Sector 9-Universities: Spring Newsletter, 2015

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‘Differentiation’. What it means for Ontario universities

By Dave A. Vadnais
Chief Steward. Local 608

Ontario’s university sector is a highly-regulated, publicly-funded system that is available to anybody with a sufficient grade point average.

The institutions within the system are wholly autonomous entities which design and administer their own curricula and grant degrees, while being wholly dependent on government grants and tuition fees for their operating funding.

Higher education is increasingly seen as a means to obtain a better, higher paying job. So university enrolments have steadily increased over the past few decades. Coupled with government unwillingness to fully fund this increased demand for a university degree, this has lead the government to explore ways and means to alleviate the financial strain on the university sector.

Universities over recent decades have tended to become more complex organizationally, with a stronger focus on research, so to a large extent, they are offering the same programs across the sector. This trend is driven by government incentives that reward universities that become bigger with a strong research focus and ignore institutions that focus on other areas of expertise, such as teaching, arts programs, etc. 

The resulting system is increasingly expensive for the government (and taxpayers) to operate and fund.  To control costs, the government has embarked on a process known as “differentiation,” outlined in its differentiation policy framework released in 2013. It is designed to decrease the per-student costs of obtaining a degree. 

The first stage in the process required each university to produce and present to the government a ‘strategic mandate agreement’, outlining its ten unique program strengths and suggesting which five they would like to expand.  These ’agreements’ are designed to limit program overlap in the post-secondary system and allow the government to get more for the tax dollars invested in university education.  Funding will be allocated to universities based only on these program strengths.  This will force the universities to look at program realignment and will likely result in changes to program areas offered to students. 

The government hopes this will produce a university landscape dotted by pockets of excellence in different areas of specialization, i.e. research, regional interests, teaching, arts, etc. Funding will likely be based more on performance than on the current  student enrolment. 

With this change, to succeed a university will need to be good at delivering a quality program that the government has identified as being within the strategic mandate agreement and also an area of study that would attract students.  If a university doesn’t, it will lose program funding.  Universities will have to self-regulate and only deliver programs that fit within the strategic mandate agreement. 

It is going to get harder balancing budgets in future. Changing demographics mean fewer university-aged students will seek admission, and the funding changes will compound the crunch.

Competition between universities for a share of the shrinking student population will increase, in turn forcing universities to become more creative in attracting students and delivering programs that students want. 

To paraphrase an old Chinese curse, the Ontario university system is living through interesting times. 

Nipissing layoffs a direct result of government under-funding

Blame for a spate of recent layoffs at Nipissing University lies directly at the feet of the Wynne government. 

The government hit Nipissing University, where OPSEU Local 608 represents about 200 faculty and support staff, with a triple whammy with regard to funding. 

First, the government decreased the basic income unit per education student from 1.5 per student to 1.0 per student, a 33 per cent funding cut for the education program (one of Nipissing University’s largest income sources). 

Second, the government greatly decreased the number of seats in the education program. 

Finally the government changed the education program from a one year program to a two year program and then limited the student intake to 50 per cent of total slots. This means in the first year of the new program, the income from the education program is around a third of what it was. 

In addition, the funding per student is lower than what is available to other Northern universities.  All of this financial pressure has resulted in a deficit of $12 million that in turn has cost a total of 54 administrators, faculty and support staff their livelihoods at Nipissing University.

OPSEU Local 404 – Formation of a new Local

On March 15th, 2013 the Special Constables, Communication Operators, and Security Guards at Carleton University in the Department of University Safety (DUS), received unwelcome news.  The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that these workers could not join CUPE, citing a conflict of interest under 14(5)2 of the Act.  This decision had been nearly three years in the making and the ruling dealt a  demoralizing blow to the staff who wanted nothing more than to play a role in ensuring a better and fairer work environment.  With no chance of joining CUPE, who represents many of the Carleton Staff groups, the OPSEU Universities Sector reached out to the members of DUS and offered to meet, and would do so on May 16th.  Just days later OPSEU sent notice to DUS Management that they intended to hold a certification vote, and on May 29th, 2013 97% of the DUS staff voted to join OPSEU.

In search of a first contract, the newly formed Local 404 quickly moved to elect an LEC and Bargaining Team in June of 2013.  By July, the Bargaining Team had begun meeting and with the help of the Universities Sector and their affiliated Locals, Local 404 was able to quickly layout the goals for their first collective agreement. 

The work environment was challenging as the new Union Local pushed to play a role in creating change.  Never was this more evident than at the bargaining table where both sides met briefly on October 4th, 2013.  After several short unproductive meetings, Local 404 filed for conciliation on January 14th, 2014.  In February the Local began holding info pickets and took a strike vote that achieved an incredible 97% support.  Still,

little to no movement in negotiations were made and by the end of the month Local 404 notified Carleton University that they had asked for a No Board and planned to strike March 10th a minute after midnight.  On March 29th, 2014, just slightly more than a year after having received the news that there would be no Union, and 3 weeks on the picket line, Local 404 now had a Tentative Agreement.  A day later 66% of the membership voted in favour of an agreement that saw the first wage increases in several years for the members, in addition to language that will set the table for future rounds of bargaining.

