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What are LUFA’s bargaining priorities?

LUFA’s priorities are:

1) reject proposed short-term layoff provisions;
2) improve our pension plan;
3) update the equity, diversity, and inclusiveness policy;
4) improve working conditions for contract lecturers;
5) preserve and enhance collegial governance;
6) improve policy and regulation regarding conflict of interest; and
7) other measures to ensure fairness and equity in working conditions, including equitable protocols for renewal and promotion of ‘teaching only’ faculty and T2200 forms to enable deductions for extraordinary expenses related to the pandemic.

What is the other side proposing?

The Board wants a three-year deal with salary increases of 0%, 1%, and 1% and the power to implement short-term layoffs in crisis situations.

Why did negotiations stop?

The team negotiating on behalf of the Board of Governors discontinued negotiations in late August.

The most marked characteristic of negotiations to date has been the unwillingness of the Board to consider most of LUFA’s proposals.

What happens now?

LUFA has agreed to restart negotiations, first through mediation and then, if necessary, through conciliation. Our primary objective is for a negotiated settlement without job action, and we are hopeful that mediation and/or conciliation will bring that about.
However, it is important that the association demonstrate its resolve and unity as we enter this new stage of the negotiating process. Employers are more likely to seek a settlement if they are convinced that the faculty association is prepared and determined to strike if necessary. Organized strike preparation is our best bet at preventing a strike.

Will LUFA hold a strike vote?

Yes. The best means at our disposal to demonstrate our resolve is by holding a strike vote, ideally before talks have broken off completely. Legal strike action is a union’s ultimate expression of power in collective bargaining and the strongest measure it can take to obtain a collective agreement. It will likely occur before or during conciliation in order to measure the will of LUFA membership.

A positive strike vote demonstrates support for the Negotiating Team – it signals to the Administration, the mediator, conciliator, the Board and the public that LUFA stands behind its Negotiating Team. The simple fact of a strike vote can break the log-jam of an impasse and get the negotiating process moving again.

However, a vote supporting possible strike action provides the LUFA executive with the mandate to initiate further job action if necessary.

What happens if mediation and conciliation fail?

LUFA and the Board have initiated mediation talks, with a conciliator already identified if mediation fails. In the event that conciliation also fails to achieve resolution, there is a 17 day ‘cooling off’ period when discussions can continue if both sides are agreeable. At the end of that time if the two sides remain in an impasse, LUFA is then in a legal position to strike and the Board is in a legal position to lock LUFA members out.

If we go on strike, will we be required to be physically present on the picket line?

Being on strike means withholding all work and making the world aware of that. Since we are teaching, researching, advising, and serving on committees online at present, all of those activities will be withheld online. Various possibilities exist for making the world aware of that, including virtual picketing. Be assured that the health and safety of LUFA members will not be compromised, and everyone will have a role to play.

The prospect of a strike makes me very nervous. With so many disruptions in our working lives already, why doesn’t LUFA just accept what’s on the table and move on?

The issues at stake in these negotiations are momentous, particularly the administration’s plan for short term layoffs and LUFA’s proposal for pension reform. Failure to address these issues now will have long-term consequences for LUFA members.

If we give the administration power to arbitrarily announce layoffs in crisis situations, we can expect to see a crisis-filled future and a working environment characterized by periodic and intense conflict. Remember, the LU Board already has layoff power under the current collective agreement. The difference is that they currently must demonstrate either academic or financial exigency. The proposed layoff power can be used at the discretion of the President without providing substantive evidence of a crisis. This would significantly transform the power relationship within the institution. It would also harm relationships among LUFA members since only some might have their livelihoods threatened. This is, at its core, a deeply divisive proposal that will create anxiety among our membership and severe hardship for some. Recall that LUFA faced, and fought, a similar attempt in 2009 to undermine the financial exigency clause in our agreement with an ill-advised four day closure over the Christmas holidays. Thanks to our resolve and unity as an association (and the strong support of faculty associations across the country), we won that battle.

The Association held two years of consultations with members on pension before negotiations. Two hundred out of 350 members responded to the membership survey held in May in advance of negotiations, with 75% indicating they want to switch to a JSPP which offers a defined benefit plan that is not affected by changes in the financial markets, and 75% saying they are personally willing to contribute more to pensions.

Lakehead University is alone among major Ontario Universities that reduces pension contributions by its current contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. As a result, Lakehead University has the lowest net employer pension contribution rate in the Ontario public service. Not surprisingly, our pension plan falls far short of ensuring that faculty can retire with dignity. Thanks to the ‘less CPP’ loophole, the university has saved $10 million dollars in pension contributions over the past decade. These savings will become greater over time in light of future enhancement of the CPP under federal government regulation.

In 2016, representatives for the Board of Governors signed a letter of understanding with LUFA (LOU 19) requiring both parties “to meet to discuss opportunities and solutions to help ensure the long term sustainability of the Professional Pension Plan.” When asked to honour this agreement previously the administration said that it would take up the pension issue in negotiations. Now that we are in negotiations, their proposal is to renew LOU 19. It is time for the university administration to start paying their full share.

What if the university can’t afford to meet our demands?

Lakehead University currently has $60 million in restricted funds and $30 million in cash. The university has lost some ancillary revenue (parking, residence, and food services), but has realized significant savings on employee benefits and other campus services to go along with the millions they have saved in pensions contributions. Tuition revenue remains stable (this year’s enrolment figures are virtually identical with last year). Reductions in international and graduate student enrolment are largely offset by tuition fee increases. The Board has never raised the issue of affordability in the entire process of the current negotiation.

It is important to note that the university bore very little of the cost of transitioning to remote course delivery. Rather, these costs have been borne by faculty and librarians. The switch to remote teaching has led to dramatic increases in faculty and librarian workload.

When the pandemic hit, faculty were forced to immediately retool their courses and vacate their offices, classrooms, and labs, transporting their base of operations from university facilities to their homes using their own resources. Since that time, faculty have been delivering all instruction from home using their own internet services, phones, printers, toner, paper, and electricity. Most faculty have made further investments in technology to enhance their ability to work and teach remotely and improve the student learning experience.

Librarians have sought to support faculty by searching out online resources, by searching for online versions of print books and course reserve materials, ordering and processing the resources quickly, creating online tutorials to replace in-person help, hosting Zoom information meetings regarding the services provided, working to develop a limited reopening plan, and supervising support staff, some of whom may not have specialized software, printers, etc., to do their jobs. All of this from home spaces (sometimes an office, sometimes the kitchen table), as explained above, using their own internet, electricity, and additional technology purchases.

Faculty and librarians have absorbed these costs without rancor, but the university refuses to provide tax forms that would enable faculty and librarians to claim tax relief on these expenses.

How can I show my support for the Negotiating Team?

Come to meetings and voice your support, discuss with your colleagues and your family who will ultimately feel the impact of a substandard pension or temporary layoff. Wear a button (when we get them) or use a virtual button in your email signature or as your profile picture.

Above all, vote yes on the strike vote. At this time it is absolutely necessary to indicate in no uncertain terms that the Members support their negotiating team, and the way to convey that support is through a decisive strike vote.

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