Sessional instructor strike could hit campus this fall

Campus Local News

Job security and severance pay are two reasons job action could be a possibility next month

After months of collective bargaining, the University of Victoria and CUPE 4163 (the union representing sessional and music performance instructors) have failed to reach an agreement on a new contract — setting the stage for a potential strike next month as students return to campus for the fall term.

CUPE 4163 represents over 1 500 instructors at UVic — who preform more than 60 per cent of the instruction at UVic — and is broken down into separate components of instructors. Component One includes teaching assistants and lab instructors, Component Two represents second language teachers, and Component Three oversees about 800 of the continuing lecturers and sessional instructors on campus. 

UVic has requested for a mediator from the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to be assigned to help the two groups reach an agreement.

The main striking point between the UVic and Component Three is job security and severance pay for laid-off continuing sessional instructors, both of which representatives from the union said the university didn’t provide enough of in discussions this summer.  

“The union put forward very reasonable and inexpensive proposals to help grant sessional lecturers some measure of security. We’re not talking tenure-style security — sessionals would still have to re-qualify every two years,” said CUPE 4163 president Greg Malnechuck in an email to the Martlet 

“The university seems to disagree with the need to provide this limited job security, as it is unwilling to find less than $23 000 a year to fund the change. That’s $23 000 total, when the university has a $17 million surplus this year.” 

Malnechuck went  on to say the disagreement seems to be one that occurs frequently between UVic and Component Three, as he believes “the university has long treated this particular group of employees with disdain and neglect, and seems unable to understand the need to treat the people doing 30 per cent of the teaching on campus with respect.” 

“If the university wanted to, this could be settled in a few hours.” 

Greg Malnechuck, CUPE 4163 PRESIDENT

When asked about the reason for the breakdown in these negotiations, UVic declined to respond in regards to specific proposals in these negotiations out of respect for the mediation process.

“The university is committed to reaching a new collective agreement with all of our employee groups,” said Kane Kilbey, UVic’s Associate Vice President of Human Resources. 

“However, whatever terms are agreed to, the total cost for the renewed contract must not exceed the B.C. government’s financial mandate and be approved by the Public Sector Employers Council.”

Components One and Two of CUPE 4163 are scheduled to start negotiating with the university later in the fall for their own separate contracts. 

UVic wrote in a bargaining update on Aug. 8 that they remain confident in resolving the bargaining with Component Three under the Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate — a guide designed by the province to help resolve disputes between public-sector employees and unionized workers with their employers. 

Under the negotiating mandate, which UVic reaffirmed their commitment to in an earlier memo published in the summer, the university said they planned to follow the provincially-mandated wage pattern of a two per cent per year increase over a three year term. 

Meanwhile, with talks deteriorating last month, 84 of the 91 members of Component Three voted in favour of a strike. On Aug. 8, the university tabled a settlement package to conclude negotiations. 

The union, however, rejected UVic’s offer, and refused to table a counter offer. 

Malnechuck said he was confused with UVic’s statement, and believes it wasn’t until the strike vote occured that the university started to respond to the union’s proposals. 

“I’m a little puzzled by the university’s statement, as they were well aware that we had already tabled our final proposal,” said Malnechuck. “After months of bargaining (we started back in March) there was little progress or real engagement from the university. It took the strike vote for them to truly respond to our original proposals; after that, on the 26th of July, the union tabled its final proposal package, withdrawing and changing proposals to make it easier to reach a deal.

“The university’s settlement offer showed a bit of movement — but not nearly enough on the job security issue. So, as we were absolutely clear back on the 26th about it being our final proposal, the university’s call for a counter-proposal seems to be yet another delaying tactic.”

“The university is committed to reaching a new collective agreement with all of our employee groups.”

Kane Kilbey, UVic’s Associate Vice President of Human Resources. 

In a separate email with the Martlet, Matthew Koch, an executive for Component Three, said the university’s proposal failed to address sessional instructors’ status and refused to commit to favouring sessionals for faculty positions in instances where they are equally or more qualified than other applicants. 

“The university proposal did not address the need for a more flexible formula for calculating continuing sessional lecturer status and did not nearly do enough to provide adequate severance for laid-off continuing sessional lecturers,” wrote Koch.

In a precursor to the potential strike, the union has applied to the Labour Relations Board to initiate the designation of ‘essential services process.’ 

Before any sort of job action can take place, the LRB must officially declare an essential services order — a process that could take several weeks, and include the help of LRB to mediate or adjudicate essential services and staffing levels. 

UVic reaffirmed their commitment to finding a solution for the needs of students and employees in the press release. 

“The university is committed to reaching a new collective agreement as quickly as possible that meets the needs of our students and employees,” the press release reads. “We believe it is important to keep everyone informed as the bargaining and essential service designation processes unfold.”

But when asked what actions the university will take if terms can’t be agreed upon by the start of the new semester, Kilbey said that he didn’t want to speculate on what may occur in the coming weeks, and that it is the university’s hope to reach a negotiated settlement at the earliest opportunity.

On the opposite side of the table, Malnechuck said he is meeting with union members this week to decide what job action would like if the situation reaches that stage, and that the ball is in the university’s court to avoid a potential strike. 

“At the moment there are no bargaining dates scheduled, as we are waiting for the university to come back to us with a truly reasonable settlement offer that addresses the sessionals’ needs,” he said. “If the university wanted to, this could be settled in a few hours.” 

With classes slated to begin this week, and the return of thousands of students for the fall term, the union and university have agreed to enter mediation on Sep. 18 and 19. 

“We’re hoping that an outside voice will help to bring the University to a more reasonable and fair position so that we can avoid any disruptions to the students this fall. We have requested that a representative from the Public Sector Employers Council (PSEC) participate, as we don’t accept the University’s position that the government’s bargaining mandate doesn’t allow the university to use part of its 17 million dollar surplus to fund our inexpensive job security proposals,” said Malnechuck in a follow up email this week. 

Malnechuck clarified that classes will resume as scheduled for students this week without any disruption. 

This article was updated on Sep. 3 to include the mediation agreement between the two sides.

With files from Emily Fagan.