University offers binding arbitration to CUPE 4207

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University offers binding arbitration to CUPE 4207

Published on March 04 2011

The University today released the following statement in response to questions being raised about the possibility of a labour disruption:

Throughout the 2010-11 academic year, Brock University has been engaged in bargaining with five union locals in order to renew a total of six collective agreements. To date, three collective agreements have already been concluded, which provide fair settlements that are consistent with those reached in recent months at numerous other universities across Ontario.

Brock continues to negotiate with other unions, including CUPE 4207 (teaching assistants, part-time instructors, marker-graders, course co-ordinators, and lab demonstrators).

CUPE 4207 has recently set a strike deadline of March 14. In addition, it has publicly called into question the quality of education at Brock and the University’s commitment to bargaining. To date, the University has chosen not to respond publicly on matters being discussed at the bargaining table. However, the union’s public claims have generated much discussion on campus. There is also much concern on campus about how a labour dispute could impact the academic term. In light of this, the University is responding publicly today to some of the comments made by CUPE 4207.

In its public statements, the union has questioned the quality of education at Brock. For example, the union claims that many seminars have 24 or up to 26 students. The reality is that

  • there are 2,194 seminar sections being offered in the fall/winter terms of 2010-11;
  • only nine of those seminars have 24 or more students enrolled, and the majority of these are lecture/seminars that are not led by members of CUPE 4207;
  • more than 92 per cent of seminars have enrolments of 20 or less;
  • more than 98 per cent have enrolments of 21 or less; and
  • when enrolment exceeds 20, it’s often the case that an override has been granted to accommodate a student’s schedule.

The union also claims that TAs are being told to assign a mark based on an essay’s first and last pages only. When asked, the union was unable to substantiate its claim by providing a single example. The University is committed to the academic integrity of a Brock education, and will address any example of this (or any similar) alleged practice.

The union further claims that TAs are not being paid for work they are doing. The union raised this concern in past negotiations and the University responded by agreeing to the union’s proposal to implement an allocation-of-hours form. This means the collective agreement already includes a process for resolving these concerns. Despite more than 350,000 hours per year being assigned to CUPE 4207 members, the union has identified only one specific concern regarding workload during the life of the current collective agreement (2007-present), and this was resolved without a grievance.

The union has talked about a lack of progress in collective bargaining. The union has sought more than 100 changes to the collective agreement, including proposals that would significantly raise the cost of salary and benefits. The University advised the union that these proposals would increase salary and benefit costs by at least 54 per cent (and by as much as 79 per cent) in the first year of the collective agreement alone.

For both employers and unions, collective bargaining in Ontario is currently taking place in a difficult climate, due to several well-known factors:

  • an economic recession that has affected us all;
  • the wage freeze imposed on non-union employees as part of last year’s provincial budget; and
  • the provincial government’s policy directive that broader public sector employers (including universities) negotiate collective agreements with no net increase in compensation for two years.

Brock sincerely values the work performed by members of CUPE 4207, and is committed to reaching a fair collective agreement with the union. But the parties remain far apart on a number of issues, and the University community is concerned that a strike will negatively impact the academic term.

Recognizing this concern, the Brock University Students Union (BUSU) has encouraged both parties to submit all outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

While there is uncertainty associated with binding arbitration, the University is prepared to accept BUSU’s recommendation in order to reach a fair conclusion to these negotiations and to avoid an interruption to the academic term. Accordingly, the University has written to CUPE 4207 to offer binding arbitration on all outstanding issues.

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