After eight months of negotiations, the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) faculty and administration are heading back to the bargaining table on February 9 in pursuit of a collective agreement before the February 11 no-board deadline. A strike is imminent after 86 per cent of unit members voted in favour of job action at the college.
A no-board triggers a 17-day timer for an agreement, after which either side can legally take job action, either by striking or locking out. USMC faculty filed for a no-board with the Ontario Ministry of Labour after they were dissatisfied with negotiations during a January 19 meeting between the two sides. University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA)-USMC Chief Negotiator Michael O’Connor said that the faculty filed for the no-board as a way to increase pressure on the administration, which they felt was “not up to speed.”
If a strike should happen, undergraduate students in Book & Media Studies, Medieval Studies, Christianity and Culture, and Celtic Studies would be affected. Graduate students in the Faculty of Theology, and by extension the Toronto School of Theology, would also be affected, along with some services at the John M. Kelly Library.
“We’re hopeful that if the employer comes to the table prepared to bargain and ready with a serious effort to reach an agreement, then an agreement should be possible,” said O’Connor. “We don’t think a strike is necessary; we think it’s avoidable if the college administration is serious about reaching a deal.”
Negotiations have been ongoing since the last collective agreement expired on June 30, 2017. The two sides did not meet until August 8 and 9, after which the administration filed for conciliation to bring in an individual to mediate negotiations. Since then, they have met in September, October, December, and at the January 19 meeting.
USMC Director of Communications Stefan Slovak wrote that the administration will continue to work to secure an agreement.
“We’ve been negotiating in good faith for many months to reach an agreement with our colleagues who are members of UTFA,” reads a statement to The Varsity from USMC President David Mulroney. “We’ve tabled a comprehensive offer that tracks closely with the agreement that UTFA reached with the University of Toronto some months ago, that respects our autonomy as an institution, and that contributes to the long-term viability of our university and the community it sustains.”
Faculty and administration are at odds on four key issues, according to O’Connor. The first is greater job security. The administration has proposed a new category of limited-term contract faculty at the college. The faculty, however, believes this is “precarious employment,” and it does not motivate participation in college life.
The second is that the administration is asking for a one-year agreement, which O’Connor attributes to changes facing the college with Mulroney’s exit. This means that a new agreement would be backdated to July 1, 2017 and would send the two sides back to negotiations next summer.
“To drag things on for eight months in a way that’s felt just very frustrating, and then say we want to do this right away again just seems impractical and unreasonable to us,” said O’Connor. “So we’re looking for a multi-year agreement that would give us much more stability.”
Third, faculty are also asking for “equity and diversity in hiring,” requesting that those on hiring committees receive training and that language in USMC job ads mirror U of T’s.
Fourth, they are requesting compensation that mirrors the one per cent plus the $1,150 lump sum that U of T faculty received last June.
O’Connor said that the administration has rejected all of these proposals.
Editor’s Note (February 5): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lump sum that U of T faculty received last June was $11.50. It was actually $1,150.