University revokes Union’s health benefits amidst ongoing dispute

"Our members want to be in the classrooms teaching and getting back to the normal process as soon as possible."

SFU administration has decided to revoke the MSP (Medical Services Plan), dental, and extended health benefits of all Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) members effective on October 31.

This is in response to the ongoing deadlock over both parties accepting a form of binding arbitration called Final Offer Selection (FOS).

Said TSSU Chair Derek Sahota, “People were upset given that they’re still willing to basically do 99 per cent of their job [. . .] that the administration would revoke what are really critical benefits for people.” He continued to say that while graduate students may be eligible for an MSP exemption, international students, families, and sessional instructors may be impacted.

While the administration gave the TSSU the ability to assume the costs of providing these services to members, Sahota noted that the cost would be “more than the annual budget of the TSSU.”

Kurt Heinrich, director of SFU’s University Communications, told The Peak that this decision was made because “the University has decided that it can no longer refrain from pressuring the Union with the legitimate tools that are available to all employers during labour disputes.” He cited students grades being withheld and the “challenges” faced by SFU staff supporting students through the ongoing strike.

Heinrich went on to note that, “In such labour disputes, unions typically pay for their members’ benefits from their strike fund. Ultimately, the decision on how and if TSSU member benefits are paid now rests with the TSSU.”

Another issue of contention between the two parties is that of binding arbitration, which could be acheived through the FOS process proposed by mediator Vince Ready.

The process requires that, after 21 days of unsuccessful negotiation, both parties must submit proposals for a new Collective Agreement, after which the mediator would determine which proposals should be integrated into the final Collective Agreement.

While the TSSU hopes to proceed with FOS process, they disagree with multiple amendments SFU has made to the FOS proposal, including one which would allow either party to refer Ready’s FOS decision to the Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC), who would then have the authority to void the award if they wish.

The TSSU raised the concern that, in their view, “PSEC is not an independent third party. They are a body that is deeply involved with SFU administration.”

Heinrich responded to this concern: “[The] requirement to conclude an agreement within the PSEC mandate applies to every public sector union in BC.”

Another concern is that the university would like the FOS process to be one where the mediator would have to decide the award on an “all or nothing” basis, rather than by looking at each proposal on its own.

The TSSU plans to continue their job action, including marking for education, and to take additional actions in coming weeks.

Said Sahota, “Our members want to be in the classroom teaching and getting back to the normal process as soon possible, and we’re ready to bargain whenever the employer is ready.”