Back to the Table: Full backgrounder Reply

Backgrounder
Back to Bargaining: Critical Comments on the YUFA Tentative Settlement

August 2012

This document, drafted collectively by a group of YUFA members,[1] offers a discussion of the Tentative Settlement (proposed collective agreement) between YUFA and York University and explains our opposition to it. We will vote against its ratification in the electronic vote immediately following the YUFA information meetings on August 29-30, and we urge you to do the same.

Defeating the Tentative Settlement does not mean we are voting to strike. A “no” vote requires the bargaining team to go back to the negotiating table and, with a strengthened membership mandate, to demand that the employer address the specific issues that brought about the vote against it.

Our comments are directed to democratic processes and to proposals within the Tentative Agreement itself. We concentrate on salient points of concern rather than aiming for a complete evaluation. While individually we hold different levels of concern about each item, collectively we agree that there are too many unacceptable elements in the Tentative Settlement to vote for its acceptance.

We thank our colleagues on the Bargaining Team for their long work in negotiation this summer. Although we have recommended a return to bargaining, there are some provisions of the Tentative Settlement that are real gains such as the increase in sabbatical base pay and special conditions for sabbaticals. Both the Bargaining Team and this ad hoc group have acted in good faith.

We urge our colleagues to oppose the Tentative Settlement and demand a better one.

DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

We are concerned about a) the organization of the ratification vote, b) the procedures that will govern the Special General Meetings at which the Tentative Settlement will be discussed, and c)) the lack of information given to YUFA members during negotiations. Overall this amounts to a concern with democratic processes.

a)      The YUFA Executive is using the employer’s online voting system without providing the membership with information about how the system works and how the secrecy of the ballot and the autonomy of the voting process have been secured. In this regard, YUFA should explain to members how the e-voting system, run on the employer’s voting system, conforms to section 79 (7) of the Ontario Labour Relations Act, which provides that the vote to ratify must be by secret ballot. In the words of the Act, “[a] strike vote or a vote to ratify a proposed collective agreement or memorandum of settlement taken by a trade union shall be by ballots cast in such a manner that persons expressing their choice cannot be identified with the choice expressed”[2]. We note that the YUFA Executive has effectively dismissed any active role of scrutineering in the elections. Members should be able to rely on the robustness and integrity of the voting process and to see their votes recorded.

b)      The YUFA meetings called for 29 and 30 August have been labelled “information” meetings. President Hilliker has indicated that motions will not be allowed, nor is it clear that minutes will be taken. We note that the YUFA Constitution (9.2) specifies that, in the case of a new collective agreement, “ratification may take place only following a General or Special General Meeting in which the matter has been discussed. Assent shall be given by a simple majority of those members of the bargaining unit voting.” Bourinot (the rules of procedure that govern YUFA meetings) calls for no restrictions on motions or minutes at Special/General Meetings.

c)      Membership involvement during negotiations has eroded in living memory and was not encouraged this past summer. At one time Information Bulletins presented regular, lengthy and detailed accounts of negotiations. Bulletins to membership this year were perfunctory by comparison. The last bargaining update to the membership on June 22 was 7 lines long. So too, the Executive turned down offers of assistance from members of Stewards’ Council through spring and summer. An informed and engaged membership strengthens our Association at all points.

AREAS OF CONCERN WITH RESPECT TO THE TENTATIVE SETTLEMENT

1. Workload and research release – Article 18.15 and Appendix R

York University has made a strong rhetorical commitment to establishing itself as a research-intensive institution with a global reputation for leading work across a wide range of fields and disciplines. In North America, every research-intensive university has a teaching load of 2.0 or less. Yet nearly half the York faculty faces a 2.5 teaching load. YUFA had established the equalization of teaching load to 2.0 as a key goal, but this contract does not move us closer to that goal.

