Paul Reniers, FSA Executive Director and Chief Negotiator.
Although some very important elements are missing, the tentative agreement between the FSA and BCIT represents a significant achievement for the union.
The very sparse bargaining mandate imposed by the provincial government has resulted in very thin settlements across the public sector. From the outset, the FSA Bargaining Team stayed focused on the needs of our members and the Institute. We were determined to meet those needs as well as we could within that mandate. We accomplished much more than most other public sector unions.
Key to that success was a decision made several years ago to significantly reduce the number of agreements we made with BCIT outside of bargaining. Traditionally, the FSA has been uncompromising in collective bargaining and very ready to compromise outside of bargaining. Some years, these memorandums or MemAgs numbered into the hundreds. In many cases, MemAgs represented agreements to compromise or waive rights under the collective agreement to facilitate the work of BCIT. In most cases, the FSA and its members received little, if anything, in return for giving up these rights.
As the provincial government has exercised more control over bargaining, BCIT has been increasingly unable to respond in kind to the flexibility traditionally shown by the FSA. Beginning with the round of bargaining initiated in 2010, the FSA changed the game. We stopped giving up rights when BCIT had nothing to give in return. Under the provincial mandate, the only place we could get a fair exchange for our rights was in collective bargaining.
The FSA’s strategy has been disruptive. Most notably, while the FSA had traditionally been very flexible around hours of work, we refused to compromise when BCIT offered nothing in return. As the needs of our programs and our members have evolved, the inability to get agreements based on a fair exchange has been frustrating.
The payoff for that frustration can be seen in the bargaining settlement. Because we insisted that our rights were worth something, we were able to get something in exchange. On hours of work, we got more flexibility for departments to schedule their programs and to accommodate members who require early starts or late finishes to their days. We also maintained the right of members to refuse work outside of the normal hours from 8:30am to 5:30pm, Monday to Friday. It’s a concession on the face of the agreement. It also meets the need for more flexibility identified by many members.
The changes to leave without pay tell a similar story. The FSA has doggedly defended the right of members to take up to six years of combined leave without pay while maintaining employment at BCIT. We know that such long leaves were sometimes disruptive to departments. We also repeatedly argued with management over the ability of our members to take less disruptive partial leaves without pay for longer periods of time. In agreeing to limit any single absence due to leave without pay to three years, we are better meeting the needs of departments while still providing for good opportunities for individual members. And we prevailed on the issue of prorating part-time leaves. It’s another agreement that came about because we stood strong on our rights and forced the issue outside of bargaining. It’s another example of better meeting the needs of members while making what appears to be a concession.
By taking a long view of issues when they arose outside of bargaining, we had more leverage in this round than other public sector unions. By putting more issues in play and by being able to make more compromises as a result of that strategy, we were able to get more in return. Our long standing demand for a definition of Academic Freedom was finally met, with BCIT agreeing to the language found most commonly in other agreements in our sector. Our long standing demand for maternity and parental leave top-up (the Supplemental Employment Benefit or SEB) was finally met, although we also made it clear that the minimal level of support being offered to new parents is inadequate and must be improved upon. The irritant of the ‘non-teaching faculty’ moniker has finally been put to rest for our Librarians, Counsellors, Research Project Leaders, Student Services Co-ordinators, and others.
Despite those efforts, there are some significant pieces missing in this settlement. BCIT declined to even engage with our proposals for improvements for Part-Time Studies Instructors and Administrators. On the other hand, a tremendous amount of time was spent discussing issues relating to research only to have that progress quashed when the provincial government refused to authorize BCIT to conclude agreements in that area. These two areas where the terms and conditions of employment are really inadequate will remain unchanged as a result of this settlement. The FSA will pursue other avenues to improve the situations of those members.
Even without changes in those important areas, this settlement is significantly more substantive than almost any other deal subject to the current provincial mandate. We got the same wage package as every other public sector union and we got improvements to Extended Health Benefits on par with those achieved at other tables. Importantly, this settlement shows that, by taking the long view, we can negotiate better deals for members at bargaining than we can get by compromising whenever immediate needs arise. As needs arise in the future, we’ll remind the employer of that and try to get meaningful exchanges sooner rather than later.
For these reasons, the FSA Bargaining Team recommends ratification of the collective bargaining settlement. An annotated version of the settlement document is available for members by logging in to the members-only portion of the website.