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Grieving for employment equity at Windsor University

Grieving for employment equity at Windsor University

In the past decade, the Windsor University Faculty Association (WUFA) has made significant strides in advancing the diversity of its membership. There has been a 50% increase in the proportion of faculty members with disabilities, and a similar jump for those self-identifying as "visible minorities." But this shift in composition did not just happen organically; it was the result of a policy grievance WUFA filed in 2011, challenging the University's misuse of a clause in its collective agreement intended to promote employment equity as a broad goal.

 A professor of philosophy, Pierre Boulos, who served as WUFA's vice-president, grievance, says the clause, which dates to 2010, was initially "aspirational," but included provisions that would allow the University to move quickly to seize on an opportunity to make an equity hire. But when WUFA learned the University was invoking the clause as a work-around to enable another appointment, it filed a grievance, which ended up with an arbitrator who altered the language.

In the wake of the 2008-2009 economic downturn, the University had fallen behind on its hiring, was missing deadlines to achieve equity targets and had neglected to disclose data on the make-up of the faculty. The policy grievance cited all these short-comings, and the resulting changes were included in the minutes of settlement agreed on in 2014.

That year, Boulos recalls, the University and WUFA entered a very tough round of negotiations to work out a new collective agreement. While the administration insisted it never committed to staffing complements within the context of a bargaining process, WUFA pressed for a commitment that the university return to its pre-2008 staffing levels

Shortly after the new collective agreement was ratified, the University announced the hiring of five Indigenous scholars. The two sides also established a Review Committee on Employment Equity (RCEE), whose members were tasked with identifying under-represented groups, establishing recruitment targets, and developing scoring processes for the hiring grids that could be used to support the equity goals embedded in the collective agreement. The 2014 settlement also provided for the use of equity advisors by departmental hiring committees.

The changes set in motion by the 2014 settlement also informed the University's 2021 response to salary data gathered by the RCEE. The committee had determined there was still a significant discrepancy between salaries by gender, especially for those who had been at the University  for a long time. The disclosure of this data, Boulos says, led to a seven-figure compensation package. "Back pay was given to quite a number of senior women."

Reflecting on the ripple effect of that original grievance, Boulos says that it served to transform a broad and somewhat unfocused equity clause into a series of concrete moves that have shifted the makeup of WUFA's membership and altered the language of the latest collective agreement. "We now have a collective agreement that doesn't use pronouns and recognizes Indigenous ways of knowing," observes Boulos. Windsor has expanded the number of Black scholars, established an anti-racism taskforce, and hired a vice-president of equity, diversity, and inclusions. "The effects of that grievance are still being met.”