UOIT faculty ‘disappointed’, but talks continue to avert strike

UOITFA president Kimberly Nugent outside of her office at the university. Photo credit: Jackie Graves

Talks continue to avert a strike by UOIT faculty, but the union says it’s “disappointed” in the current state of negotiations, while remaining “hopeful” a deal can get done.

A conciliator has been assigned by the labour board after the UOIT Faculty Association (UOITFA) voted in favour of a strike mandate in late January.

UOITFA president Kimberly Nugent says the most recent talks – held earlier this week – did not go well.

“We were very disappointed in their persistence in tabling exclusionary language for a small group of our members,” says Nugent.

Nugent says the exclusion of contract faculty from areas of the collective agreement is “very problematic” as they are already dealing with the effects of “precarious employment” due to limited-term contracting.

The association represents 280 faculty members consisting of tenured and tenure track faculty, teaching faculty and limited-term academic associates.

Nugent says the last thing the association wants is a strike, but they will continue to support their members during the bargaining process.

Faculty members gave the union a strike mandate late last month. UOITFA members voted 86 per cent in favour of strike action, while 79 per cent of faculty voted overall.

No strike date has been set.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going on strike, it just puts us in a legal position, should we have to, we can go down that road,” she says.

She says the mandate is “just part of the process” to show support for their bargaining team.

“We’re still talking. We’re at the table. This is just empowering the bargaining team to say ‘you know what, we are here representing our members, this is important to them’,” she says.

The association is seeking better pensions and benefits, workload, and protection of due process. Nugent says the association is trying to improve equity and “better language” among faculty as well.

According to Nugent, UOIT has some of the “worst benefits” compared to other universities. She also brings up the issue of job security for faculty.

She says the association has been without a contract for seven months. The association has met with the university regarding these issues on at least 17 occasions.

“That’s far too long,” she says, adding “we’re just looking for fair labour practices.”

So far in negotiations, Nugent says there have been no discussions about wages.

The Chronicle reached out to UOIT for comment.

Bryan Oliver, communications officer at UOIT, is directing inquiries about the negotiations to UOIT’s labour relation’s webpage.

There, viewers can find an update on the negotiations between the university and the association, including a list of “anticipated” questions.

Some of these questions include if the university intentionally delayed discussions; if they came to the bargaining table unprepared; whether they refused to exchange proposals on monetary issues; and if the university is looking to “expand its authority to terminate faculty members.”

All of these questions were answered with “no”.

The only exception to this is the final question: Are UOIT’s benefits competitive?

The site insists “yes” and says UOIT is “committed to an affordable total compensation approach” which offers “fair and competitive remuneration” for faculty and staff.

It also says UOIT provides a “comprehensive” benefits program.

According to the website, this notion is supported by an analysis conducted by an “independent professional services firm” which determined the university’s overall benefits are competitive amongst some of the larger institutions in Ontario.

Nugent says there are more bargaining dates scheduled over the coming weeks. She says despite the recent talks, they are “hopeful” they can reach a fair deal and avert a strike.

“We just want to get a deal and not have to go down this strike road,” says Nugent.

To that end, UOITFA has started a petition they are calling ‘Help us avert a strike at UOIT!’.