Arbitration Rescheduled – The Real Story

Bargaining Updates 2012

Message from Nancy Langton, UBCFA President

Members will recall that the Association and UBC were scheduled to begin five days of mediation-arbitration this week. Unfortunately, the Arbitrator, Colin Taylor, became ill and had to cancel the dates at the last moment. This was a very disappointing development, but clearly not one either party had any control over.

The Association very much wants to have a new Collective Agreement in place. To that end, our counsel proposed that the Association and the University meet on February 4th to discuss how to proceed. Because we were aware of Arbitrator Taylor’s busy schedule, we proposed to the University that the number of days needed for mediation-arbitration could be shortened to 2-3 days if full briefs and reply submissions were exchanged in advance of the new hearing dates. This would have allowed the parties to take advantage of free weekends on Arbitrator Taylor’s calendar, and get us a much earlier date for the hearing. The University rejected this proposal.

Instead, the University proposed that we resume negotiations this week, unassisted by a mediator/arbitrator. Counsel for the University and counsel for the Association met to discuss this proposal. Following that discussion, our counsel reported that the University’s bargaining committee had received no new bargaining mandate from the Provincial Government and/or the Employee Relations Committee of the Board of Governors. Given that, there seemed no purpose in resuming negotiations with the University.

The University and the Association have been at the bargaining table for a total of 24 days since February 14, 2012. This includes five days the week of December 10, where the University brought us to the table each day to announce that they still weren’t prepared to bargain with us. That was not a good use of our bargaining team’s time. On Friday, December 14, when the University was finally prepared to bargain, they then insisted that bargaining had to be completed that day. The University made an offer. We made a counteroffer. Shortly thereafter, the University announced that bargaining was over and that we would proceed to arbitration. In other words, after we set aside an entire week to be at the bargaining table with the University, even offering to spend long days and the weekend at it, the University put in about 3.5 hours of time to that endeavour.

Bargaining proceeds through a process of offers and counteroffers by the parties. The University, to this day, has not made a counteroffer to the last proposal we tabled on December 14. Thus, there is no reason for the Association to be at the table. Our members have told us they do not want us to settle for offers that are contrary to the spirit of the Collective Agreement, which stresses the need for the University to recognize the central role of our members in the University’s academic purpose.

The Association is extremely disappointed that we were not able to proceed with mediation-arbitration this week. Among other things, until an agreement is reached, the University refuses to pay faculty members the progress through the ranks increases (CPI, merit and PSA) that normally would have been paid effective July 1, 2012.

As it stands, the University is under no obligation to withhold this money. The Association has repeatedly proposed eliminating reference to specific dates in the Collective Agreement language on CPI, Merit, and PSA increments (Articles 2.01, 2.03 and 2.04 in Salaries and Economic Benefits) to ensure that the increments are paid on time. The University refuses to accept these changes, even though every other union on campus receives their increments on time, as does just about every other faculty member in Canada, regardless of whether their Collective Agreement has expired. This is purely and simply mean-spirited on the part of the University.

In reference to this situation a member recently wrote us and said: “I am starting to feel that the University is hanging onto this money for their own benefit (keeping it and using it) before paying it out to its employees.” She definitely has a point.

The current system creates two negative incentives for the University to drag bargaining out in the way that it does. First, the University has an economic incentive to delay settlement as long as possible. A year of interest on the money they owe us, even at a rate as low as 3.5%, amounts to more than $145,000. A small sum in an organization as large as UBC, you might think, but at the bargaining table we often find ourselves at odds over cost items that are even smaller than this. The second negative incentive is that the University seems convinced that holding our annual increments hostage will somehow pressure the bargaining team into accepting a bad deal, such as the 1.2% over two years that the University tabled October 22nd. Consequently they tend to delay the bargaining process, hoping the pressure of the unpaid increments will force our hand.

We will continue to encourage the University to quit stalling, and to agree to the shortened arbitration process we proposed, so that we can schedule arbitration dates much earlier than June.

Nancy Langton, President of the UBCFA and Chair of the Bargaining Team