Article 18.15 proposes a research release program for YUFA members who work in units of 2.5 FCE per year. It makes available 60 (half) course releases, adding these to a previous program of 50-60 (half) course releases for research. York management estimates that, after members on sabbatical and other research releases are excluded, c. 400 YUFA members would be eligible to apply per year. The research release program would thus have roughly 100-110 course releases per year for c. 400 YUFA members. The “research release” program establishes an annual competition where a release granted in one year prevents application in the following year.

Only last year, the teaching load committee was discussing .5 release every second year for all faculty at 2.5 with a simple request process. Many members argued that this was not enough and the agreement fell apart when the administration tried to tie it to a new teaching stream. But it still represented about 350 .5 releases each. Why does this tentative agreement settle for so much less?

The establishment of a new research release program is a poor substitute for a reduced teaching load. The proposed program does not address the inequality of workloads across faculties or the advancement of the University’s aim to become a more research-intensive university. Furthermore, it creates additional work for faculty and staff, since someone has to evaluate and rate individual applications for research release in competitive relation to their colleagues. This competitive process can be divisive and can potentially damage collegiality in departmental, disciplinary or advisory contexts.

2. Progress through the ranks – Articles 16.01 and 22.07

Progress through the ranks is a common feature of many collective agreements, especially in the educational sector. It annually recognizes “an employee’s academic/professional development and improvement” (25.04).

Although PTR is protected at this point, and the immediate conditions to be applied are relatively minor, it is clear the language opens the door to increasingly discretionary PTRs based on yearly performance reviews. Other universities have already gone down this road, and the implications are clear. In some universities where such appraisals are currently in force, salary adjustments are tied to a onerous and stressful process of competitive evaluation. Key concerns about such reviews: Who will adjudicate? What information will be required? Who will set the standards? What new resources will be required for this process?

Discretionary PTRs represent an intensification of control by the employer and a more frequent, time-consuming evaluation process, and will prompt yet more competition and less collegiality among faculty.

3. Course evaluations – Article 7.11

The Tentative Settlement proposes to establish “ [a] joint subcommittee on Course Evaluations to develop a common set of course evaluation questions, the results of which will be made available to students.”

This provision is worrisome for a number of reasons. First, the results will be publicly posted whereas the results of course evaluations were previously not made public and used only for professional purposes (e.g. tenure and promotion files). Second, the fact that the university is engaged in the process of collecting this information and posting it confers significant legitimacy to the course evaluations – and hence differs from other information such as ratemyprofessor.com. Third, research on the topic of course evaluations produces worrisome evidence on the biases of students. While the research findings are complex (as always) and cannot be summarized in a few sentences, there are enough studies to demonstrate that the process of obtaining course evaluations (e.g. questions asked) and results of student course evaluations are not gender/ race neutral. For instance, students are more likely to report positive feedback about a racialised (e.g. woman of colour) faculty member when they teach on the subject of race but are less likely to evaluate a racialised faculty member positively when they teach another subject (e.g. science). Students expect women faculty to exude warmth and concern for their students and those who do not may be judged harshly. The issue of disability and student course evaluations is less studied. Factors such as age and the clothes faculty wear may also affect student evaluations.

For discussion and sources of scholarly research on the evaluation of teaching, see:
http://sun.skidmore.union.edu/sunNET/ResourceFiles/Huston_Race_Gender_TeachingEvals.pdf
http://www.crlt.umich.edu/multiteaching/gsebibliography.pdf

4. Pension plan – Article 26.02

The proposed collective agreement suggests a way to accelerate notification of one’s wish to retire if the pension plan is changed. This is appropriate whenever changes come to the plan. However, it does not address the requirement for the YUFA membership to agree to changes (something which the Queen’s University Faculty Association has achieved). The current finances of the pension plan will require some changes in order to preserve our pension benefits (a top priority of YUFA) and ensure that the contributions (matched by the employer) pay for future benefits – a common interest of all members of the plan.

