A faculty strike might become a reality for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) if the UOIT Faculty Association (UOITFA) and UOIT administration can’t mutually decide on a collective agreement come March 21.
The UOITFA has been negotiating on behalf of 170 tenured and tenure-track faculty (TTTF) to reach an agreement with UOIT administration. (A collective agreement is a contract describing the terms and conditions of employment agreed upon between an employer and the union representing the employees.)
UOITFA President Gary Genosko says the administration’s initial proposal of a zero-zero-zero wage increase over the next three years of Across the Board (ATB), which is set in place to ensure faculty’s salary is kept in line with inflation and cost of living, was rejected by association members immediately.
“They [UOIT administration] do not care our benefits are among the worst, they do not care that our pensions are terrible, they do not care that our wages are among the lowest. That does not move them,” says Genosko.
“We’re one of the most lowly paid faculties in the province. The university has abandoned, completely abandoned its historic goal of raising our salaries to a competitive level within Ontario,” says Genosko. “But they’ve sort of given up on that project, so we believe we have to make significant gains to cover cost of living and inflation. The university would like to pay us nothing over three years.”
According to Melissa Levy, manager of communications at UOIT, the two sides were set to resume negotiations Monday, March 7 (after The Chronicle’s press deadline), with additional dates set for Tuesday, March 8 and with three other dates set with a mediator on Monday, March 14, through Wednesday, March 16. (For ongoing updates on negotiations, see our website, chronicle.durhamcollege.ca and follow our Twitter, @DCUOITChronicle.)
“The negotiations are the terms of the collective agreement and the university is hoping an agreement will be reached as soon as possible,” says Levy. “The university will address the proposals of the faculty association at the bargaining table.”
According to a series of UOITFA’s bargaining newsletters, the association and administration have signed off on many of the non-monetary items but are stalled on a number of the monetary items.
According to Genosko, another area of concern is the university’s willingness to invest in more professors and keeping the student to professor ratio as low as possible.
Genosko says that investing more professors will deepen the educational experience and it can become more of an open, transparent and democratic community, where academic values are the more important values to UOIT.
According to the UOITFA, during the 2014 – 2015 academic year, the student to TTTF ratio at UOIT was approximately 49 to 1, despite the national student to faculty ratio sitting at 24 to 1 between 2010 and 2012.
“Since 2011 the university has posted every year huge surpluses, huge surpluses. It is not credible to tell us there is a financial problem at this university, which is what we’re hearing,” says Genosko. “The failure to reinvest those surpluses in the academic mission, which is the core mission of the university, is to me and to my members, a major failing of this administration.”
Levy maintains that students are UOIT’s top priority.
“Students are the university’s primary concern. The university’s focus in these negotiations is to come to an agreement with the faculty association. The university will communicate with students, faculty and staff if needed,” said Levy, adding that “The negotiations are the terms of the collective agreement and the university is hoping an agreement will be reached as soon as possible.”
Genosko says the areas in which UOIT is spending its budget is also concerning. A 2015 graphic on the UOITFA website shows, using data from the Centre for Education (Statistics Canada), the university’s expenditures compared to the provincial averages. The data shows UOIT has allocated 28 per cent of its expenditures to administration, where the average is 10 per cent; 40 per cent to instruction, where the average is 57 per cent; and 10 per cent to student, where the average is 12 per cent.
The UOITFA held a strike mandate vote Feb. 22 – 25, where faculty could vote on whether they would stand behind the association’s decision to strike if it came to that. Members voted 77.17 per cent in favour.
According to the UOITFA website, as of July 1, 2014, the base annual salary for a TTTF faculty member is $72,710 to a maximum of $181,775.
The UOITFA represents both the more than 170 TTTF and 55 teaching faculty, which have separate collective agreements. The TTTF’s agreement expired on June 30 of last year and they have been working without a contract since. The 55 teaching faculty will not be involved or affected by the potential strike.
An update on this story is available here.