WLU back to the bargaining tables

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It appears that Wilfrid Laurier University will have their hands full with two separate sets of collective bargaining for the next couple of months.

After WLU and the university’s Contract Academic Staff (CAS) ratified their agreement in Sept., the university will now have to continue bargaining with their support staff as well as the full-time faculty, who are represented by the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA).

“The process has been a lot slower than we would’ve liked. I think that’s one of the major problems we’ve experienced,” said Judy Bates, president of WLUFA and a geography professor at WLU. “We had really hoped that we would have a settlement some time ago.”

Since mid-2011, WLUFA and the university have met 19 times, and will continue to meet until an agreement is reached. WLUFA applied for conciliation in November but the support staff has yet to take that initiative.

“The university is trying to persuade us that there’s a major financial crisis and WLUFA is arguing against that. We feel that the university is exaggerating the problems that they’re experiencing,” explained Bates.

“The context in which we’re negotiating is different for both sides.”

Both the support staff and the full-time faculty have highlighted similar concerns, primarily the ailing pension plan and post-retirement benefits.

“They’ve managed to reach agreements at other Ontario universities, Guelph, Queen’s, for example, are most recent ones around that, and we’re trying to do the same,” said Jim Butler, VP: finance at WLU.

To expand on why the pension plan is a point of contention, Butler explained that the university is trying to find a sustainable and affordable way to pay former faculty pension.

“Just to put it into perspective, historically for every dollar in tuition we get, we maybe spend seven-tencents, now it’s up around 16 cents a dollar and next year it’s scheduled to go to 23 cents then 25 cents the year after,” he continued. Butler labeled these points of concern as “funding issues.”

Bates, however, doesn’t quite feel the same.

“Our compensation ranks 14th out of 16 in the Ontario university system and our average salary is almost $10,000 lower than the average faculty salary of the Ontario university system and that’s adjusted for age and rank,” she noted, asserting that WLUFA believes that the university is attempting to reduce their pension.

Laurier has also taken steps to introduce a new teaching stream that is primarily focused on teaching, rather than extensive research and community service.

According to Bates, this will curtail the research abilities for many faculty members and may cause larger workloads for those doing existing research.

“Some professors would prefer to teach as opposed to doing research,” Butler added. “Right now everybody expected to do research, teaching and community service and it’s just a matter of where you put your emphasis.”

On the night of Jan. 10, WLUFA held a “strike-enabling vote”, which will give them the ability to vote on a strike.

However, at this point in negotiations, both parties want to avoid such an event from occurring.

“We need to get some kind of sense of how faculty members feel. It’s not a strike vote per se,” said Bates.

“I hope very much that there will not be a strike and I’m quite convinced that every faculty member feels the same. The administration as well, I’m sure their goal is not a strike.”

Butler felt similar. “You always hope for the best that you don’t have a strike. I’m hopeful we’ll get an agreement through the conciliation process,” he concluded.

“We need the dialogue, that’s the key.”

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