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November Advocate: CUPE 3912 returns to work after reaching deal - Fall Economic Statement shortfalls - Laurentian exits insolvency

Every month we send our supporters a newsletter with the latest CAUT and post-secondary education sector news. This newsletter was published on November 30, 2022. Subscribe to get the newsletter straight to your inbox.

In this issue:

  • Striking CUPE 3912 members back to work after a tentative deal with Dalhousie
  • Fall Economic Statement falls short
  • Laurentian: A damning report of mismanagement and university exits from insolvency
  • Iran's teachers and students continue to demand justice
  • Nation-wide strike action taking hold of UK
  • CUPE education workers reached a deal for fairer wages
  • State of the Post-Secondary Academic Profession: Survey

Member News

Striking CUPE 3912 members back to work after a tentative deal with Dalhousie

Photo credit: CUPE National Twitter account

Part-time academics, teaching assistants, markers, and demonstrators from Dalhousie University (Dal), members of Local 3912 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3912), returned to work mid-November after the union representing 1,500 workers reached a tentative agreement with Dal for wage increases. The workers had been striking since October 19 when union members joined rallies and picket lines to press for higher pay in line with inflation.

Among other gains, the agreement includes a teaching assistant pay increase of PTA wages to 23.3 per cent (i.e., 0-7 courses: 2020-2021 pay rate: $10,594.80; 2023-2024 pay rate: $12,956.25), TA wages to 23.1 per cent (i.e, 2020-2021 pay rate: $24.72; 2023-2024 pay rate: $30.05), and Mark/Demo wages 44.5 per cent (i.e., 2020-2021 pay rate: $16.82; 2023-2024 pay rate: $24.00).

“It’s been a long and difficult journey to achieve this deal,” said CUPE 3912 President Cameron Ells in a recent union statement, “and we couldn’t have done it without the solidarity and dedication shown by our membership.” Most of the gains in the current offer will not take effect until September 2023. Details on the tentative agreement can be found here.

A statement issued by the union shortly after the vote to ratify the Tentative Agreement, said, “…this vote does not mean we are done. There are several goals that we did not achieve in this round of bargaining. The next two years leading up to the end of this contract are more important than ever.”

On Our Radar

2022 Fall Economic Statement falls short

On November 3, the Government of Canada released its Fall Economic Statement 2022 (FES) that permanently eliminated interest on Canada Student and Apprenticeship Loans including those currently being repaid. This amounts to a savings of $410 annually by an average student loan borrower, according to the federal government. The government noted in its statement that half of all post-secondary students in Canada depend on student loans to help them with the cost of tuition and basic expenses during their studies.

More than 1.8 million Canadian students owe the federal government a total of $20.5 billion, based on 2019 data from the Government of Canada website, with the average loan balance at about $13,367 at the time of leaving school. The government said that this change that begins on April 1, 2023, carries an estimated cost of $2.7 billion over five years and $556.3 million thereafter.

However, the government offered nothing else for research or post-secondary education. The FES also highlighted the importance of well-paying jobs, something the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) said didn’t go far enough.

In a statement following the release of the FES, the CLC said the focus needs to be on union jobs as “Gains for unions turn into gains for all workers, creating stimulus for the whole economy.”
The CLC statement also mentioned the inclusion of for-profit training institutions and micro credentials that it said “…will benefit private businesses and not workers.” It explained that a fiscal statement that focused on reducing government spending would only help reduce the risks for the banks and big corporations.

Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland framed the FES as happening within a climate of fiscal discipline, citing inflation and rising interest rates. The CLC noted that “…Canada had one of the quickest recoveries and now one of the quickest tightenings.” Adding that the “…federal government’s fiscal position is solid and there is no risk of a debt or deficit crisis, despite Freeland’s warnings.”

Laurentian: A damning report of mismanagement and university exits from insolvency

The Auditor General of Ontario says it was unnecessary, inappropriate, and ultimately destructive for the Laurentian University senior administration to deliberately pursue insolvency protection in the courts rather than accept government assistance.   

The Special Report on Laurentian University details years of financial mismanagement at Laurentian University which culminated in the unprecedented and unnecessary decision to file for insolvency protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) on February 1, 2021.  

"The Auditor General is absolutely unequivocal in concluding that Laurentian University’s administration did not have to, and should not have, turned to the CCAA,” said CAUT Executive Director David Robinson.

The costs associated with pursuing protection under the CCAA have totaled $54.7 million at a time when Laurentian’s overall debt stood at about $107 million.  

Since the release of the report, Laurentian has emerged from the CCAA insolvency and the two sealed letters between Laurentian and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) were made public. The contents of the letters add more support to the Ontario’s Auditor General findings and show, as highlighted in a recent news release from the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), that Laurentian’s senior administration spent years planning to exploit the CCAA to gut programs and faculty positions at the university. 

