Seeking a middle ground
University officials and Contract Academic Staff (CAS), represented by the Wilfrid Laurier Faculty Association (WLUFA), met with a conciliator last week, in the latest development in CAS contract negotiations between the two parties.
Some progress was made at the Oct. 23 meeting, but no deal was reached. Both sides have agreed to meet again for another conciliation session on Nov. 4 after having a chance to revise their proposals.
CAS has had twenty meetings with the university thus far.
Kevin Crowley, director of communications and public affairs at Laurier, discussed why a conciliator has been brought in.
“In order to finalize a deal they needed a third party … this happens in about every set of negotiations at the university or elsewhere. It’s a very common part of the process,” he said.
The conciliator, which was requested by both parties and appointed by the Ontario Labour Ministry, acts as a go-between for WLUFA and the university.
“Administration has their own goals, after all they have to pay for the salaries and other expenses … so both sides have to go back and forth and try to reach an agreement,” added William Salatka, president of WLUFA.
The conciliation process has no set time limit; if it is working well, it can continue until a deal has been made. If no deal is reached, the next step could potentially be mediation, which both parties must agree to.
“With mediation, the government appoints a mediator who has a lot more power…the conciliator can suggest but the mediator has more power,” Salatka continued.
Going into conciliation, CAS aimed to address issues surrounding job security, access to health and dental benefits and fair compensation.
“In general, we’ve made progress, there’s no question about that. We’re getting into the issues that are more difficult to negotiate and that’s why we’re engaged in conciliation,” Salatka said.
Crowley explained that achieving an agreement in the best interest of the students and the university is of the utmost concern, but that there are some challenging obstacles.
“Money is tight all over and the Ontario government is asking all universities and public sector organizations to keep a very close eye on budgets. That’s driving these negotiations … and I think everybody has to keep that in mind.”
CAS teaches 52 per cent of students at Laurier, and can technically teach up to 35 per cent of all courses offered in a year. Through conciliation, members hope to alter the aspects of precarious employment they report experiencing while employed as contract staff at Laurier.
Salatka commented on the importance of student awareness regarding the current situation.
“The working conditions of the faculty are the students’ learning conditions. It’s very important they are aware of what’s happening, whether they agree with it or not.”