Zero-Zero Mandate, Revisited

Bargaining Updates 2010

Some members have been asking if the University and the Association had reached agreement on any of the money issues that were on the table during bargaining before the deadline for submitting issues to interest arbitration arrived (Article 9.05b of the Collective Agreement). The short answer is no.

We made three proposals that remain on the table. First, at $500 per year we have the lowest professional development (PD) allowance in the Province (almost the lowest in Canada). We are seeking parity with the second lowest PD allowance in the Province, Royal Roads University ($1,200).

Second, we are seeking to unify the four sessional minimum salary scales that govern different campus units into a single minimum scale. This would mean that the minimum payment for a 3-credit course would be the same for all Faculties across campus. We proposed that the unified scale be the one currently used in Arts, Science, Medicine and Health Sciences. We are not even seeking parity between what our lowest-paid sessionals get paid and the higher salaries sessionals get paid at the University of Toronto or even at BC community colleges. We simply seek internal parity.

Third, we are seeking a fair and reasonable salary increase to keep pace with inflation and prevent real salaries from falling. At the time we made the proposal, forecasts for inflation were running in the 2% range, although recent data suggest that between 1.6% and 1.8% might be closer to the mark.

The University rejected all three proposals because of their position that it has a zero-zero mandate on all cost issues. In addition, despite the fact that lump sum productivity bonuses are clearly part of our compensation, the University proposed to eliminate the 1% productivity bonus for fundraising that has been part of the last several agreements, and also wanted to raise the bar for when our members would get the 1% productivity bonus based on research grants made to the University. In other words, the University not only proposed a two-year wage freeze, but also a permanent reduction in other compensation that has been part of our salaries.

About That Mandate

The University has not attempted to argue that our proposals are beyond its ability to pay, which is the criterion an arbitrator must consider under our Collective Agreement (Article 11.02e). Instead the administration has told us that their mandate is not to spend a single cent more on faculty compensation for the next two years, whether they can afford it or not. They claim this mandate comes from the Public Sector Employers Council (PSEC) although they are unwilling or unable to provide any documentation from PSEC to corroborate their claim. What is clear and not under dispute is that the BC government has not legislated wage controls for public sector workers, nor has it imposed legislative restrictions on the jurisdiction or authority of arbitrators. Arbitrators have routinely held that under such circumstances government compensation “mandates” do not have the force of law and are not binding.

A Recent Arbitration Case on Point

A similar situation has arisen in Ontario. The Ontario government has also not passed any legislation to enforce a compensation freeze in the public sector but earlier this year asked public sector employers to “freeze” their employees’ compensation in the current round of negotiations. This led to an impasse in bargaining between nursing home employers and employees, and the matter had to be settled by an arbitrator, Norm Jesin. Jesin describes the bargaining behaviour of the employer and the union in a way that underscores some of the issues in UBC-UBCFA bargaining:

“Clearly, the Employers felt compelled in the circumstances described above to maintain their position regarding a monetary freeze. The Union seemed unwilling or unable to moderate many of its proposals as long as there was no moderation on the Employer freeze position. As a result the normal give and take and trade-offs that occur in a negotiation could not occur and positions became hardened on both sides.”

Although bargaining between UBC and the Association has been cordial and, unlike the Ontario case, both parties seem to have largely resisted the danger of becoming trapped in “hardened” positions, there is no question that the University’s insistence that there can be no discussion of the zero-zero mandate has made bargaining difficult and prevented the normal give and take and trade-offs that one might otherwise have expected.

In his ruling Jesin writes “I cannot accept that compensation should be frozen because of the [provincial] budget, particularly as there has been no legislation by the government requiring such a freeze.” In the end, he awarded the nursing home employees less than they asked for, but more than the provincially mandated “freeze” of zero percent. He awarded the employees a retroactive salary increase of 2%.