The pension plan is shared with all employee groups at York, and a coalition of unions is coordinating discussions with the Administration. Since the timing is that these changes are likely to happen before the next round of regular negotiations, it is critical that we confirm that changes will require an agreement of YUFA membership. This matters not just to YUFA members, but is an assurance to all employee groups, that changes to our pensions will be in our interest.

5. Administrative compensation and course release – Appendix P

Compensation for various undergraduate and graduate program administrators has been inadequate for many years; the proposed collective agreement does not solve these problems and in many respects makes the situation worse. First, the proposal does not offer course releases for small undergraduate program administrators, despite the significant work required to do these jobs well and to maintain the academic stability of such programs. Further, the proposal removes the previous guarantee of release time for Area Coordinators in LAPS and in Mathematics and Statistics. Second, the proposal sets the course release for many graduate program directors at 1.0, despite the fact that these positions have for many years come with a 1.5 course release. Third, the elimination of the term “minimum” before “course release” will create more difficulties for programs and faculty who in the past have successfully negotiated for course releases above and beyond the minimum. Fourth, the proposal to count only “majors” in determining the size of undergraduate programs discounts the substantial work required to administer minor and certificate programs.

With respect to graduate program administration, the reduction of course releases for graduate program directors follows a huge increase in the number of graduate students admitted to the university at a time when their academic and financial prospects are particularly grim. Graduate students need extensive advising to prepare them to compete successfully for funding, university resources and teaching positions. The graduate program director plays an indispensable role in directing these processes, conveying institutional knowledge to program participants, and creating a sustainable intellectual and institutional environment for students and faculty involved in them. Reducing course releases for GPDs diminishes the intellectual, institutional and social environment of graduate work at York. It will lead to impoverishment in the oversight of graduate research and supervision, and risks reducing the quality of students seeking admission to FGS at York.

In addition, the reduction of teaching releases for medium and small graduate programs exacerbates the inequality of teaching loads. When faculty – many of whom have a a 2.5 (or higher) teaching load – are asked to take on the extra administrative work of graduate program director, it has been common practice to recognize that this service comes at the cost of energies that may be directed toward other collegial activities, such as teaching and research. Given that there is no expectation that we can or should (or want to) reduce our research activities (and the move toward discretionary PTR indicates that we would be punished if we do), this additional time must be accommodated by a commensurate reduction in our teaching load. To fail to recognize that we are not infinitely elastic in our time commitments is to undervalue our labour as teachers, researchers and administrators. This is an unacceptable burden that cannot be reasonably accommodated by those of us with already high teaching loads.

The tentative agreement also significantly reduces (by one-third) the teaching release provided for Directors of Organized Research Units. This represents a major reallocation of time resources away from the collegial and interdisciplinary research environments provided by centres and institutes at York. This reduction of Directors’ mandates will undermine the support provided to researchers across the campus, diminish the ability of directors to develop and lead large research initiatives, and erode or alter the institutional infrastructure that supports York’s interdisciplinary research culture.

6. Special Renewable Contract Appointments (SRCs) – Article 12.32

The SRC positions were negotiated by YUFA in 1998 and were implemented in the early 2000s with the specific mandate to take long-term, full-teaching-load contract faculty through to retirement. Renewals were not to be unreasonably denied. The overall goal was some justice, in terms of job security and improved conditions of workload and pay, for long term CUPE members with a minimum of 15 years of service. There are fewer than 40 left at York; some of these have retired as SRCs, some will retire as SRCs, but for some the term of the SRC will run out before they are entitled to their full York pensions and Canada pensions. Abandoning this tiny minority of YUFA colleagues in this last stage of their careers is petty and mean spirited.

The main thrust of SRC proposals in our Primary Negotiation Position was to rectify their pension situation, and to keep the initial promise of the SRC program, by extending the SRCs’ terms until all reached full pensionable status. Neither this accommodation nor any reasonable alternative appears in the proposed CA.

