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OPSEU College Support/Soutien. College Support Full-Time.

CAAT Support Report Newsletter – Issue 4 – November 2013

The Support Report cover November 2013
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Message from the Chair

Welcome delegates to our 2013 divisional meeting and pre-bargaining conference. It promises to be a fast and exciting two days.

Since our last meeting in May there has been work done behind the scenes. The CAAT Support divisional executive have been meeting with CAAT Academic to discuss common issues, review our divisional procedures and how they play out, as well as eliminating silos. We have also worked with our OPSEU legal counsel, Eric O’Brien, to recommend changes be made to the supervised vote procedure on a tentative contract. The aim is to reduce the length of time it takes before a final vote can be conducted.

A letter was distributed to locals asking them to organize joint Academic and Support events to show strong solidarity in advance of our next rounds of bargaining in 2014. CAAT A invited me as chair of your division to address their delegation at their pre-bargain conference in October and to deliver greetings and well wishes on your behalf. We have extended the same courtesy for this weekend’s meetings and have invited JP Hornick, chair of CAAT-A, to address our delegation. We need to seize this opportunity to look for common issues and stand on common ground.

The out-going bargaining team has been working hard to develop a strategy that will improve our communication with CAAT-S members. It means getting our information accurate and sending the same message at the same time to the membership. In the last round of bargaining one of the most common observations was about the consistent flow of communication. Communications is a two-way street and new technology like social media will go a long way to enhance the exchange of information. This weekend’s session titled “Reset – Where do we go?” will allow for information to be exchanged among delegates and our new bargaining team will benefit from the ideas and goals brought forward by those in attendance.

Finally I am pleased to announce that CAAT-S now has five new presidents: Local 109 (Fanshawe) Gary Siroen: Local 349 (Georgian) Craig Mackenzie; Local 416 (Algonquin) John Hanson, Local 559 (Centennial) Margaret Rushford Smith, and Local 612 (Sault) Kevin Martin. Welcome aboard!

Florry Foster is chair of the CAAT-S divisional and vice-chair of bargaining in the previous round of negotiations.

Bargaining Crossroad

By Rod Bemister

Bargaining 2014 is coming up. In fact it has already started with the election of a bargaining team, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, planning for a pre-bargaining conference, final demand set and a preliminary look at dates for bargaining in the summer of 2014. We have collectively bargained 21 collective agreements since 1977. Over those 46 years we have gone on strike twice.

Throughout the last year, the previous bargaining team and the divisional executive have received many suggestions on how bargaining should proceed. We have examined what needs to be put into place to get the best contract. The recommendations are based on the experiences during the last round of bargaining and they come from the locals.

Two key points have emerged:

  1. The demands that are on the table need to be truly reflective of what the members want and need.
  2. Communications with members needs to be more timely, readily available and presented with greater transparency.

To address these issues changes need to be made to the processes taken by the bargaining team. How we develop, prioritize and present demands, including how, when and what information is shared with members has to change. Some things will stay the same such as developing demands at the local level but many of the processes need to improve.

Developing demands

Locals will hold their final demand set meetings and submit their demands to the bargaining team. This has always been a fundamental part of the process and will be emphasized even more in the upcoming round of negotiations.

Prioritizing demands

The bargaining team will develop a survey based on the demands submitted from local demand set meetings. This is a change from the past when the survey went out before local demand set meetings. Once local demands are compiled, a survey will be sent to members to rank the importance of the demands received from the locals.

Presenting demands

The bargaining team will make recommendations based on the members’ ranking to the delegates attending the provincial final demand set meeting. The demands that pass at the provincial final demand set meeting will be submitted to the employer for negotiation.

Any actions that need to be taken are based solely on demand-ranking that the bargaining team receives from the membership.

How we communicate

The bargaining team will need to look at a number of different ways to communicate so that everyone is receiving the same message at the same time. New technologies like social media and town hall teleconferencing will help facilitate improved communications.

With the sudden and widespread use of social media the demands and expectations of effective communications is almost immediate. The team will work towards the most immediate communication, with the goal being that members receive the most up to date information as soon as possible.

Our goal must be to communicate accurately so that our members know what is happening, when it is happening, and why developments are happening.

What has changed in recent years?

