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Interview / Melissa Jean

Interview / Melissa Jean

Adela Talbot / Western News
Brescia Faculty Association just finished a successful round of contract negotiations. As the president of the association what were the objectives of your bargaining team?
Our mandate was to close the wage gap between Brescia faculty and those of our peer institutions in London: Huron University College and King’s University College, and we succeeded in the end. We signed a four-year agreement. In the past we signed three-year contracts, but we were flexible this round as long as by the end of the contract, we closed the gap, and we did that. We were particularly focused on the wage gap at the entrance level of assistant professor because increasing the starting level salary helps everybody along the way.

How did you mobilize your members?
Over the past five years or so, we have worked hard to deconstruct the story of the administration. It was hard, because their narrative that we live in challenging financial times was strong and we realized our members had bought into the “austerity” line. The first thing we did was educate our members about the finances of the institution. We see the budgets all the time with anticipated deficits and all, but you have to analyze the financial statements to see where the money is, and to deconstruct the austerity story. When we were able to present the facts and demonstrate that the budget plans were not a reflection of the financial health of the institution, that the university had surplus and a good cash flow, our members understood because they respond to data and facts. We just had to gather the information and to show it to them. And it was clear: no, the university is not in a precarious financial position and could afford to address pay equity. The other piece that was also helpful is that we had been tracking the increases in administrative salaries over the last while and it was a real eye opener for our members. They saw that austerity applies to them but not to the administration.

How did you engage the university community in understanding your issues?
We went directly to the student leaders. We reached out to them midway through the bargaining process. We had a meeting to talk about what was going on. We wanted them to hear our concerns and to start a conversation. We kept them up to date throughout the process: conciliation, strike vote, etc. They invited us to their first student council of the year and we were able to share information. We were amazed at their response. Once they understood the issues they were 100 per cent behind us. They were very passionate about the gender wage gap and they became our spokespeople.

How do you explain that BFA members (72% of whom are women) are among the least paid in Ontario?
After we first certified in 2011, we went a couple of years without a salary increase. Negotiations for a first contract dragged for so long that it set us back. But I also believe it might have something to do with the fact that Brescia was founded by an order of the Ursuline Sisters that value work differently in terms of monetary value.

Are you surprised the principles of pay equity are still at stake today?
In a way, yes. Although it seems we have come so far, there are still barriers for women and we still have to fight for pay equity. In 2016, the Ontario Gender Wage Gap Strategy Steering Committee report identified causes and solutions. There is still a lot of work to do to address the conditions and the systemic barriers that contribute to the wage gap.

Workload was also an important issue during contract negotiations. What did you manage to secure?
Full-time faculty had been required to teach eight courses during three years. Now that workload will go down to 7.5 courses during three years. We still need improvements for sure, but this agreement shows that we continue to make progress.

What are the next steps for your association?
We have to continue to monitor the salary situation. We closed the gap for now, but our salaries still rank among the lowest of all institutions in the province. Closing the gap is not something that happens once and you can relax. We need to have a system in place to keep the information up-to-date. We also want to continue to cultivate our relationship with the student association.

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