Jan 022019

To our USFA colleagues, happy new year and best wishes for the coming year!

With the beginning of the winter term, we are setting up more meetings with the Employer. We continue to work toward conclusion of a prolonged, and occasionally contentious, process. Since we began negotiations with the Employer in July 2017, many of our discussions have proved difficult and complex, and often frustrating since a number of the issues we have raised are getting little traction at the table. Nevertheless, we have made progress.

Some agreement on issues

The good news is that we have come to agreement on several issues faculty members have identified concerning equity and stability at this university. We have agreed, for example, to update language on Non-discrimination (Article 7) and to add language regarding the commitment to diversity as set out in that article for the Appeal Panel (Article 16.3.1), College Review Committee (Article 15.8.3), University Review Committee (Article 15.8.4), and Nominations Committee of Council (Article We have agreed to add to criteria for special increases under the category of “unpublished research or scholarly work” (Article 17.2.2) in order to be more inclusive of our members’ diverse research, scholarly, and artistic work. We have agreed to define Conflict of Interest and to add procedures for committees to follow in situations where the potential for this arises. We have also agreed on language regarding the re-introduction of Instructors into the Collective Agreement, as well as some changes to Lecturer positions, and a number of other changes. On some of these issues we were very far apart at the outset, but after numerous conversations we were able to establish language agreeable to both sides.

Some acknowledgment of issues

The Employer has acknowledged the value of addressing some of the issues that our proposals aimed to remedy, but has adamantly refused to put language on these into the Agreement. One of the most significant concerns faculty members raised while we were planning for this round is spousal employment. We sent an email request for feedback on this issue last January and were overwhelmed by the many troubling responses we received. We learned of faculty members looking for work elsewhere because their spouses have been unable to find permanent employment in Saskatoon. Faculty members who had been assured when interviewed that the university would provide significant help to their spouses with finding employment discovered when they got here that resources available to them were little to none. We learned of the significant stress families have faced in these situations. We shared an anonymized 18-page document compiled from these responses with the Employer, and we learned last week that it has established Terms of Reference for a Spousal/Partner Career Support Program Advisory Committee. While we would have much preferred to arrive at a concrete solution in our contract, we hope the committee will help to mitigate this concerning situation. Another proposal of the USFA was to provide dedicated personnel to assist faculty members with finding childcare within Saskatoon. The Employer has declined to put language in the Agreement because the Employee and Family Assistance Program provides solutions for finding child care through the ComPsych company. We are looking into what is provided by ComPsych, and will monitor the effectiveness of this solution for members.

Undetermined issues

We have some tough issues yet to resolve. Our mandate for stability and equity is seen as averse to the Employer’s mandate to bolster management rights and to provide flexibility for management. We have proposed, for example, that teaching not be assigned to a parent of young children before 9:30 a.m. (if requested, and if possible). So far, we have not been successful in getting agreement on this. We have also tabled a proposal on employees’ right to a change of status (full-time to part-time) for compassionate care (Article Here too the Employer is unwilling to put such a commitment in the Agreement.

The Employer seeks changes to Management Rights (Article 3), and to processes for Discipline (Article 30) and Investigations of Misconduct (Article 12.3). We have no interest in changing Article 3. On the latter two articles, we have had a number of long discussions at the table and numerous discussions amongst USFA representatives to determine if we can find a shared interest that would make these processes better, with more clarity for everyone involved.

We have yet to discuss compensation. The Employer’s goals in this regard include making changes to the awarding of special increases. Salary creep is a stated concern for the Employer, as is assessing the current process. The Employer has stated it is aiming for salaries to be at the 60th percentile among the U15 (as opposed to the 75th percentile of their chosen comparators in previous rounds). Certainly we can appreciate the importance of financial sustainability, but there are many choices the Employer could make. Over many years we made slow and steady progress in terms of compensation. We are attracting good people, and we do not want to lose them. At a minimum, our goal is not to lose ground, and to maintain a competitive standing compared to other institutions in the U15. Our faculty are no less deserving of competitive salaries today than they were four years ago.

In the past year with no contract, however, we have slipped. Stats Can recently released complete information on the comparators chosen by the Employer, and analysis shows that we are losing ground. Full Professors have dropped from 3rd in the U15 to 6th; Associate Professors have dropped from 3rd to 5th; Assistant Professors have dropped from 4th to 5th.

Oct 312017

Our collective agreement expired June 30, 2017 and we have begun negotiations with the employer. We do not anticipate this being an easy, or a quick, round of negotiations.

While our theme for negotiations planning has been “equity and stability” including issues of scope and rank for academic clinicians in the College of Medicine (see Minutes of the USFA Spring General Meeting, April 1, 2017), we will be facing some hurdles in terms of the Employer’s stated interests in this round of negotiations.

