AUNBT president Miriam Jones said the tentative agreement between the professors’ union and the university is a win for the profs.
Thursday afternoon both sides reached an agreement which would give the professors a 2.5 per cent salary increase per year for the next two years, while any increase in the third year will be determined through arbitration.
But Jones said the victory isn’t in the numbers, it’s in the language of the new agreement.
“The thing we’re really happy about is we have the acknowledgement of the importance of us being comparable,” Jones said. “What’s really important is we’ve got acknowledgement that we’re behind [in our pay with comparable universities] and we need to catch up. Those are the significant things for us.”
The final dollar numbers in pay increases is unclear since the increase in the third year has to go through arbitration, but the 2.5 per cent increase for each of the first two years of the contract is well below AUNBT’s original demand of 25 per cent over four years, and also below UNB’s offer of a 9.5 per cent increase over four years.
Admittedly, Jones didn’t expect the union to get its 25 per cent demand but still feels the request was reasonable.
“No. I don’t think any of us thought that this administration would going to find that a good idea. The point is that we were making a case for what we thought was arguable and reasonable,” Jones
“But as I’ve said all along it wasn’t just the numbers. I don’t know if people believed us but it really is not about the numbers. It’s about that core issue of us being comparable, us being competitive, us being in the group.”
The language Jones is referring to within the agreement states that they need to be tracking average salary increases within the comparable group of universities. In the past, the university and the professors tracked the pay increases at the comparable universities, and increased UNB professors’ salaries accordingly, but Jones said the increases ran “parallel” to the other universities.
“In recent years we’ve diverged off so there’s a bigger gap between us than there used to be,” Jones said. “So this was why we felt such a sense of urgency because at a certain point you’re never going to catch up. On average that group goes up two to three per cent every year.”
The new language also acknowledges that the professors need to catch up to the other universities. Jones said it’s being called a “catch-up” rather than a pay raise in order to acknowledge that there’s a target to catch up to.
That “catch-up” amount will be determined through arbitration which has to start within the next six months.
There are 14 other universities the AUNBT is comparing itself to. They are Dalhousie, Memorial, Concordia, Carleton, Queen’s, McMaster, Guelph, Waterloo, Windsor, Manitoba, Regina, Saskatchewan, Simon Fraser and Victoria.
With the 2.5 per cent increase over the first two years, Jones said it’s more complicated than just increasing everyone by the same percentage across the board.
“We’re not sure what it’s going to look like. People at the lower end of the scale, like the newer people, their salaries are even more behind than the people at the top of the scale,” Jones said. “Probably starting people and junior people will be getting more [of the 2.5 per cent]. None of this is straightforward. It’s all full of footnotes and explanations.”
While both original offers called for increases over a four-year period – though the faculty also has two-year proposals at times – the tentative agreement is set for three years, expiring July 2016.
In comparison, St. Thomas University signed a three-year deal in 2008 to end its lockout and has since gone through one successful round of collective bargaining in 2010, and is in the midst of ratifying a new agreement which the university and faculty signed before Christmas.
Students are set to return to class Monday and Jones said some professors anticipate their students to be upset with some of the faculty.
“Our members need to deal with that and get their heads around it and know how to respond,” Jones said. “I don’t know about the students but among our members, feelings are running pretty high, both good and bad.”
The UNB Student Union submitted back-to-work protocol recommendations to both sides on Friday. Details of the proposal included to reasonably compress the semester. If that’s not possible the next step in the proposal is to cancel March break and run classes into the exam period. As a last resort, the UNBSU proposed extending the semester past April 30.
Other recommendations included that no tests or assignments worth more than 10 per cent of a grade be due in the first week and for students to be free of responsibility for covering any material while classes were suspended.
UNBSU president Ben Whitney said salvaging March break isn’t looking good.
“It’s looking like we might have to sacrifice March break in order to salvage being done in April, which is a tradeoff I think students are probably going to be able to understand and to deal with,” Whitney said.
“It’s not ideal but I think it’s what’s going to have to happen. The last step is to go into May but that should only be done if there’s no other way of salvaging it because things get enormously complicated at that point.”