CUPE unions contest UVic executives’ salaries

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Amid recent UVic budget cuts and the current CUPE strike on campus, CUPE UVic has expressed concerned over executive compensation at the university. CUPE UVic stated in an Aug. 24 press release that the union’s post-secondary workers’ wages “fell in real terms by six per cent due to inflation” from 2008 to 2011, while UVic’s executives saw raises throughout that period. 

“This increase is the salt in the wound,” says Rob Park, President of CUPE Local 917, which is currently on strike at UVic. “Years ago, everybody was asked to tighten their belts, and that’s what they did, but [executives] are still getting increases.”

The press release states 12 000 CUPE members haven’t had a pay-raise in years and were prevented from receiving wage hikes through the B.C. Liberals’ net-zero mandate in 2010-2011. This mandate barred across-the-board increases to any employee group, including executives.

But from 2005-2006 to 2009-2010, CUPE 917 and 951 members received two per cent across-the-board raises, something not mentioned in CUPE’s press release. 

Park says this raise didn’t keep up with inflation.  

“If you get a raise over four years that is . . . two per cent . . . [and] you’re looking at inflation, which is that high or higher, you’re going backwards,” says Park. “There seems to be enough money to deal with inflation for how much gas the university gets or the electrical bill, but not enough for the people who work there.” 

With respect to executive increases, Bruce Kilpatrick, UVic’s director of Communications, says the press release mixes up across-the-board increases with progression adjustments, which are incremental progressions of a certain salary range. 

“Progression adjustments are still permissible because you’re not increasing ranges, you’re just having people move within ranges. There’s a common misunderstanding about that,” says Kilpatrick. “There will be a salary range associated with a particular position. An employee who is occupying that position is eligible to move up within that range each year.” 

This increase could be based on seniority, performance or other criteria. For executives, this progression is called merit pay and is based solely on performance. Each UVic executive member must achieve specific objectives, which are set in advance. 

CUPE National Service Rep Loree Wilcox points out, “We do not have anything in our collective agreement that resembles merit pay.” 

According to CUPE’s press release, President David Turpin’s compensation has been boosted eight per cent since 2008, and senior management has seen increases from nine to 17 per cent since the 2007-2008 year. Turpin’s total compensation in 2011-2012 was $504 114. 

Kilpatrick says increases in all executive compensation within those years were the result of progression adjustments. 

In order to make a valid comparison between executives and union employees, Kilpatrick says it’s important to compare the executive increases to those of other employee groups that have range progression. 

Every CUPE group has the option to negotiate increment progression into their collective agreement. CUPE Local 951 has included progression ranges as part of their agreement, but CUPE Local 917 has not. 

CUPE Local 951 members have two salary progression steps. The first occurs after three months. But only certain members are eligible for the second step, nine months after that, depending on their pay band. This is a narrow progression range compared to other unions on campus, such as CUPE 4163, whose progression ranges take place over six years, and the Professional Employees Association (PEA) whose range is 10 years, thus allowing more employees to be eligible.  

The average increase for CUPE Local 951 members eligible for range progression from 2007 to 2011 was eight per cent, the same progression increase the president received. Employees who are eligible for the progression within CUPE 4163 and PEA could have received increases at figures between eight and 22 per cent in that same period. 

“I double-checked, and no one can recall a time when 917 requested progression ranges as part of negotiations, or in 951’s case, a broader progression range,” says Kilpatrick.

Wilcox says that CUPE Local 951 has attempted through bargaining to increase the wage grid through job evaluation, but that “the employer was not quite willing to do that.”

In March, UVic announced that there are no increases in the government-operating grant, requiring the university to implement a budget cut. A month prior to that, the provincial budget stated university operating grants will be cut by one per cent in 2013-2014 and by another 1.5 per cent in 2014-2015. 

“We need to figure out how to deal with that, but at the same time you don’t want to run the risk of losing employees because they see no future in staying associated with the institution,” says Kilpatrick.

Park says, “That’s an argument we’ve heard now for quite a few years . . . I don’t know what that’s really based on. The university community relies on everybody to do the job.”

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