We have heard at the table that these key interests translate into goals to give Deans more authority, including disciplinary authority, to implement measures for increased accountability for faculty members, and to ease back on the growth of our salaries in comparison to other universities in the U15. There is also interest in reducing the role of the USFA in collegial processes.

The USFA and the Employer have both committed to interest-based bargaining, but the beginning of negotiations this August showed significant tensions. For example, the Employer has stated that it has little interest in discussing the College of Medicine, and has been reluctant to provide requested information about new hires of clinical MDs to the faculty, and about the nature of their relationship with the university. That said, we recognize that the Employer is facing a difficult mandate, and so we are both working to get to points of agreement where we can find solutions to meet one another’s interests. There is no doubt that the process will pose some challenges, and will be time consuming. In the meantime, our current Collective Agreement still applies, including the awarding of special increases and the implementation of regular career development increases (Articles 17 and 18 of the Agreement).

Finances and Compensation

Financial issues will certainly be at the forefront for this round, and the Employer’s expressed desire to give Deans more power seems to be in part stemming from the university’s new system of “Responsibility Centre Management” wherein resource allocation to “Revenue Centres” (otherwise known as Colleges and Schools) is determined by the so-called transparent, activity-based budget system (TABBS). In this system, budgetary responsibility is placed at the local level (“Empowerment”), and decisions and planning leading at the local level will result in the teaching and research activities that formulaically determine the budgets distributed to units (“Accountability”). But how can Deans ensure activities of faculty translate into dollars? We have already seen some attempts to use goal-setting by faculty members for their planned achievements, including desired research output, number of publications, and grant applications, as concrete assignment of duties and tied to merit awards.

To compound some of the troubling aspects of this system appearing at the bargaining table, the Provincial Government’s austerity budget is also contributing to a challenging round of negotiations. The university’s operating funds have been in the government’s crosshairs for some time now, translating into the goals to reduce inflation of faculty compensation, and to reassess our merit system to better reflect accountability as a means to reward “excellence.” As a reminder:

  • For the 2015–16 fiscal year, the Government of Saskatchewan withheld $20 million in targeted funding.
    This was followed by, last year, the university receiving a 0% increase in base funding from the provincial government for 2016–17. The provincial government also implemented a second $20 million reduction in targeted funding for the College of Medicine.
  • Last January, the Minister of Advanced Education gave a Directive to the Board of Governors, which stated that “All public sector employers are expected to ensure that there are no increases to the total cost of employee compensation as a result of any ongoing negotiations or negotiations for contracts yet to expire.” It went on to request that the U of S would “share in the effort required to contain and control compensation costs,” and for 2017–2018, total compensation costs “will be no greater than in fiscal 2016–17. In order to achieve these goals, negotiations will need to commence immediately. There may be a need to consider such things as freezing in-range increments, general wage increases and performance/bonus pay, … in order to meet the requirement to contain and control the total cost of public sector compensation.”
  • Then, in February, of this year, the Saskatchewan Party government announced its $1.2 billion debt. The government’s position was that “everything is on the table” and that “very deep cuts” to education, health care, municipal revenue sharing and civil service salaries would be possibilities.
  • When the 2017–18 provincial budget was announced in March, it outlined a 5.6% budget reduction for the University of Saskatchewan. Adding to the difficulties this reduction poses, the province was requiring the university to provide $20 million out of this operating grant to the College of Medicine.
  • With $20 million to the College of Medicine reinstated this fall, the picture is a little more promising, and while the university has asked the Board of Governors to approve a budget with a $17 million deficit, the closing balance of the university’s General Fund is projected to be $151,795 million (see Minutes of University Council, and Operating Budget Fact Sheet 2016–17).

All this said, when we are in negotiations, we can sense that the government is very much “there” in the room with us, and accountability and austerity will likely continue to be themes of this round.

Our expectation is that once again, our work at the bargaining table will include trying to understand expenditure choices the Employer makes in comparison to its stated mission to address the financial deficit. A hiring freeze is one option that might be considered, for example, that has not yet been mentioned. Last year, 2016–17, our faculty complement was 1,013, after reducing our numbers from 1,072 in 2014–15. This fall our faculty complement is up by 22, to 1,035.

The Employer is also looking into ways to fund the School of Architecture initiative by assuring start-up funding and ongoing operating resources to support the program, without depleting resources from other units. A feasibility study projects that renovation costs will be approximately $20 million. With a Director, Program Director, approximately 11.5 FTE instructors (faculty and sessionals), administrative staff, and a half-time librarian, the School would operate on a “direct cost” budget of $3.2 million per year, and a total yearly operating budget of $4.4 million, offset in part by tuition revenue of $1.44 million (see October 19 Council Agenda).