From a union standpoint bargaining has essentially remained the same for almost 50 years with one act following the next: formulating demands, local demand setting, exchanging proposals and then performing “the bargaining dance.” How we achieve our contracts has remained fairly similar over many years even with advances in technology. We haven’t changed our processes. We’ve just made them easier and faster.

The colleges have changed drastically

For more than 20 years we have seen a shift in how the colleges operate. There has been a deliberate effort to adopt a business model approach rather than an educational one. This shift has led colleges to make decisions based on their bottom line rather than the needs of students. One example of this is that colleges have moved from providing in-house services to contracting out services because it is cheaper and they don’t have to manage employees. Often the quality of services provided to students doesn’t enter into the conversation.

This shift also affected how the colleges’ bargained during the last round of negotiations. They refused to bargain until the very last moment. Even then, college negotiators wanted to speak only to items they had put on the table and not to address any of your demands.

This round of negotiations we can anticipate more of the same. The employer has been given a mandate to “hold the line” by the government and may introduce a number of rollbacks on what we currently have in our collective agreement. This has been the pattern for most of the bargaining in the broader public sector over the last two to three years. We need only look at the LCBO negotiations earlier this year where the government was pushing items like a four-year wage freeze, cuts to benefits, and creating separate wage categories for new employees. Regrettably, the days when governments actually tabled contract improvements seem to be over.

Unions everywhere are in a tough fight!

Unions have traditionally taken the lead on issues like employment equity, pay equity, sexual harassment in the workplace, and health and safety. These were large issues that members could rally around as they affected our work greatly. At the same time unions also had to fend off attacks on members and member rights. This was particularly evident in the 1980s with wage restraint measures and in the 1990s with cutbacks taken by the Mike Harris government. During the 2000s the larger battles, like equity issues, appeared to have been won. The big fights seemed behind us and for a time there was relative peace in labour-management relations.

We now find ourselves in a far different position. Instead of leading the charge on issues, we are defending what we have gained. We face attacks from governments at all levels which insist unionized workers are “fat cats” with pay and working conditions far greater than should be tolerated. We all know that we are not the fat cats. We must never surrender the gains achieved by those who bargained on our behalf over many successive rounds of tough contract negotiations.

To avoid that we need to make changes so that members are connected with the bargaining process and so that they get involved.

For us to be successful CAAT Support members need to maintain their support of the elected bargaining team. We need to adopt improved processes so that members are more connected, get more involved, and are informed with up to date and accurate information from negotiating table.

Bargaining will start soon. Keep watch on the OPSEU website as your new team will be elected on Nov. 30, 2013. They will put the processes in place but they need you to tell them what will be important in your next contract. Keep Connected. Keep Informed. Keep your Rights!

Rod Bemister is a steward in Local 561 at Seneca College. His is a former chair of the bargaining team and a member of the EERC and divisional executive for CAAT Support

Part-time and contract staff to get immediate access to CAAT pension starting 2014

By Marilou Martin

Next year college employees who work part-time or on contract will be able to join the CAAT pension plan anytime. On Jan.1, 2014, a rule will be eliminated that currently requires those on contract or who work other than regular full-time hours to complete 24 months of continuous service with the colleges before they can join the pension plan.

This will also apply to those members who are currently in an Initiatives/Opportunities position (I/O). In many colleges, although I/Os were given full salary and benefits, they have been excluded from joining the pension plan because of the temporary nature of the work. As of Jan. 1, 2014, any one in an I/O position can join the plan and have their pension contributions matched by the college.

The plan will send notices to eligible employees

College workers who are not yet a member of the CAAT pension plan will receive a letter directly from the plan later this fall informing them of their right to enroll as of Jan. 1, 2014. Those hired or renewing a contract after Jan. 1, 2014 will be informed of their immediate eligibility at the point they receive their employment contract and will also receive a follow-up notice from the pension plan.

Joining is an individual decision

As good as the CAAT pension plan is, joining it may not be the right decision for everyone who works part time or on contract.

When the plan governors made the decision that those who work on contract or other than regular, full time hours would be immediately eligible to enroll it was understood that membership in the plan might still not be in the best interest for some, particularly those who will not stay in the college system for long. That’s why enrolment continues to be optional for part time and contract employees rather than automatic.

