U of R Faculty Association working with legal counsel over pay dispute with administration

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WATCH: The University of Regina Faculty Association alleges administration is going back on previously agreed contract terms – May 10, 2019

The University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) is engaging their legal counsel to challenge the University of Regina administration’s interpretation of an item in their recently ratified collective bargaining agreement.

The dispute centres around an “add one/drop one” provision written into salary increases. This means the lowest pay in a salary range will be dropped, and a new top level will be added.

READ MORE: U of R Faculty Association ratify new collective bargaining agreement

Employees at the previous floor’s pay will be bumped up, as would employees at the previous pay ceiling. In the 2017-21 agreement, this applies to faculty, librarians laboratory instructors, and instructors.

A leaked email sent to U of R faculty from the university’s associate vice-president of human resources Kelly Kummerfield, says administration’s interpretation of this measure means it will only be applied to those at the floor and ceiling pay levels.

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Employees in between these steps will be eligible for their annual raises, but will not automatically move up a pay step.

URFA says their interpretation was that all affected employees would move up a step in pay, plus be eligible for their annual raises. The add one/drop one provision is set to take effect July 1.

“Unfortunately, the university’s plan differs from what we agreed upon during negotiations, when we were assured that all U of R Academic Members would be receiving a benefit. URFA is currently exploring resolutions to this issue,” URFA president Sylvain Rheault said in a statement.

University of Regina Faculty Association president Sylvain Rheault. Sean Lerat-Stetner/Global News

A May 10 letter from URFA to its members says communications to deans and directors on this matter is incomplete, or at worst a deliberate misrepresentation of facts.

Kummerfield’s email says URFA “misunderstood what was negotiated” with the add one/drop one provision.

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The email goes onto say that the add one/drop one structure was not misinterpreted by URFA when these terms were agreed to in the 2014-17 collective bargaining, calling the language “virtually identical.”

The 2014-17 add one/drop one language only includes librarians, laboratory instructors, and instructors. Faculty were not included in this wording.

READ MORE: Strike possible as U of R administration and URFA fail to reach new agreement

In regard to URFA consulting with legal counsel, U of R provost and vice-president Tom Chase maintained administration bargained in good faith.

“There seems to be a bit of a misinterpretation, so we sought to correct the record. We’re confident that the agreement that was ratified was properly understood by all parties,” Chase said.

University of Regina provost and vice president-academic Tom Chase. Sean Lerat-Stetner/Global News

A lack of confidence in administration

University of Regina business administration associate professor Andrew Stevens, who served on the URFA bargaining committee during the 2014-17 contract negotiations, said this comes after one of the most “conflict-ridden” rounds of negotiations the U of R has seen in the past 15 to 20 years.

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While Stevens did not vote in favour of the collective bargaining agreement, he said membership voted for it after receiving an extensive briefing on what the terms of the contract meant, including the add one/drop one provision.

“Members cast support for something thinking it would be a particular outcome. The university, not surprisingly, is now contesting that there is a different interpretation of that language,” Stevens said.

“Different interpretation isn’t that uncommon, but we’re really not seeing a positive mood on campus, I would argue, and we don’t have a lot of confidence – from my perspective in senior administration, specifically those tasked with labour relations right now.”

The collective bargaining agreement was approved by the U of R’s board of governors April 9. The tentative agreement was reached on March 26, the final day of mediation. URFA had a strike mandate and job action would have been possible starting March 28.

Other faculty who wished to remain anonymous shared with Global News their views on the situation. Reactions ranged from confused, to frustrated, to anger. One person said they had never seen morale lower on campus.

READ MORE: No funding increase in provincial budget for Saskatchewan’s universities

Chase said collective bargaining was challenging in this financially constrained period. The university received a provincial funding cut in 2017 and no operating budget increase for the past two years. He defended the agreement, saying it adds $5 million in salary and benefits for staff over four years.

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He added that 40 per cent of tuition goes to salaries and benefits, and a 2.8 per cent tuition increase was recently introduced.

On the question of confidence in administration, Chase said it is fair for people to express their opinions.

“We believe the agreement that was signed by both parties was clear and ratified on that basis. We will take every effort to clarify our position and discuss with our colleagues, in the context of the financial reality that the university faces,” Chase said.

While the interpretation question lingers, Stevens wonders why management sent out the Kummerfield email, especially fresh off “poisonous” negotiations.

“What kind of miscommunication was going on at the top? [I] Really question why management would send out an email to the employees and say this is URFA’s fault. We’re going to go ahead with it anyway,” Stevens said.

“There’s no respect there. I don’t think there’s any consideration for the fact we should probably talk this out before we go ahead with a unilateral decision.”

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