Protest, Pensions, Parking Lots: Ongoing Collective Agreements Kept Quiet

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

Recently, Canadian universities have been locked in a battle between faculty and administration that has awkwardly pitted both sides of the institutions against each other. While the University of Guelph has been roped into this standoff on two fronts in the past several weeks, their progress is rolling onward in a slow, tight-lipped fashion.

Following the recent resolution between the University of Guelph and USW Local 4120, negotiations came right down to the wire regarding the sustainable pension plan and what exactly it entails. Faculty at the University are finding themselves with the same problems: while the cost of tuition increases and University of Guelph continues to roll out measures like the Program Prioritization Process —which is slashing program resources left, right and center based on how much revenue each department regenerates the University— positions held by the integral educational staff from teaching assistants, to sessional lecturers, to tenured professors alike are threatened by the inability of a multi-million dollar institution to agree to terms regarding funding for resources, pension stability and other union mandated expenses that are important to the delicate contract a majority of these workers hold.

Panic was in the air after last week, when USW 4120 received support from faculty in the form of a vote to support the USW union body strike: students who had heard only snippets of conversation were disappointed with the lack of transparency on behalf of the university, and jumped to the conclusion that there was a possibility of strike imminently ahead of them in the first week of classes. Most students were not aware of the contract negotiations going on between the faculty union and administrative departments that had been happening since April, when the faculty contract ended and was up for revision and proposal with new terms.

While the University is trying to reduce spending on all other fronts, professors and other faculty members have been hit right in the benefits and pension sections of their contracts. The University of Guelph is remanding these conditions on the basis that they need to supplement a differential income between what the university is making versus the money they are projected to have to spend on the increase of “resources”.

While many are taking the optimistic approach of citing the last-minute collective agreement between the Steel Workers Union and the University, let us not forget that contract negotiations came down to the USW 4120 being ready to walk off the job and picket entrances to campus, having already entered a Work to Rule policy to put pressure on the administration. Professors and other educational staff voted just last week that if it came down to it, they were ready to stand behind their own union and would be in favour of a strike should it come down to it.

In seeking further information, it seems that this is a highly sensitive case: in looking for comments or mere speculation, no one on the side of administrative offices nor faculty and educational staff wished to make an official comment. “They basically read us the riot act at the beginning. It is information that we cannot talk about outside of the collective bargaining agreements, only behind closed doors with the people it directly involves, and they stress that from the very start. It’s pretty serious stuff” commented an employee of the administrative department who wished to remain unnamed and clearly became uncomfortable once the subject was broached.

Faculty have been just as likely to refrain from comment with many professors stating that they too wish to remain unnamed while simply trying to give an overview of what is actually going on, and next to nothing from union representatives in terms of progress reports. Frankly, digging up information about the ongoing negotiations has been difficult, considering the University is coming so close to picket lines at campus entrances being a possibility which would affect the thousands of students that attend the University of Guelph.

In rebuttal to the Program Prioritization Process and other expenditure adjustments, including the contract negotiation of faculty and staff that are being rolled out while tuition becomes more and more expensive every year, Guelph Student Mobilization Committee has been organizing the “Pay More, Get Less” campaign for the 2014-2015 school year in an attempt to push for high-quality public education. Given the revision of spending the university is doing, and seemingly in accordance with where they are placing the value of education, the Pay More, Get Less campaign revealed in an interview last week with CFRU News that “The number one ‘program’ that brings cash flow into the university is parking lots. You don’t build a reputable institution out of parking lots. You cannot inspire and educate in a campus full of parking lots.” 

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