Plan will help employees to make an informed decision

Whether or not joining makes sense for part-time and contract employees depends on several factors such as the number of hours they work and how long they expect to work in the college system. These factors affect the amount of pension that will be earned in return for the tax-deductible contributions made each pay. It’s an important decision. To help each employee make the decision that’s best for their personal situation, the plan will provide them with information and tools on their website. Employees will be able to estimate the pension they could build and the tax-deductible contributions they would pay. Plan staff will also answer questions by phone.

If a part-time or contract employee decides not to join right away the option to enroll anytime remains open to them for as long as they remain employed in the college system. They should consider that their pension will build from the point they enroll going forward though options exist to “buy back” prior service, as explained on the plan’s website. The sooner they enroll, the sooner they start building pension benefits. Another key reason to determine whether joining the plan is the right decision is that, once enrolled, the employee remains a member of the pension plan and continues to make tax-deductible contributions for as long as they work at any college or other CAAT plan employer.

Again, the decision is an individual one. Part-time employees and contract workers should take care to make the right decision for them by reading the information they receive from the plan, visiting the plan’s website, and calling the pension specialists at the plan if they have questions.

Opening the CAAT pension plan to all college employees without a waiting period will help many get an earlier start on building an important part of their retirement income.

If you know of any part time or temporary workers who may not know this information, please direct them to the CAAT pension plan who will assist them.

Marilou Martin, president of Local 557 at George Brown College, is vice chair of the sponsor’s committee at the CAAT pension plan and a member of the CAAT Support divisional executive.

Shaking off the part-time blues

By Tracy MacMaster

We’ve all heard in the news that part-time, precarious employment is growing. Every day at the colleges we work side by side with part-time employees whose jobs are the same as ours but with working conditions that are dramatically different. Part-time workers in the colleges do many different jobs; some are long-time support staff, some are teachers and some are student workers. All have one thing in common: they all work without many of the standard protections Ontarians enjoy.

College employees are exempted from major portions of the Employment Standards Act that provide the most basic protections for workers in Ontario. Work breaks, statutory pay for holidays, overtime, a minimum wage, all of these rights are enjoyed by part-time and full-time workers in virtually every other sector in Ontario, from CEO’s to fast food workers. College workers are one of the very few exceptions to the rule.

We gain minimum rights and much, much more through our collective agreement – decent wages, benefits, fair use of overtime, a transparent process that preserves jobs in times of lay-off – all won through successive years of collective bargaining. Without a union, part-time workers simply do without the rights that every other worker in the college enjoys.

In a workplace where unprotected workers have little access to fair wages and working conditions, everyone is more vulnerable. Even the limited rights part-timers have under the law are hard to access, because just one person fighting back against the boss is an uneven fight. Without the ability to negotiate a collective agreement that sets clear rules, part-time college workers are perpetual contract workers, often signing their contract the first day of each semester.

Every year part-time numbers grow. In the past 15 years part-time workers have increased by more than 30 per cent while the number of full-time staff have remained largely the same. Part-time support staff now out number full-time by a ratio of two-to-one across the province. The more vulnerable part-time workers are, the more difficult it is for us to gain ground in collective bargaining. In the interest of fairness for both part-time and full-time workers, things need to change.

In 2008, OPSEU staff and activists ran the largest union certification drive in Ontario history to gain part-time workers better rights. Thousands of part-time support staff and sessional teachers cast ballots. After four years of lawyers, hearings and barriers thrown up by the colleges, the ballots cast by part-time workers were unopened and then destroyed. A lot of hope and energy had been invested in the unionization drive, and we learned ways to reach people that work part time.

If ever there is a time to begin again, it’s now. Precarious, part-time work is growing across the province. If we want to preserve good jobs in the future for ourselves, our kids and for the students we serve every day, each of us need to reach out to part-time workers to include them in our union. We are the eyes and ears in the colleges and together we can make the colleges a better place to work and learn.

Tracy MacMaster is a steward in Local 561 at Seneca College, a member of the provincial joint classification committee and president of the Greater Toronto Area Council (GTAC) of OPSEU.

