CUPFA Still Without a Collective Agreement

Negotiations Ongoing for Part-Time Faculty

  • Patrice Blais is CUPFA’s Vice-President Collective Agreement and Grievance. Photo Willie Wilson

The Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA) has been without a collective agreement for 144 days, according to a clock counting up the minutes on its website Tuesday morning.

The union’s last agreement, which expired on April 30—and was only officially signed on March 17—has not yet been replaced with another contract, despite negotiations being held three times per month since the end of August.

“We’re trying to get things moving,” said Patrice Blais, Vice President of Collective Agreement and Grievance at CUPFA in an interview with The Link.

After the collective agreement expired at the end of August 2012, negotiations started right away for the 2012-2015 agreement. According to Blais, the approach towards labour was not proactive because there was a lack of academics on the negotiating team, as well as an aggressive attitude towards negotiation from both sides.

A change of tone in the negotiations was necessary to move forward, he said. “People were not in solution mode.”

The negotiations of the 2012-2015 collective agreement only made headway in the fall of 2014, when CUPFA had to make a decision to finalize negotiations up until that point. Their most recent agreement was reached in principle on Sept. 28, 2014, according to a statement released by the university.

Regardless of the fact that Concordia’s administration wanted to make a longer deal, the CUPFA negotiating team did not want to agree to anything past the fiscal year of 2015. This ended with a retroactive three-year agreement that was finalized just a month before its expiration.
Blais called this an “interim agreement.”

“The university has very little money to bring to the table,” Blais acknowledged. “It’s about getting part-time faculty more involved in research, by having them more active on committees and university bodies—also understanding that the university will have limits on how much money they want to bring to the table.

“What we want to get is work, respect and recognition. Those are the priorities of our negotiations.”

“What we want to get is work, respect and recognition. Those are the priorities of our negotiations,” said Patrice Blais.

Currently, part-time faculty members make $7,865 per three-credit course, plus an eight per cent vacation pay—a pay rate that is generalized to all part-time faculty, regardless of discipline or seniority. The university may assign courses to the same professor multiple years in a row to lessen their class preparation workload, but this is not always possible.

Budget cuts in education and the public sector from the provincial government have made the current negotiations arduous. Concordia has lost $30 million since December 2012, according to its former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Kelly. Part-time faculty members have been the hardest hit by these cuts, suffering a seven per cent decrease in the number of courses taught in the past year, which represents about sixty jobs lost, Blais said. “Our members are worried about this. They’re the victims of the academic cuts being made,” he said.

With no suggestion that student enrolment at Concordia is decreasing, some classes will be canceled and fewer sections will be offered in existing courses—with a higher reliance on online courses.

“These are not good times when you’re cutting left, right and centre. Our slogan is that ‘Our working conditions are your learning conditions,’ which is the message that we like to send to our students,” said Blais.

The effects of this are unknown for the moment but the most concrete results of this are class overcrowding as well as a drop in the quality of how a class can feasibly be taught.

“If courses are cancelled, students suffer,” stated Ted Stathopoulos, President of the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA), which represents full-time faculty.

The situation is worse in certain departments than others, according to Blais. The department of economics decided to completely cut out part-time faculty in favour of hiring limited-term appointments (LTAs), which are lecturers who teach seven courses per year on contract for replacements or temporary positions. LTAs may get rehired year after year, replacing part-time faculty.

According to Blais, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been the hardest hit by budget cuts, with the department of sociology and anthropology’s course offers declining the most rapidly from 58 postings in the 2013-2014 academic year to 22 in 2014-2015. Statistics for the current academic year are not yet available.

“We’re going strongly after some minimum amount of work that can be given to part-time faculty,” said Blais. “We need some kind of guarantee by the university because we cannot tolerate that the situation get any worse.”

Blais could not comment publicly on the negotiations concerning monetary clauses or salary demands, because they have yet to be tabled.

CUFA, which represents full-time faculty at Concordia, had their collective agreement for 2015-2018 approved by the Board of Directors on Sept. 16, ending the shortest negotiations Stathopoulos has seen in his 30-year career at Concordia, lasting only eight months. “The norm used to be one or two years,” he said.

CUFA members voted for the agreement with a 94 per cent majority, which Stathopoulos said he satisfied with. He mentioned that only certain sections of the agreement were opened during negotiations in order to make talks more efficient and come to an agreement earlier.

Amendments to the agreement include a $400 professional development allowance for LTAs, a pay scale increase based on past year’s inflation rates, as well as step increase in compensation to LTAs who teach upwards of four different classes per year.

Stathopoulos attributes this effectiveness to a “more academic” negotiating team and to Concordia President Alan Shepard’s administration, which he said has changed the course of negotiations for the better.

“[With the previous administration] the answer to our questions used to be ‘We don’t have to tell you,’” he said. “This time we didn’t have that attitude, they were very cooperative.

“I want to be optimistic that what worked for us will work for [CUPFA],” Stathopoulos continued. “Things are going in the right direction. The culture [of the previous administration] was negative and I think it takes a long time to fix that.”

Both faculty associations are awaiting pension reform negotiations.

Concordia’s spokesperson Chris Mota stated the university couldn’t comment on bargaining agreements that are ongoing, but said that they “enter all bargaining in good faith.”

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