The Importance of General Wage Increases

Categories: Bargaining Updates 2019, General Wage Increase, Inflation, Salary, Salary Increases

When the Faculty Association negotiates a new Collective Agreement with UBC, one of the issues that often seems intuitive and straightforward is actually an important part of our work to help our members: a General Wage Increase (GWI). There are four main factors that contribute to the core importance of negotiating a strong GWI.

1.      The Difficulty of Recouping Lost Increases

When the Association settles for, or is awarded at arbitration, a very low GWI, it affects not just the years in question but every subsequent year. After a low GWI year the Association and its members naturally look for some form of catch-up. That’s the demand side of the equation. But on the supply side the university has not hoarded its profits from underpaying faculty; it has used them to hire more administrators, increase administrator salaries, and “invest” in any number of initiatives. For instance, in the last two years alone, the UBC Board of Governors reports a 21% increase in “administration” expenses in its budget. At just about every university in the country faculty complain about administrative bloat, and with good reason – they have paid for it. Because the money that should have gone to faculty salaries in the past has been spent, it’s difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to get it back. For example, in the mid 1980s, the late 1990s, and more recently in 2004, 2005, 2010, and 2011, the Association settled for, or was awarded, 0% GWI agreements. To some extent we have never recovered from those years. It is crucial that we fight for every tenth of a percent in every round because of these lost years.

UBC sometimes argues that since some of us get progress-through-the-ranks money (PTR), we don’t need GWI. This is utterly false. Not only are many of us not even eligible for PTR, PTR is really a form of deferred salary whereby members get low real salaries early in their career and higher real salaries later in their career. It is not intended, nor does it function, to protect salaries against inflation or to bring us into line with other universities. A more detailed explanation of PTR can be found in our May 25 2010 blog: UBC’s Career Advancement Plan Salary Structure Explained.

2.      Cost of Living

Most of our members live in what is generally acknowledged to be the most expensive region in Canada. No widely accepted measure of the cost of living exists, but data on house prices are illuminating. The MLS Home Price Index (HPI) median benchmark for Greater Vancouver in September 2018 was $1,070,600. In greater Toronto it was $765,400. In Calgary it was $424,200. To see a full list, go to  http://creastats.crea.ca/natl/index.html.

3.      Inflation

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures changes in the cost of living. When wage settlements are below the CPI, members’ real incomes are falling. The Bank of Canada attempts to keep the CPI at around 2% per year, meaning that in an average year a 2% increase in wages is a 0% increase in real wages. Over the past few years the CPI has mostly been below the 2% Bank of Canada target. However, all indications are that we are moving into a period of higher inflation. The annual increase in the CPI for BC has been above 2% every month since August 2017 and the annual increase in the CPI for Vancouver has not only been above 2% during that period, it has exceeded 3% on five occasions. During these higher inflation periods higher GWI are needed just to maintain a 0% real wage increase.

4.      Salaries at Comparable Universities

Our salaries lag behind those of faculty at other universities in Canada of comparable academic quality and size. Statistics Canada data show how far below our Canadian comparator universities we are. Looking only at the the median salaries of  the professoriate (excluding Medical/Dental Faculties and senior administrators), UBC ranks 14th at the Assistant Professor rank, 18th at the Associate Professor rank, and 13th at the Professor Rank.

The table below shows the median salaries for the 13 universities in Canada with the highest professorial salaries. The full list can be found here.

Because we are generally regarded as one of the top 2-3 universities in Canada (and top 40 in the world), and because we also live in the most expensive region of Canada, we would expect that our salaries would reflect those realities. Improvements in GWI are our key tool for achieving that goal. As a UBC colleague once said, “Listen, darling, respect is something you can take to the bank.”


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