On April 23, the Executive Council of the UVic Faculty Association voted unanimously to pursue unionization for the FA membership. Although the question of certification has been raised and considered at least three times since 1988, the recently passed motion represents the first time that the question of unionization will be brought to the membership for a vote.
This decision was informed and motivated by a number of factors. We are particularly mindful of the concerns our members, all across campus, have been expressing about the erosion of collegial governance at this University. Your Negotiating Team sought to remedy some of these concerns during this round of bargaining, but there was virtually no movement on matters related to such topics as collegial governance; workload, reappointment, promotion, and tenure.
Also important has been our members’ desires to see improvements to the current negotiating model. For instance, the pre-negotiation survey conducted during the lead-up to the 2012-2014 Salary and Framework Negotiations showed that a majority of our members (73%) supported either immediate union certification or pursuing certification in the event that negotiations failed to achieve meaningful progress. As detailed in the negotiating team’s Bargaining Bulletins, negotiations have been difficult and contentious.
In response, the Executive began an exploration with the membership of the pros and cons of union certification, which included hosting two panel discussions with invited speakers on March 11 and 12, 2013. At these well-attended sessions, and afterwards in emails and phone calls to Executive members and the Association office, our members have articulated strong support for moving towards certification, and for doing so sooner rather than later.
The Executive therefore sought leading legal and professional advice on unionization and on the process of union certification. After much discussion and deliberation, a motion was unanimously passed by the Executive to bring the question to a vote of the membership.
The great majority of academic staff associations in Canada are already unionized and have an impressive record of accomplishments. As we heard at the information sessions in March, unionization can be expected to bring with it several important and positive changes to the relationship between Faculty Association members and the University administration.
Unionization professionalizes the way employees interact with their employers. It alters the relationship between our members and the Administration to that of equals. It gives the Association legal rights to negotiate with the employer about compensation and importantly all other terms and conditions of our employment, including teaching load, student/faculty ratios, intellectual property, equity, and so on. It will greatly increase the Association’s ability to legally defend our members, our collective agreement, and promote and support collegial governance.
What’s the process for unionization?
Beginning in the fall there will be an intense period of card-signing. At the same time, the Executive will host discussion meetings and education sessions, so that members feel informed as well as able to express openly any doubts and concerns about this extremely important decision.
Although the Executive will supervise card-signing, and CAUT will help with the organizing, volunteers will be essential for a successful drive. The Executive will help train a group of members who would take cards to members of their department, school, unit or Faculty to sign. If you would like to volunteer as an Association Card Signing Officer, please contact [email protected]. It is best to conduct the card-signing over a period of just a few weeks, and we anticipate beginning the card signing efforts early in September.
Once a sufficient number of cards are signed, the Executive will apply to the BC Labour Board for the Board to hold a certification vote. We would have to provide the Board with signed cards from at least 45% of the membership, but we would prefer to have at least 60% of members to cover potential challenges in the process.
If a majority of votes are in favour of certification, then the Board would normally recognize the union. The employer has the right to contest the certification at the BC Labour Board, but they cannot get too far if the vote is successful. They may try to get certain “management” positions out of the bargaining unit, but this typically only affects a very small number of positions.
Would any current issues improve under unionization?
Unionization will not be a panacea to solve all of the challenges that we face in enhancing working conditions and improving the salaries for our members. Nonetheless, it is a crucial step in the right direction. For instance, currently the Association cannot file grievances on denials of reappointment, tenure, promotion or study leave or on annual salary adjustments. These matters go through the University Review Committee and end up on the President’s desk for final decision. The President can reject the recommendations of the University Review Committee, and indeed has rejected them more than once in recent years. The Labour Relations Code ensures that a union has full rights to grievance of all matters in the collective agreement, with final referral to an arbitrator. In addition, under our current negotiating model, the Administration has no obligation to enter into discussions with us on any issue concerning our conditions at work; at this last round of negotiations the bulk of the items that we raised were dismissed as “not of interest” to the University. Unionization adds a legal obligation so that the Administration will be required to, at the very least, raise counter-arguments to our proposals.
Will unionization help us in our ongoing struggle to improve salaries and benefits at the University of Victoria? It is the case that wages tend to be higher among unionized workers than non-unionized workers in Canada, although the particularities surrounding public sector compensation in British Columbia render this issue a little more complex. Nonetheless, unionization, because it strengthens the legal powers of the association, can help to motivate the Administration in ways that our current arrangement does not.
Frequently Asked Questions
Additional information will be provided over the coming months, particularly in response to any questions raised by our members as we continue to reflect together on the direction that we want our Association to take. These few questions and answers are those that we’ve heard most often to date – we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue!
- Would we have to go on strike? Nobody wants to go on strike!
- We wouldn’t necessarily have to go on strike – and yes, definitely, nobody wants to go on strike. Indeed, your Executive hopes that unionization will lead university governance toward being more collegial again, more of a partnership. It is extremely rare for strikes to occur at Canadian universities, and it’s even rarer for faculty associations to go on strike. It is important to note that strikes are just one of many possible labour actions that a union can employ to make their voices heard. Finally, before any labour action members will be consulted at each step in the process, and in the rare event that a strike is even considered, the membership will always have the final say in the form of a full membership vote.
- Would the Association operate differently as a union?
- Becoming a union does not require any changes to how the Association conducts its affairs. The Association would continue to provide its services to members and conduct its affairs according to the Association Constitution.
- Does unionization require affiliation with a large national union? Will we lose some of our autonomy?
- The UVic Faculty Association will remain fully autonomous. Our unionized faculty association will retain full control over our affairs. As with other unionized academic staff associations, we would continue membership in CAUT and CUFABC.
- Would a union have to hire paid union people to come in and run things for us? How much would that cost?!
- Our elected officers would continue to run the Association and hire our own staff. The cost of running the Association should not change, and our fees to CAUT and CUFABC would remain the same. Any changes to Association dues would in any case require membership approval.
- As a certified union, the membership might decide to join the CAUT Defence Fund, to cover strike pay in the case of a strike or lockout. Joining the Defence Fund requires payment of a one-time initiation fee of $20 per member and monthly dues of $5.00 per member.
- What about collegiality? Isn’t collegial decision-making a key part of academic staff participation in running the University? Will unionization be the end of collegiality?
- Think of all those Canadian universities with unionized faculty associations – can they all be considered uncollegial? These institutions include UBC, Western, Queen’s, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Indeed, the true sense of collegium is that its members are equally empowered. Unionization strengthens collegiality because the UVic FA would have the power to more effectively negotiate terms and conditions of employment. As we’ve been saying, the Executive is pursuing certification not because we want an end to collegial governance, but because we want to see it revived and strengthened!