by Travis Fauteux
The Lance – News Editor
With only one month until fall classes begin, it is becoming clear that what had originally promised to be a relatively steady bargaining process is quietly becoming a lengthy confrontation between administration and faculty.
Nearly one week ago, the Windsor University Faculty Association (WUFA) sent a message to administration, voting 99.5 per cent in favour of holding a strike vote on August 14 after administration imposed the new terms and conditions that had been previously rejected by the association. WUFA president Anne Forrest said the administration’s decision has provoked a strong response from many members who may not have initially objected to previous contract proposals.
“Even if these were terrific terms and conditions of employment, having them imposed upon us is unacceptable,” said Forrest. “It’s the act of imposition that has become the focal point of our organizing now.”
Forrest said that a major reason for WUFA’s stern response is to deny administration the opportunity to set a precedent whereby contracts are no longer seriously negotiated between both parties.
“Who wouldn’t negotiate with us in the future if all they have to do [now] is come to the table and say, ‘We don’t like what you’re saying, so here: we’re imposing our conditions of employment whether you like them or whether you don’t,” said Forrest. “Next time around, why wouldn’t they do the same thing? We’re really protecting our right to participate in this process.”
University president Alan Wildeman said he remains hopeful that a collective agreement can be reached before classes begin.
“[WUFA] can do as they wish,” said Wildeman. “My objective all along has been to do what we can to try to get a new collective agreement in place and we certainly remain hopeful that we will be able to do that, but they certainly are in their right to take a strike vote.”
Wildeman said the imposition of the new terms “is not meant in any way to be disrespectful of the great faculty on campus,” and hopes they “emerge from this with a really great collective agreement that helps everybody go forward.”
The imposed terms were proposed as a “final offer” by administration on July 15, but when the association rejected the offer, administration refused “to bargain with itself in the face of WUFA’s unrealistic monetary expectations,” according to a message sent out by Wildeman on July 24, while denying that they walked away from the bargaining table.
Wildeman has called the offer “the culmination of a hope that everyone at the University of Windsor can moderate their expectations for a two-year period, in recognition of our fiscal realities.”
However, Forrest remains suspicious at the mention of these “fiscal realities” as multi-million dollar construction and renovation projects continue to transform the university campus.
Millions of dollars have been spent in the years since WUFA’s last contract was signed in 2011 on a number of projects including the $5-million conversion of Sunset Ave. to pedestrian use (ongoing), the construction of an $8-million Welcome Centre (ongoing), and the construction of the $25-million Innovation Centre and parking structure, and the $112 million Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.
Forrest said that WUFA negotiators have combed through the university’s audited financial statements say that not all the money available for teaching and research purposes has been spent on teaching, researching, and learning, but has instead built up a surplus.
“That surplus…Somehow it gets transformed, we suspect, into money that is being used for construction projects or the purchase of property,” said Forrest. That being said, she said the association is not against construction projects, but wishes the building program were not “as aggressive as it is.”
Wildeman said that the operating budget is not being used to fund new construction projects.
“It is very important that the WUFA bargaining team understand the fiscal realities of the university and one of those fiscal realities is that we are not taking a bunch of money out of the operating budget to build our buildings,” said Wildeman. “That is simply not true.”
While he stated that the July 15 proposal was a “final offer,” Wildeman said in a letter on July 24 that administration will “remain committed to working toward a timely resolution for our students.”
Both sides insist they are ready to get back to the table, although no future meetings have been scheduled. The previous collective bargaining agreement expired June 30.
The faculty association’s last strike took place in 2008 lasted more than two weeks. WUFA represents 1100 regular and contract academic staff at the University of Windsor.