Losing these colleagues means a loss for departments where a number of SRC faculty members have made huge service contributions and enabled departments to carry on. Keeping them helps to address the paucity of faculty for administrative service, would continue to buoy and stabilize YUFA’s undergraduate teaching force, and allows York to avoid giving itself an ethical black-eye at little cost to the university.

7. Carriage rights and appeals – Article 9

The revised Article 9 gives YUFA sole carriage rights for all stages of a grievance beyond an initial complaint by a YUFA member. This changes the rights of individual members to insist on a written grievance being filed, and on some of the internal stages short of sending the grievance to Arbitration.

This is a big change from the prior situation. It reduces members’ rights and raises key questions about how a member will appeal if YUFA declines to file any written grievance, or to take a written grievance to the DRC (an internal Dispute Resolution Committee).

The current bylaws only address an appeal (to Stewards Council) if the Executive decides not to send a written grievance to arbitration.

To make this work for members, and for the enforcement of the CA, YUFA needs a significant reworking of our internal processes. The two Chief Stewards and the four staff are an important resource – but they need support, advice, and ways to engage with members in a process that is mutually educational and supportive.

This work in YUFA is not done. The impact of this change is essentially uncertain until the appeals process is addressed, and members are assured that their voices will be heard when conflicting approaches arise. At the least, the application of this change should be suspended until YUFA membership and the stewards council have adopted these compensatory procedures.

8. Tri Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research has priority over the collective agreement – Article 11

Here are two relevant documents:
Official document: The Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research
York document about adherence to the policies: New Tri-Agency Framework on the Responsible Conduct of Research increases emphasis on Researcher Accountability for the Conduct of Research

Background: These documents explain the launching of a joint CIHR / NSERC / SSHRC framework on the responsible conduct of research (RCR). This new umbrella policy is meant to increase both awareness and accountability of researchers in the conduct of their Research. A new requirement is for researchers to provide consent for the disclosure of personal information in the event of a serious breach of agency policy. Also, York will be required to report to the Tri-Council, subject to applicable laws and privacy legislation, serious allegations received related to activities funded by the agency that relate to significant financial, health and safety or other risks to the institution.

The reference in the Tentative Settlement is an addition to Article 11 which gives the university the right to follow this ‘framework’ even when it violates our collective agreement. Whether the process violates our collective agreement depends, in many cases, on choices made by the university. These processes, and the changes of practice they provide, should be addressed in JCOAA to prevent unneeded violations, and this should be explicit in any agreement to incorporate them, as is done here.

There are several areas of concern that should be addressed in the Collective Agreement:

a)      Could a finding based on the RCR process become the basis for a disciplinary action, and will the process used be subject to arbitration?

b)      Does this process permit the use of anonymous material (something forbidden in the CA, but implied in the framework under confidentiality of complaints)?

c)      If anonymous material is used in allegations against a YUFA member, will that block any use of a finding in disciplinary actions (as per the conditions of the CA)?

d)     Will the RCR process use additional files maintained by in the university (e.g., about research grants applied for or received, material in Dean’s offices or Associate Dean’s offices) and other documents which are outside of the official files mentioned in Article 22? Such files are not currently subject to inspection by YUFA members, or to requests to remove material inserted without consent, or to insertion of additional documents at the request of the YUFA member, as our official files are. The bargaining priorities mentioned adding additional files as official, but this was not addressed.


[1] Many colleagues contributed research, expertise and insight to the preparation of this article. Final authors were Jody Berland, Linda Briskin, Ricardo Grinspun, Ildiko Kovacs, Frances Latchford, Marc Stein, Lorna Weir, and Walter Whiteley, and this document represents their views. Last edit: 27 August 2012, 11:00 am.

[2] Ontario Labour Relations Act 1995, c. 1, Sched. A, s. 79 (7).

You can download a PDF version of this document here.

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