CAS negotiations continue

Since the expiration of the contract in August, Wilfrid Laurier University and the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) have been negotiating a renewed collective agreement for part-time contract academic staff (CAS).

On Feb. 17, WLUFA — the union that represents CAS — called to have a conciliation officer oversee and ease the negotiations.

Denise Davis-Gains, the WLUFA communications co-ordinator and kinesiology and physical education professor, questioned the state of the affairs.

“Why is it taking so long [to negotiate] and why isn’t administration coming to the table and coming to a conclusion?” she asked.

According to Judy Bates, WLUFA president and professor of geography and environmental studies, a conciliator will be help to solve the deadlock between the two parties, just as it has been a method of achieving agreement in the past.

“That’s a very frequent aspect of negotiations, it often happens that we bring in a conciliator to help move the negotiations forward,” Bates explained.

A conciliator, who meets with the two sides separately, attempts to decrease tensions, create a productive environment and to investigate possible solutions.

Unlike an arbitrator or a mediator, a conciliator has no authoritative power over the two parties and does not make the final decision. Bargaining will continue through the conciliation process.

“Conciliation is just a normal part of the process,” agreed Jim Butler, VP of finance and administration. He also noted that the conciliation officer, John Miller, has worked well with WLU previously. “You start out with a lot of stuff on the table and you keep working at it until you get an agreement,” he added. “So the conciliation officer will help us work through that, hopefully to get to a collective agreement.”

The discussion between the two sides, in relation to part-time faculty, tends to revolve around particular ongoing issues. To WLUFA and CAS, issues such as pay, compensation, increasing work load and job security are a priority.

“Those are the major issues that have been going on campus since the beginning,” Bates said. She also stated that the university would most likely want to keep costs down, therefore conflicting with the hopes of many CAS in terms of compensation.

For what the university hopes to accomplish, Butler stated, “The issue we like to deal with is getting a collective agreement that is fair to everybody, keeps us competitive so we can recruit people.”

While negotiations at Laurier in the past have resulted in disputes, including the CAS strike in the middle of March 2008, both parties are hopeful that with the aid of the conciliator any form of dispute — whether that is a lockout or a strike — will not occur.

Davis-Gains, who is also part of the strategy committee for WLUFA, feels that communication is key between the union, administration, part-time faculty and even the students.

“The strategy committee, I think, is trying to help with transparency, to make sure it’s not something that is negotiated behind closed doors,” she added.

She also expressed a sense of shock when the last strike occurred in 2008, and felt that poor communication was the result of that.

When asked how he felt about the current negotiations, Butler replied, “I say they are going very well, I remain optimistic we will get an agreement.”

Bates also stated similarly, “I am hopeful that we will be able to reach a negotiated settlement that certainly trusts the powers on both sides of the table.”

Davis-Gains, while noting the extensive length of these negotiations, said, “I haven’t heard anything negative in the last week.”

WLU and WLUFA are still in the process of consistent negotiation, and much has yet to be achieved. The two parties will continue to meet until a collective agreement is agreed upon.

“There’s not a lot to say right now,” Butler concluded. “We’re still bargaining.”