Monday, November 24, 2008

CUPE's actions are worth your attention

Coordinated bargaining is not an abstract issue between a union and its employer. It could have a profound impact on universities in Ontario, and all university community members -- faculty, staff, administrators, and especially students -- should be paying attention.

This blog maintains a position of cautious opposition to CUPE's efforts: cautious, because postsecondary education is underfunded, and needs greater attention from government; but opposition, because CUPE's unilateral and heavy-handed actions are likely to cause far more damage than improvement.

My views on coordinated bargaining will be expanded in future posts.


Anonymous said...

I'm a 3903 member and I have to admit this makes me uneasy, too.

I appreciate the principles that underlay the 2010 plan, and I understand that graduate students have negligible ability to lobby the Province outside of organized labour.

But, I wish CUPE could think differently about lobbying strategy. Surely, there must be a better way to leverage organized labour for this purpose than to use collective bargaining with individual employers as a vector for lobbying.

Anonymous said...

... having said that, I want to be clear that 3903 members at large do not see this 2010 thing as a priority, although achieving a two-year contract is a priority (for other, less conspiratorial reasons).

Anonymous said...

... me again. I must admit I never really looked at that 2010 co-ordinated bargaining planning document.

Now that I have, my concerns have dissolved. There doesn't seem to be anything sinister about this. The plan does not seem to be about pressuring the Province at all.

It seems to be about raising awareness of the problems of graduate student funding and about an effort to regularize TA compensation in Ontario. That's pretty banal -- normal union stuff. Definitely not an evil conspiracy. There's nothing alarming in this (public) document.

CUPE Watch 2010 said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree that the CUPE document is rather dry, isn't incriminating in any sinister sense. However, if read carefully, it indicates a couple of things.

First, the intent is to negotiate directly with the province:
- Page 1, "What are the most important gains we can achieve through coordination? Greater political clout ... a way to win provincial funding and better accountability ..."
- Page 4, comments by Sid Ryan: "A CUPE school board bargaining team is currently in central talks with the Ontario government on major issues of concern for school board workers. 'It shows it can be done,' he said. 'And it all started when the Ontario government saw that at least 60 collective agreements in the sector were going to expire on the same date.'"

Second, that a provincial strike is explicitly part of the plan:
- Page 5: "Implementation: All local unions in a strike position at the same time by negotiating the same expiry date"
- Appendix C, Page 1: "Top 3 Priorities ... Plan: Coordinated Strike Position ... File no boards on common date" (A "no-board" is one of the last steps towards a legal strike date.)

I'm also concerned about statements made by union executives in the media: "The government has to start to think about ways of doing things differently," [CUPE treasurer Fred Hahn] said. "The provincial government has a great role to play in developing efficiencies and saving resources."

The above quote was (distantly) in the context of saving money through coordinated bargaining, rather than through individual bargaining. However, it was also in the context of getting the province to the negotiating table, and in that context it's a rather bold and alarming comment (i.e., what efficiencies will the province be invited to find? Will it impact on research, curriculum, tuition, student life, etc.?).

I don't envision CUPE executives in smoke-filled back rooms, rubbing their hands with glee as they contemplate a massive power grab. However, there's more than enough to be concerned about here. If CUPE actually gets an audience with the province (even assuming that's a good idea), ALL stakeholders should be represented -- not just graduate students. I'll be posting more abut that in the coming days.