“These documents are shocking in the detail they provide about Laurentian’s secret longstanding plans to gut the university by terminating over one-hundred faculty and slashing dozens of programs,” said LUFA President Fabrice Colin. “Further, this correspondence reveals the Ford government knew the university was in financial difficulties and planning cuts at least six months before the CCAA was triggered. This raises serious concerns about why this government did not do more."

Iran’s teachers and students continue to demand justice

As of mid-November, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) in Iran reported that up to 344 protesters have been killed, 445 students have been arrested, and 138 universities have been involved in nation-wide strike actions in protest of the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini by the so-called morality policy.

Amini’s killing in September sparked nationwide protests led by women and girls. Human Rights Watch reported that the regime has been detaining and arresting teachers for their activism even before these recent events.

In late October, the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers' Trade Associations (CCITTA), a union that works for the welfare of educators in the country, called for a nationwide teachers’ strike to mourn the deaths and detention of protestors, many of whom are students.  Daily video posts on HRANA’s social media feed show strikes happening in different universities across the country.

“We know very well that the military, security and private forces are invading the privacy of schools and educational spaces. During this systematic repression, they have cruelly taken the lives of a number of students and children,” the statement from CCITTA said. “Rulers should know that the community of Iranian teachers do not tolerate these atrocities and brutality.” 

Nation-wide strike action taking hold of UK

The University and College Union (UCU) announced a 3-day national strike (on November 24, 25 and 30) to press demands for better pay, working conditions and pensions. The UCU represents over 70,000 university staff at 150 universities across the UK. 

The union is demanding a pay rise in keeping with the cost-of-living crisis and action to end the use of unstable contracts. A third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract, and a recent pay rise of just three per cent this year following a decade of increases that fell below inflation, the union said, is unacceptable to the workers.

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers restore benefits and withdraw cuts made earlier this year that will see the average union member lose 35 per cent from their guaranteed future retirement income.

The UCU noted that the UK university sector generated record income of £41.1bn last year with vice chancellors collectively earning an estimated £45 million.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: “Universities and employers must come to the table and take meaningful action to end these disputes. They have a responsibility to their staff and students to end unacceptable pay disparities for racialized staff, disabled staff, and women, and to protect staff pensions so that they can have a decent retirement. As the workers of the future, students have everything to gain from UCU members winning this fight.”

This is the fifth consecutive year, a union statement mentioned, that government cuts to education and workers' rights have ended in strike action in the UK.

CUPE education workers reached a deal for fairer wages 

In a recent statement on CUPE’s website, CUPE National President Mark Hancock and CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick congratulated Ontario education workers on reaching a tentative agreement after what they described as a difficult round of bargaining with the Province of Ontario and the Council of Trustees’ Association.

CUPE National recommended accepting the tentative agreement despite not being able to achieve, funding for additional much-needed services.

Hancock and Rennick remarked that the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) bargaining committee was able to achieve a breakthrough wage settlement, following over a decade of legislated wage restraint. The statement noted that the “…agreed wage increase of $1 per hour in each year of a four-year collective agreement will result in wage increases of 3.59% on average across your bargaining unit, or roughly 14.4% compounded over four years. For the lowest paid workers in the education sector, the flat rate of $1 per hour, per year amounts to more: 4.2% each year or 16.8% compounded over four years.”

The statement noted that CUPE’s bargaining committee also managed to assure repayment for the two days of protest they undertook because of Bill 28. This recognizes the fact that the workers shouldn’t have had to do this to maintain the already enshrined-Charter bargaining rights they always had.

Earlier this month, CUPE’s 55,000 workers, including support staff, education assistants, early childhood educators, caretakers, and their supporters, joined political rallies across the province to protest the bill that was passed by the Ontario government, imposing a four-year contract on the workers, prohibiting job action, and invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to prevent any legal challenge. CUPE’s education workers provide essential support in schools but earn on average just $39,000 per year.

“We are very proud of what has been achieved here, in one of the toughest rounds of negotiations in the country this year,” the statement from CUPE National President Mark Hancock and National Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick said. Addressing CUPE education workers, they added on behalf of CUPE National: “Your fight for better services in public education will continue in the political and community arena, thanks to the tremendous mobilizing efforts of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU).”

State of the Post-Secondary Academic Profession survey

How do you really feel about your job? CAUT wants to know.

Given the significant changes over the past two years, CAUT wants to better understand academic staff experiences and attitudes towards the job, the workplace, and the post-secondary education sector. The State of the Post-Secondary Academic Profession Survey will help identify current issues and needs of academic staff at universities and colleges.

We would like to hear from associations and their members to help us determine how best to serve the CAUT community.

Please take a few minutes to participate in this anonymous survey. Thank you in advance for your time and input! The deadline for completion is January 16th, 2023.

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