and, whether or not they are at the bargaining table, who make the ultimate decisions.

SFU is highly hierarchical and has strong “silos” forming different parts of the hierarchy. For example, the interpretation and negotiation of the agreement with Faculty members is delegated to the Faculty Relations Department who reports directly to the VP Academic. All other staff deal with Human Resources, who reports to the VP Finance and Administration. Human Resources and Faculty Relations generally do not cooperate with one another, and their respective heads avoid being in the same room with one another. In past rounds of bargaining, TSSU has forced the Administration to bring the VP Academic to the bargaining table to get direct access to somebody with decision making power. In both rounds, over 75% of agreements on individual items were reached after the former VP Academic became involved.

What is PSEC?

The Provincial Government also plays a key role in negotiation through the Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC). This “Council” was created long ago by the government to enforce wage controls on public sector workers. Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to bargain freely, the BC government got around this limitation by creating a quasi-independent body which sets a “PSEC mandate” which sets bargaining limits for all public-sector employees. These past mandates have been given the marketing names “net zero,” “cooperative gains,” “economic stability,” and now the current mandate is “sustainable services:”

  • Net zero (2010-2012): two years wage and benefit freezes, with no changes in anything that could possibly cost money (e.g. not even an extra bulletin board) allowed. Any monetary gains would need to be accompanied by equal concessions.
  • Co-operative gains (2012-2014): two years of 2% wage increases but no benefit increases or other ongoing improvements allowed. Monetary gains could be made using administrative savings elsewhere.
  • Economic stability (2014-2019): 5 years of wage increases averaging 1.1% per year, with some flexibility also to make a 1.1% per year improvement in benefits, if the employer desired (SFU did not).
  • Sustainable services (2019-2022) : 3 years of 2% wage increases and benefit increases, plus the “ability to negotiate conditional and modest funding that can be used to drive tangible service improvements for British Columbians.”

By law the PSEC Mandate mandate must be flexible, but in practise the largest unions in the province have been bargaining agreements within the mandate, which then sets a pattern which makes it very difficult to get around.

Fact Check on PSEC

Throughout the bargaining process with the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), Simon Fraser University (SFU) has repeatedly told the public and school community that it has “offered the maximum allowable general wage increase” at the bargaining table. This is a misdirection.  

SFU is obscuring the fact its proposed wage increases lag behind the rate of inflation.

The university has cited the Public Sector Employers’ Council’s (PSEC) Shared Recovery Mandate to claim it could not possibly offer better compensation. Such a restriction is an unconstitutional fettering of the right of all workers to free and fair collective bargaining. SFU’s executives seem to agree, as they gave themselves dramatic raises of up to 20% during the pandemic.

SFU previously claimed it had offered TSSU the “maximum available” wage increases in May 2023. But when the union’s members voted to strike soon after, the university proved its previous statements untrue by increasing its compensation and benefits offer by nearly 1%.

There’s still more money to be found, even within the illegitimate PSEC mandate. 

Not only is SFU lying when it says it is offering maximum increases, it is actually proposing cuts to workers’ pay. The university initially tried to eliminate scholarships for graduate student TAs and is now trying to cut them, which would lead to a reduction in workers’ take-home pay. SFU is also trying to kill the per-student compensation model for online and distance courses that has been in place for decades.

TSSU members have taken on successively greater workloads as a result of ballooning class sizes. When graduate student workers have won wage increases in bargaining, the university has clawed them back by cutting their pay for research work. In other words, SFU gives with one hand and takes back with the other.

The school administration has also laughably claimed its contract offers would “see all TSSU members at or above a living wage.” According to Living Wage for BC Families, the living wage for Metro Vancouver is now $24.08 per hour, which amounts to more than $3,850 per month. Graduate student workers typically work far more than full-time hours doing teaching and research, yet are living off $1,200 to $1,500 monthly after paying tuition. That’s not a living wage, it’s a starvation wage.

SFU is more than capable of meeting all of TSSU’s demands — no matter what it says about the PSEC mandate or its ability to pay. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the university has accumulated $205 million in surpluses off the backs of its workers. It’s time for SFU to get real and put a fair deal on the table.