The labour dispute between the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) and SFU administration trudges on.
After calling off the job action in response to an unfair labour practice complaint filed by the university, the union is going through the motions once again and has passed a second strike vote by an 86 per cent majority.
The TSSU has served SFU with a 72-hour strike notice and is to resume job action on Monday, July 20., beginning with reinstating an overtime ban for instructors at Harbor Centre’s English Language and Culture program (ELC) and Interpretation and Translation Program (ITP), with the expectation that it will escalate as it did before, with the possibly of picket lines in the future. The union intends to implement these escalations until a new collective agreement has been reached.
The roots of this discord trace back to April of 2014 when the previous collective agreement between the TSSU and the university expired and new negotiations began.
In February 2015, after nearly a year without a Collective Agreement, the TSSU voted to hold a strike vote, which occurred in March, leading to the commencement strike action with 92 per cent of voting members in favour.
Reagan Belan, Chief Steward of the TSSU, listed “Seniority rights for sessional instructors, equity for our ELC/ITP [English Language and Culture/Interpretation and Translation Program] members, improved access to work for TAs and TMs, and including the minimum standards of BC labour law for Occupational Health and Safety and payment of wages” as issues they would like the administration to address.
Belan explained, “What students need to know is that improving our working conditions improves their learning conditions. TSSU members provide 50 per cent of the face time teaching and teach the majority of the distance courses offered by SFU.”
SFU administration filed a complaint on June 25 to the BC Labour Relations Board on the basis that the union was bargaining in bad faith because of the bargaining demands it put forward before returning to the bargaining table.
“TSSU members provide 50 per cent of the facetime teaching and teach the majority of the distance courses offered by SFU.”
TSSU Chief Steward
The university has contended that since the union had not re-filed their strike notice after the Essential Service Order, the strike contravened the Labour Relations Code and was therefore illegal.
To this, the union responded by ceasing all job action and members promptly resumed releasing grades on July 2.
The union then proceeded with another strike vote, which was held on July 15 and 16. In an online labour update, the university expressed, “We are disappointed that the Union also immediately announced their intention to hold another strike vote on July 15 and 16 with the apparent intention of reinitiating disruptive labour action.”
So where do the negotiations go from here? Both sides appear to be deadlocked. SFU reported that a meeting on July 8 resulted in “agreements on two minor changes, [but] there was no agreement on any of the remaining substantive bargaining issues.”
The University has applied to the Labour Relations Board for a mediator to help reach a collective agreement. The union, however, believes the University has been stubborn on the core issues. The frequently asked questions section of the TSSU website stated, “There is no reason to expect that [SFU] would respond favourably to mediation.”
However, the TSSU raised issues with the possibility of mediation, citing laws which prohibit a union from striking during mediation unless their employer allows it. The union sent a letter to the university to protect their right to strike during mediation — however, the university rejected this offer.
When asked if the university would make concessions to prevent a full walkout, SFU University Communications responded, “SFU is committed to the principle of not bargaining through the media.”
The university also expressed disappointment over the union’s choice to reject their offer of mediation: “We continue to believe that labour action is detrimental to the entire campus community and that a new Collective Agreement can only be achieved at the bargaining table.
“Negotiation, rather than strike activity, is in the best interest of students and the campus community. To this end, we have asked the TSSU to confirm their availability for bargaining during the month of August, but have yet to receive a response from the Union.”
Update: Since publication, the TSSU has decided to withhold grades as the next step in the job action. SFU Administration and the union met on the morning of July 24, resulting in a negotiation to allow ELC/ITP instructors to maintain their seniority after nine weeks of work (previously 13). The next bargaining meetings will not be until the last two weeks of August.