Local 404 quickly learned that getting a Collective Agreement was only the first step.  Since returning to work on April 1st, 2014 the Local has been active in enforcing their new agreement.  The members and the Union have filed 27 grievances against the Employer, in a workplace of 50 members.  16 of those grievances are currently heading to arbitration as of the end of 2014.  The other 11 grievances have either been withdrawn or a Memorandum of Settlement (MOS) has been signed by both the Union and the Employer.

Local 404 members have become active members in OPSEU outside of their Local, attending Educationals, Conferences, Conventions, and participating in organizing activities around the Province in coordination with the Universities Sector.

Local 596 Ryerson University

A four-year collective agreement for about 1,400 members of Ryerson University support staff provides a 6.5 per cent wage increase, with 1.5 per cent in each of the first two years and 1.75 per cent in each of the second two years. The contract runs to June 30, 2018.

On the job security front, the contract will see 53 positions in food services move from term contracts to partial-year career employees after five years’ service, with access to the Ryerson pension plan. Another 25 positions will be converted from term to full-time career employees.  In case of redundancy, full-time career employees will be allowed to accept vacant term contract positions, reducing the likelihood of bumping. The union will get more notice of university reorganization and a greater opportunity for input.

Staff development funds increase to $50,000 from $20,000.

Among benefit changes, the drug card dispensing fee is capped at $9; psychological services are raised to $3,500 from $200; smoking cessation medications are covered; and there is a new cap on dental coverage at $3,500.

The contract changes three days of “family leave” to “personal leave” and adds a possible option of two additional days. Primary caregiver leave balances adoptive parents with birth parents and provides gender-neutral language. Medical leave language is also improved.

Members with claims under WSIB will receive full pay (up from 85 per cent) while awaiting determination of the claims.

Grievors will have the option of mediation while awaiting arbitration of their grievances. Letters of counsel will be removed from a member’s file after two years, rather than remaining part of the permanent record.

A number of union security measures will give the union information on who is working where at the university, including non-OPSEU workers. The union will also have access to all members’ job descriptions, and there is a letter of intent to develop a new job evaluation process.

Local 596 at the Palin Foundation

A three-year agreement running to August 31, 2017 provides increases totalling five per cent for about 110 members who work for the foundation at Oakham House, the student centre associated with Ryerson.

The increases are 1.5 per cent in each of the first two years and two per cent in the third.

Benefit gains increased massage coverage to $500 a year, orthopedic supplies to $400 annually and vision care to $300 every two years. Dental coverage goes to $1,500 at 100 per cent annually. Members will receive additional bereavement leave, if they have to travel more than 250 km.

Part-time workers will receive six per cent vacation pay after three years, and full-timers will get five weeks of vacation after 15 years.

There is improved language on violence in the workplace, and a new letter of understanding means that Palin members will be paid if the university closes for severe weather or for other reasons.

OPSEU Convention 2015

Be sure to visit the OPSEU Sector 9 Universities table at Convention 2015! Come and introduce yourself and hear about everything our Sector is doing.

OPSEU Sector 9 includes members at the following universities and post-secondary contractors:

  • Association of Canadian Community Colleges – Ottawa – L.446
  • Carleton University – Ottawa – L.404
  • Fleming College – Peterborough – L.351
  • George Brown College – Toronto – L.557
  • Guelph University – Guelph – L.231
  • Huron University College – London – L.144
  • Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences – Toronto – L.572
  • Mohawk College – Hamilton – L.281
  • Nipissing University – North Bay – L.608
  • Northern Ontario School of Medicine – Thunder Bay + Sudbury – L.677
  • Ontario College of Art and Design – Toronto – L.576
  • Ontario College of Trades – Toronto – L.503
  • Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – Toronto – L.578
  • Ontario Science Centre – Toronto – L.549
  • Palin Foundation (Oakham House) – Toronto – L.596
  • Ryerson Polytechnic University – Toronto – L.596
  • St. Clair College – Windsor and Chatham Kent – L.137
  • St. Lawrence College – Kingston – L.497
  • Trent University – Peterborough – L.365
  • University of Toronto – Toronto –L.519
  • Western University – London – L.102
  • York University – Toronto – L.578

Now available at www.OPSEUshop.com

  • Find your OPSEU Universities gear (t-shirts, golf shirts, hats, etc)
  • Order an OPSEU Universities flag for your next rally
  • Order a customized banner for your Local

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Publication Date: 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 2:30pm