It should be stated clearly that the USFA is not in any way opposed to hiring faculty, or embarking on such ambitious projects as a new School of Architecture. However, any message at the bargaining table of the need for belt tightening in the face of a fiscal crisis will have to be reconciled against other expenditure choices.

The Employer has indicated it will be moving to a compensation strategy where it is aiming to be at the 60th percentile in the U15, still a lead pay strategy but lower in response to the current fiscal context. The Employer is interested in looking at pay programs and structures beyond base pay, and merit is on the agenda for discussion. We both agree that greater transparency is important in the process of awarding merit—but the Employer asks, is it achieving what we want? Is it sustainable and does it meet needs?

“Any merit is intended to recognize high achievers” is the message we are receiving, but we will be wary of any premise that suggests running a tight financial ship means rewarding certain kinds of work as meritorious while ignoring others such as teaching and administration.

U of S faculty are at a good place in terms of compensation. We feel we are compensated fairly. The Employer has achieved and surpassed its goal of reaching the 75th percentile among the comparators it chose when it adopted its lead payer strategy, but remember that goal was achieved through slow and steady progress, after years of being among the lowest paid. It is worth noting that the Employer’s lead payer strategy has begun to show results, as this year the U of S led the country in research income gains, with an increase of 27.8%—the largest of all Canadian universities. We are attracting good people to the university, and we do not want to lose them. Accordingly, at a minimum we are aiming not to lose ground and to maintain our standing among other institutions, and continue with our stated objective to maintain a position in the top quartile in the U15.

College of Medicine

Regrettably, too much of both our and the employer’s resources have focussed on the restructuring of the College of Medicine, but we continue to attempt to negotiate some of the salient issues that might otherwise result in costly consultations with lawyers through grievance processes and arbitration. Our Certification Order stipulates that we represent full-time faculty, and historically, since certification, a number of clinician faculty have been appointed as full-time academics in scope of the union.

As previously reported at our annual meeting, the employer has decided that all new hires of academic clinician faculty are independent contractors who are out of scope. This is not necessarily a unique situation in Canada, but at the U of S, hiring these faculty out of scope via processes described in the College’s recently approved Procedures Manual does disregard the provisions of our Agreement, and our Certification Order. We continue to maintain that these new hires, who are guaranteed a significant percentage of time for academic work, should be in scope of the Collective Agreement. Like contracting out too much of our teaching (see Article 10.8 of the Collective Agreement, Employment of Non-Members), contracting out our research is unacceptable, and we are hoping that we can convince the employer to have some productive discussions at the negotiations table about these issues.

Sep 022014

At a Special General Meeting this afternoon, USFA members voted in favour of accepting a tentative agreement for a new three year Collective Agreement. Details of the tentative Agreement can be found at http://www.usaskfaculty.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ratification-language-2014-17-agreement.pdf. The Board of Governors has yet to ratify the tentative agreement.

Oct 222013

USFA members who have a combined age and years of service equal to or greater than 85 are eligible to apply for the Incentive Plan for Retirement (IPR). The application deadline is October 31, 2013. See http://www.usask.ca/vpacademic/collegial/index.php for application form and additional information. Members are reminded that they may withdraw an application for the IPR […]

Aug 152013

Dear USFA Members: Attached you will find 3 proposals regarding retirement initiatives that have been signed off between the Negotiating Teams of the University and the Faculty Association and recommended to the membership for ratification by the Executive. We believe that ratification and implementation of these proposals are in the best interests of the membership […]

Jul 102013

As part of our agreement to extend the 2010 – 2013 Collective Agreement, we committed to enter into negotiations immediately regarding retirement initiatives. We are pleased to advise that we have reached a tentative agreement regarding retirement initiatives and on July 9, 2013, the Negotiating Teams for the USFA and the University signed off on […]

Feb 222013

Dear members: Today, the Negotiating Teams for the USFA and Employer signed off on a tentative agreement for the period July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 (attached).  The agreement  provides for an extension to the terms of the current collective agreement with a 1% scale increase to all salaries and salary scales, plus the […]

Oct 242012

The collective agreement between the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association (USFA) expires on June 30, 2013, and preparations for bargaining are well underway. After preliminary discussions with the University, we can expect to begin bargaining in early January, 2013. Jim Cheesman, Senior Professional Officer of the USFA, has been appointed […]

May 012012

In our last bargaining update, we presented the case for a bargaining mandate with respect to salaries that is based on the Employer’s lead-payer strategy for compensation at the 75th percentile of a group of seven comparator institutions.  Based on the salary data that is currently available (i.e., 2010-11), the average salaries by rank for […]