Pension plan may grow to include some universities

Over the past year, the CAAT pension plan has been in discussions with two interested universities about possibly joining the plan. During these discussions, now in the proposal phase, the plan has been guided by three fundamental principles that have not changed since the talks began:

  1. Growth must be in the best interest of the plan members. The current or projected financial health of the CAAT plan cannot be harmed as a result of a merger with a university pension plan.
  2. The CAAT plan will not assume any university’s pension deficit.
  3. Colleges and members who work at colleges will retain at least 50 per cent of the governance roles, regardless of how many universities eventually join.

Growth would benefit CAAT plan members

Expanding the plan’s membership within the postsecondary sector offers benefits to existing members and employers. More members improves the likelihood that the three per cent stability contributions currently paid by members and matched by employers, in addition to the basic rates of 8.2 per cent and 11.2 per cent of earnings up to and above the YMPE, will be reduced sooner. Universities are a natural fit for the CAAT plan. University and college employees have a similar demographic and therefore risk profile that determines funding assumptions and investment strategy. Adding universities would also provide members with easier portability within the post-secondary sector.

CAAT pension plan has much to offer universities

The CAAT plan has demonstrated strong and consistent performance on investments. Last year the fund earned an 11.8 per cent rate of return (before expenses) and since the market crisis of 2008, it has averaged 11.3 per cent per year.

The plan has $6.3 billion in assets and is in the enviable position of being 103 per cent funded on a going-concern basis, with a $347 million reserve.

Universities that join the CAAT pension plan would also benefit from the plan’s exemption from solvency funding that it qualifies for as a jointly sponsored plan, as well as the efficiencies that flow from its dedicated expertise in pension administration and communication.

Joint sponsorship continues

The CAAT pension plan is jointly sponsored by employees and employers, who together share the responsibility for plan surpluses and deficits. OPSEU and OCASA appoint member representatives to the plan’s governing bodies, while Colleges Ontario appoints employer representatives. This joint sponsorship will continue if universities join the plan, with some adjustments to reflect a broader membership. University employers and employees will have a voice in plan governance, in a way that is respectful of the existing, strong governance model.

The CAAT plan would offer up to 50 per cent representation from the university sector on the board of trustees and sponsors’ committee. The number of representatives would depend on the amount of assets and liabilities being transferred. The more universities that join the more seats the university sector will have on the two governing bodies, to a limit of half the seats.

Benefits remain independent from labour negotiations

The plan benefits and contribution rates will continue to remain independent from labour negotiations. For some university plans this move to joint governance represents a change, but it is the foundation of all decisions in the CAAT plan.

The importance of being engaged

By Rasho Donchev

Why do people get engaged? Is it the desire to show their interest or is it because they are unsettled and need something to hold on to. I believe that each circumstance is deeply personal and there are as many reasons as there are people.

What does engagement mean? As you may have guessed I am not writing about betrothal or military action but more about that other type of engagement that drives us to stand up and fight for what we believe is right.

We often say that we need to engage our members, students and even the public. We feel that the unions can do more to engage the members. I don’t believe that “the union” needs to be doing anything. “The union” is no more or no less than a bunch of people associated by common interests. Similarily, it is important to examine what common interests we share. When it comes to common things they are as diverse as the people on the planet. What is common for me and another 100 people may not be common at all for the rest.

So now that we have established that “the union” is me and you and all of us at the same time and that our common interests are not so common at all, let’s start talking about what the other side does to engage the public. They use associations, think tanks and lobby groups to engage the public. They too are brought together by common interest. This time their common interest, as well as messaging, is quite simple: “Unions: BAD, No Unions: GOOD”.

They are so effective that it saddens me to say there are some of us that are adopting their way. If we have failed anywhere it is the failure to relate to what we have, what others want to have and what the other side wants us to give up. The theme that is prevalent, in their messaging, is that no one deserves a good paying and safe job, except the select few that are reaping the fruits of our work.

The days when we went out and described what we want, as an engagement tool, are long gone. Our membership is changing faster and faster. What we need to do is to educate each other about what is important in our collective agreement. Whether it is our benefits, job security or vacation entitlements, each of us can find something that is precious and something that we are willing to fight for, if necessary. If we succeed in that small task, then together we will have a “common front.” A common front that we can all rally around and call ourselves a union.

Rasho Donchev is a steward in Local 559. He is former member of the bargaining team, vice- chair EERC, and a member of the CAAT Support divisional executive.

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