The last meeting between the University’s negotiating team and the Faculty Association’s team was Thursday, February 2nd. As a result of that meeting, negotiations have now stalled.
It has been our objective throughout this bargaining round to get a good deal for our members. By a “good deal” we have in mind two key overriding features: protection against inflation; and improvements in the fairness, transparency, and equity of our workplace.
As of February 2nd, however, these two main objectives remain unmet at the table. First, the parties have not yet agreed on a general wage increase, particularly for 2022-2023. The University is offering a 3.24% wage increase plus 25 cents an hour. That translates into an average increase of approximately 3.6%. We have pointed out that as of December inflation in BC stood at 6.9%, so UBC is proposing a very significant drop in real income. While the University has offered some bits of extra money here and there, the totals they have been willing to offer so far remain far below our mandate to protect against inflation. The general wage increase they have proposed would actually result, should we accept it, in our members getting a lower average wage increase in 2022-2023 than most public sector workers.
Second, the Faculty Association has made a number of proposals that would be of significant benefit to our members but that would not cost the University any money at all. As in many previous rounds, we have been willing to make up an acceptable settlement by combining decent money with valuable rights, protections, and processes. But on February 2nd, the University gave us a “hard no” on our most crucial non-cost proposals to protect our members’ rights and to make this a fairer workplace. Among these important proposals: protecting our benefits from being raided by the University; getting rid of discriminatory and increasingly indefensible uses of student surveys; providing job-security for our precarious colleagues (especially Lecturers); and improving protections for faculty going through promotion.
The University has refused to move at all on these important non-cost issues. We don’t know who is behind this refusal: the Board of Governors, or the provincial government. We have told the University’s bargaining team that unless they are prepared to move on these key non-cost proposals, we can’t see any way to bridge the gap between our desire to protect members from inflation and their mandate to offer us a general wage increase well below inflation. We have invited them to consult with whoever has instructed them not to bargain on these non-cost matters and seek room to negotiate these issues. Failing that, the University has effectively instructed their bargaining team to force us to Arbitration.
As we have said all through this round, the advantage of Arbitration for us is that the Arbitrator is specifically enjoined to pay attention to inflation rates in Vancouver, BC, and Canada. The first year of the Collective Agreement is nearly half over, and inflation remains stubbornly high. It will therefore be clear to an Arbitrator, if we end up before one, that the University’s monetary proposal for 2022/23 of 3.24% does not address what now looks like it will be a much higher inflation rate. In that sense, we can make an excellent case to the Arbitrator about an appropriate wage award for our members.
Four key things it will be helpful to bear in mind as we wait to see how or if the University bargaining team will shift from their current intransigence:
1) We will of course be willing to negotiate with the University up until our Arbitration dates, and even up until the Arbitrator issues their award, if we see signs of life. We strive always to keep the door open. In the past five rounds, we have frequently set Arbitration dates while intending to keep bargaining as long as there is any chance of a settlement. In one round, we even attempted mediation prior to the Arbitration date. Sometimes, for example in the 2010 round, we were able to achieve a settlement before the Arbitration hearing date; in other rounds (for instance, 2012 and 2014), it was necessary to go to the Arbitrator for an award. However, in every round, setting an Arbitration date is necessary to ensure that negotiations will come to an end, one way or another.
2) As a result of your union’s hard bargaining in previous rounds, you will get your CPI, Merit, PSA and lump-sum payments on time as usual. There will of course be retroactive adjustments to these after the fact, but the annual payout is no longer tied to settlement deadlines.
3) The timelines for Arbitration are never quick. We have booked the earliest dates possible for the Arbitrator in this round, and they are in December 2023. But in terms of how long it has been since the current agreement expired, we are still in the realm of the typical. The current agreement expired just over six months ago. In the 2016 and 2012 rounds we settled (in 2012 it was via Arbitration) almost exactly one year after the agreement expired. The 2014 round was settled (via Arbitration) almost two years after it expired. Even in the quick rounds (2010 and 2019) the renewal agreement was not settled until six or seven months after it expired. In more than one of these rounds, we got far more in wage increases from the Arbitrator than we were offered at the table. In 2014, we were offered 5.5% over 5 years at the table; from Arbitration, we were awarded a 2-year deal at 2%/2%. We then subsequently negotiated a 3-year deal at 2%/year, so we ended up with twice the wage increase over those five years that UBC had originally offered. The first rule of negotiating is “never be in a hurry to settle,” especially if you’re trading a quick deal for a good one. So as frustrating as it is (both for your team and for all of us!), we are clear that our top priority is to meet our bargaining objectives.
4) The monetary increases awarded in Arbitration (as would also be the case for a table-settlement now) will be retroactive. Hope delayed in this case is not hope denied.
Your negotiating team at the Faculty Association works for you and in your interests. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] with your thoughts, hopes, ideas, or queries.