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Nonstop mediation aimed at averting strike

January 15, 2016 1:50 P.M.

Negotiators for TRU faculty and administration go head-to-head in labour mediation, Friday though Sunday, in hopes of closing a gap and averting a strike that could effectively shut down the campus.

The two remain far apart in their positions, but collegial governance, not wages, is considered by both sides to be a key issue.

About 100 faculty members, with a show of support from representatives of other Kamloops union locals, rallied Friday morning outside the Clocktower Building, which houses administration offices. 

“This is where the source of our problems lie,” said Tom Friedman, association president. “We have a bloated administration that is out of touch with the needs of our students and our faculty, and we have to put an end to that.”

Friedman said they were headed into “a very difficult” weekend of mediation, starting at 1:30 p.m. Friday and continuing in open-ended fashion Saturday and Sunday. He said it won’t be a traditional bargaining session in which compensation is key.

“What we’re looking for is the investment in our future, the investment in our students and our programs.

“Certainly by late Sunday night, we’ll have some idea of where we’ll be and if mediation shows promise. If we see significant movement on the employer’s side, then we will reassess our escalating job action plan. If we don’t see that movement, then I think all of us have to be prepared for that next level.”

John Hall, president of CUPE 3500 and general vice-president of CUPE B.C., told the rally that their dispute is similar to those happening within Interior Health Authority and with BCGEU members elsewhere in the province.

“We know the issues you’re facing. We know your fight. We know it’s just,” Hall said.

Similarly, David Komljenovic, president of Kamloops Thompson Teachers Association, voiced his solid support of the job action: “The fact is, you can’t put students first by putting teachers last.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were here with the support staff of CUPE, marching and walking across this campus, because with the administration you have here, they were forced to take action in order to get a collective agreement.”

Cindy Ross-Friedman cited figures indicating that the offices of vice-president, administration and finance has mushroomed in size since 2007-2008, growing from 14 positions to 43.

In that same time period, there has been no growth in faculty positions, Friedman added.

Tom Friedman said “a lot of suspect information” is being disseminated by TRU administration and that the union is upset that bargaining positions were being posted on the university website when they remain fluid.

Minutes later, in the Clocktower’s third-floor boardroom, it was administration’s representative, Matt Milovick, vice-president finance and administration, who turned the table. He said faculty aren’t comparing apples to apples when they say administration has grown excessively.

While administration has grown, most of that growth has been in marketing and communications to recruit new students and counter shrinking domestic enrolment, as well as in fundraising, he said.

“I think there’s a distrust that faculty have for administrative decision making, administration in general. I would say trust is not created through a collective agreement, trust is earned by both parties.”

TRU is putting resources into teaching and programs, he said.

“This year, going into the 2016-2017, we have about a 2.5 percent budget cut. The areas that we are not going to cut are student services and library,” Milovick said. As well, a strategic initiatives fund of $1.8 million, the majority of which will go to student services, he added.

The two parties clearly agree on one point, that collegial governance is the most contentious issue dividing them. Faculty is well represented in governance, Milovick maintained.

“If you look at the committee breakdowns … certainly in the Senate all of the committees have a majority of faculty representatives. These are TRUFA members who have an opportunity to be heard and make decisions. What we’re not going to do is give the union ultimate veto power on the decisions made. That’s really contradictory to collegial governance. That’s now governance by union.”

Milovick said the university is hoping there isn’t a full-scale strike, only limited job action, but that it is prepared for every contingency. He said he wasn’t anticipating job action during weekend mediation.

“Hopefully that’s not the attitude they’re going to take to the bargaining table, because if you’re starting from a negative position, it’s difficult to get to a point where you’re going to make concessions. There’s no question the parties are far apart at this point, but we’re hoping can find a way to bring the parties together.”

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