Interpreting the Recent Interest Arbitration Award

Annual Lump Sum
Bargaining Updates 2014
General Wage Increase

This is the twenty-ninth in a series of blog posts to discuss both the matters that have been agreed and those that are still in dispute, as well as the arbitration process in general.

The Faculty Association and the University were in interest arbitration in the middle of February, because the parties had not been able to reach agreement on an appropriate salary increase for the period 2014-2016. The Association relied on Article 11.02e of the Collective Agreement to argue that a general wage increase (GWI) of 3% and 3% was in order. The University relied on the provincial government’s Public Sector Employer Council (PSEC) mandate to make its arguments for its position of a GWI of 0% and 0.9%.

We are very pleased to report that the arbitration panel was sympathetic with the Association’s position on a salary increase. As in the previous arbitration, the panel once again found that the PSEC mandate had no bearing on determining an appropriate GWI. Specifically at paragraph 5, the Award states:

[5] Article 11.02(e) is an “adjudicative” model of interest arbitration. It exhaustively specifies the criteria upon which the award is based. Those criteria do not include the general public sector bargaining mandate set by the Public Sector Employers Counsel (“PSEC”).

The panel concluded that the University had the ability to pay more than its offer, and used the criteria of Article 11.02e of the Collective Agreement to determine that the appropriate salary increase was 2% for 2014-2015 and 2% for 2015-2016. Thus the panel awarded increases of 2% and 1.1% greater than the University’s offer.

The University requested a retention fund be included as part of the GWI, effectively suggesting that faculty members should pay for retention by receiving less than the deserved GWI. The panel awarded retention, but added that on top of the 2% and 2%, rightly seeing that retention should be a cost to the University. The Association argued vigorously at arbitration that it is the employer’s responsibility to pay for retention, not the employees’ responsibility.

The University also insisted at arbitration that the 1% lump sum paid each year at the end of June was a 1% increase in salary, even though it had lost this argument at the previous arbitration. The panel again dismissed the University’s argument, noting that the 1% lump sum payment is not an annual increase to members’ salaries (paragraphs 59-61 of the Award). The simple conclusion of the panel regarding the University’s argument is as follows:

[61] We are unpersuaded by the University’s argument. The 1% annual lump sum is part of existing compensation and, while the dollar amount of the 1% may change from year to year, it does not take the place of a general wage increase.… The principled distinction to be made is not between a lump sum and a percentage, but between existing compensation and an increase to existing compensation. The 1% annual lump sum is part of existing compensation. It is therefore taken into account as existing compensation. It is not an increase, and does not take the place of an increase under Article 11.02(e).

We were surprised that the University took the position that it did, and we trust that the arbitration panel’s discussion of this will finally put that matter to rest.

The panel awarded no language to either party, which was disappointing but it is not unusual for an interest arbitration panel not to award language. The language we seek is very important to the membership and we will continue to try to achieve these changes in bargaining or, failing that, future arbitrations.

The panel also awarded no benefits improvements. We have the lowest Professional Development reimbursement limits in BC and almost the lowest in Canada. Our vision care provisions are not even at the level enjoyed by other employees at UBC. And the current provision that cuts off the tuition waiver benefit for dependents of members who die while employed can only be described as cruel. The University fought hard at arbitration not to improve any of these benefits and unfortunately in this matter, in this award, it prevailed.

Under the award, the Collective Agreement will expire June 30, 2016. Thus the parties will be returning to the bargaining table at a time to be determined. We hope, as always, for a bargained settlement. In the past three rounds the University has made no attempt to bargain salaries, instead proposing general wage increases below inflation, below settlements at our comparator universities, and well below its ability to pay, which are the criteria under Article 11.02e of the Collective Agreement. UBC consistently takes the position that it will not deviate from a government bargaining mandate that it knows full well will drive the parties to arbitration, where the mandate itself cannot be considered. We hope the University will take a more sensible view about the PSEC mandate in the upcoming round of bargaining.

Next up on the blog: Decoding University Budget Matters

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