Proof that Neither Side has a Monopoly on Sanctimonious Posturing

Okay, so the college management has presented its latest offer.  They’ve chosen to call it their Final Offer, which should sound familiar to any of us who are old enough to remember The Who’s first Farewell Tour.

I summarize the offer elsewhere — the College Council has offered a summary here.  There it lists the things that the colleges achieved through negotiation with the union.  (Ah yes, negotiation — see how well it works when both sides try it?)  Long story short, I think that it differs from the offer that inspired the profs to authorize a strike two weeks ago by the following features:

a) It covers only 3 years, expiring on August 31, 2012.  [It’s not too soon to start saving for the strike of ’13]

b) A 0.25% raise in salary for 2011-12

c) Restoring some (but not all) of the rights that had been rescinded by the Imposed Terms and Conditions

d) Er, nothing.  [Okay, that should be “Nothing, as far as I can tell” — correct me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com, if you’ve found anything else]

But the title of this post actually refers to the College management’s “Urgent Report”, published here.  The report starts with the seemingly resigned tone in the heading: “No Deal Reached, Parties Are Too Far Apart”.  (Interestingly, in the past, the College management team chose to walk away from the bargaining team on two separate occasions after concluding that the parties were two far apart for a deal.  I’ll leave you to decide what made them to try a different approach this time.)

The college management then proceeds with its ultimatum:

“The colleges have offered anything they can afford and accept.  This is the colleges’ final offer.”

A clear claim.  I especially like the “afford and accept” bit.   In other words, the colleges have said that they can’t accept the notion of Academic Freedom, unlike colleges in other provinces.  Perhaps they could explain why?  Similarly, I assume that the colleges are telling us that they can’t afford faculty salaries higher than high school teachers near Lake Superior will receive.  Perhaps they could explain why?  (After all, unlike high schools near Lake Superior, the colleges get tuition from students in addition to funding from taxpayers.  Could it have anything to do with the fact that, unlike high schools near Lake Superior, colleges have Presidents who earn up to $406,000 in salary?)

The college management continues with the tone of exasperated, harrased, patient rationality, by saying,

“We are disappointed to advise that the union’s bargaining team has rejected the final offer”,

although they obviously could have said the same thing at any point since last August.

But it’s the next lines that are the interesting ones:

As a result of the union’s bargaining team rejecting the offer, we have requested that the union take this final offer of settlement to their membership for a vote.  This will allow faculty to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to accept the offer.

The unions and the colleges have a mutual responsiblity to exhaust every available avenue to avoid a strike.  Individual faculty members should be given the opportunity to democratically choose to accept the offer or go out on strike.

In short, the colleges have put forth an offer that they feel is a) final and b) satisfactory to the faculty, and they wish faculty to vote on it, directly.  I know of an excellent way for the colleges to ensure that such a vote occurs:

They can conduct the vote themselves.  Just like the recent legislation gave them the right to do.

Yup, the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008, says,

The Council may, no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement, make a request in writing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that a vote of the employees be taken to accept or reject the offer of the Council last received by the employee organization in respect of all matters remaining in dispute between the parties to the collective agreement.

Only one [such] request may be made. . . .

So the college can call a vote of all full-time and partial-load professors, counsellors, and librarians.  Why doesn’t it?  Probably because of that final sentence, above.  If the college blows its one chance by calling a vote on an offer that’s quite similar to one recently and roundly rejected by the union, it has nowhere to go if the union members reject the “final” offer as well — it’s stuck negotiating with the union’s bargaining team, with no ability to unilaterally force a membership vote or binding arbitration.

For that reason, the colleges would like to pressure the union to hold the membership vote on the offer, so that they can keep that trump card in their hand.

So why doesn’t the union want to hold the vote?  After all, if they’re confident that it’s an unsatisfactory offer, they should be willing to let the membership demonstrate their agreement, no?  Well, in fact, the union seems quite willing to let the membership do just that; in its own response to the management’s “Urgent Report”, Ted Montgomery (chair of the union bargaining team) essentially dares the management to hold such a vote, saying:

“The Union knows that the employer has the right to take their offer to a membership vote.  Indeed, the Union asked management to do just that on November 12.”

But why doesn’t the union want to conduct a vote?   The management will say that it’s because the Union is afraid of its membership’s response; the union will say that it’s because it’s management’s responsibility.  Truth be told, the real answers are probably a bit more prosaic and pragmatic than either side want to admit:

a) The union would probably be happy to see the college waste it’s one chance to call a vote

b) The union just held a vote two weeks ago.  Was a majority not enough for the college?  Does it want to add a “fillibuster” option?

c) A vote means a tremendous flurry of communication and miscommunication that would probably do little to ingratiate the union locals to their members

d) A vote takes really a tremendous number of labour-hours to conduct, between notification, meetings, advance polling, polling, and counting.  I’d estimate that on average the union locals spent about 40 unpaid labour-hours per campus (and many colleges have multiple campuses) conducting the strike vote; most would be none too thrilled at the prospect of doing it again so soon

e) If the members were to reject a union-held vote, the college management could add another 0.01% to one year’s salary and demand that the union hold yet another vote afterwards, and after the next time, and the time after that.

So I’m with the union on this.  Organizing votes is a pain in the ass, even when the organizers are in support of what’s being voted on.  To demand that the union organize a vote on an offer that it hopes the membership would reject is simply impracticable, all ideology aside.

But I’d like to end with one point.  As stated before, the College management claims:

Individual faculty members should be given the opportunity to democratically choose to accept the offer or go out on strike.

If the college management really believes this, then what is their justification for not exercising their legal power to order such a vote?  Seriously: If you publicly claim that somebody should have an opportunity, and you singlehandedly have the right and power to give him or her that opportunity, and you decline to do so, then what does that make you?

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