A Tale of Two Narratives…

Howdy, sports fans.

When I resumed blogging over the summer, I had originally intended to try to accompany my posts about this round of negotiations with the notation of an unfolding game of chess.

Looking back at it, I’m pretty happy that that conceit got dropped quickly, because it’s awfully hard to construct a chess game in which there’s a stalemate in under six moves.

But that’s apparently where we are: The Union’s bargaining is unwilling to abandon virtually all of its members’ demands for the sake of a settlement at the table; the Employer’s bargaining team is currently unwilling to negotiate any of the Union’s demands, opting instead to stand pat with an offer that offers a salary increase averaging less than 1.9% annually over the next four years.

And so, both teams’ latest bulletins share a strange agreement that the situation has been reduced to a binary: If the Union membership wishes to see any changes other than the offered salary increase, then authorizing a strike is the only way to accomplish that.

One would assume, then, that the obligation attending both sides’ communications would be to defend their current positions, and seeming intransigence. For the Union, it would be an obligation to explain why the demands are significant enough to justify seeking a strike mandate; for management it would be an obligation to explain why it cannot further negotiate any remaining demands.

You can find the latest messages from each side on the right-hand column, and you can decide for yourself which bulletin best manages to meet that standard.

Personally, I’m struck by both the similarity of the newsletters’ respective headlines, but also to the significance of how they diverge.

The Union’s newsletter is entitled “Two visions for a system in crisis”.  It situates the current stalemate between the two sides in their radically different notion about the fundamentals of staffing and academic decision-making in Ontario colleges, and whether the status quo (which is fundamentally unchanged since the system’s founding in 1967) is sufficient for the current and future needs of the system’s students, and by extension Ontario’s society and economy.

The Employer’s newsletter is entitled “Two paths: Strike or settlement”. It features a rhetorical return to what I earlier described as “the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources”.  That voice tells us that having an established minimum ratio of Full-Time faculty is just too darn expensive, so management should be able to have complete, unfettered control over staffing, with no obligation to hire a single full-time faculty member for the next four years.  Because the Employer knows best what the system needs.

That voice also drops in regret, to warn us that it would be far, far too risky to entrust the education of Ontario College students to… the people who actually provide that education. But rest assured that it thinks that faculty are really, really special – we’re even “critical to academic decision making”.

This, in an explanation about why the Collective Agreement cannot possibly be changed in a way that would make faculty . . . critical to academic decision-making.

“So look, Union members,” the sweater vest tells us, “Why this windmill-chasing and why the dreams of stepping somewhere you don’t belong?  Know your place, and tell your team to stop this foolishness, so that we can come to a settlement that doesn’t… disrupt anything. And everything can go back to exactly the way it was in the good old days. We know that you have needs, so we’ve left some money on the table for you – you can take it as you leave. Get yourself something nice with it.  And hey — You’re really special to me.  Let’s meet up again soon.”

•                    •                    •

In the end, we’re presented with binaries, but the intersections exist on different planes: The Employer is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective round of negotiations, and making arguments about how to best achieve it. The Union is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective College system, and making arguments about how to achieve it.

What’s missing, in my opinion, from the Employer’s messaging – and has been missing this entire round of negotiations – is any positive defense of the status quo of the Ontario College system. Any positive explanation of how the system benefits from having 80% of faculty on short-term contracts; how the system benefits from explicitly taking academic decisions out of the hands of academic experts; how the system benefits from the lack of a workload formula for counsellors and librarians, or the lack of a workload formula that takes into account the unique workload associated with online or hybrid teaching.

These are all elements of the current Ontario college system – of the status quo that is the product of our past Collective Agreements and the Employer’s decisions.  The Employer has made no effort to defend those decisions, or make a persuasive argument about the superiority of the education provided by the current system over that proposed by the Union.

Ultimately, I interpret this to mean that the Employer believes that it doesn’t need to justify the current state of the College system to the faculty, who are actually performing the Colleges’ raison d’etre.  More importantly, it indicates that the Employer believes that faculty share that opinion.

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A Southern Ontario Reader Writes…

Firstly, let me thank everybody who has subscribed to the blog recently.  I appreciate it.

Secondly, let me thank everybody who has taken the trouble to leave a comment or to e-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Your contributions expand this blog’s potential as a forum rather than a monologue.  As a reminder, all comments are moderated and will remain anonymous.

With that said, let me turn the spotlight over to a letter that I received last week from a first-time contributor from Southern Ontario…

Keep up the good work with your blogs!

I am a 30+ veteran of the college classroom in [Southern Ontario]. I find it interesting that the [support] staff union has negotiated a full four year contract in addition to the one year already in the bag. Hence they have a type of security until 2022! Since when were they supposed to be bargaining? I am not sure but I think they got the same deal as the [Ontario Public Sector division of OPSEU].  

OPSEU is just rolling over existing contracts and somehow saying this is a victory. Who the heck is doing the work and is Smokey really aware of his team? In reading the small print if, by some miracle, the faculty union negotiates better extended health care coverage the staff will get it too. Ya, right.

Who knows what machinations are going on and the positioning of both this management team as well as our own faculty team? It really is scary how little experience in the classroom the management team has. I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA? Could the offer mirror what the staff union evidently may settle for? Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch. And in the meantime look at all the lovely new buildings going up. Too bad there are not enough funds to run things – better hire more managers with ever escalating salaries.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

That’s it.

Yours, anon

That’s it?  Well, there’s quite a lot there — I’ll pick and choose what to respond to.

Firstly, thanks for the letter.  I’m sure that it will inspire different reactions in those who read it, and I invite them all to contribute.

First and foremost: Yes, the CAAT-S (= support staff) Union’s Divisional Executive has negotiated a four-year “extension” to their Collective Agreement.  And yes, that’s rather irregular, particularly given that, as this letter points out, the CAAT-S Collective Agreement was set to expire in 2018 — a year after our own.  Also unusual is that, as a consequence, the offer has been drafted and proposed for ratification prior to the election of a bargaining team or any Local demand-setting process.

[Curiously, I note that the support deal is advertised as a 7.75% increase in salary over four years, in comparison with the proclaimed 7.5% increase offered to faculty.  This may become relevant in a couple of paragraphs.]

As for the reason why the offer was made, and why it was accepted by the CAAT-S “negotiators”, people will no doubt have differences of opinion: An optimist might say that the team was fortunate to find an Ontario government in a deal-making mood, which could provide an offer that was at least as good as they might hope to obtain through traditional bargaining.  A pessimist might echo your concerns about OPSEU’s receptivity to offers that bypass the traditional means by which rank-and-file members participate in bargaining, and might suggest that the members are being encouraged to take deals prematurely, prior to a serious effort at negotiating improvements.

But optimist or pessimist, I note one thing: OPSEU can’t impose a deal on members — in the end, it’s up to the members to vote on whether they wish to ratify it or not.  If the membership feels that they can do better, they’ll have that chance.  Conversely, if the membership doesn’t feel motivated to press needs that aren’t represented in the management’s offer, then maybe that impacts the likelihood of negotiating improvements in those areas, at a bargaining table.

You see, if a employer doesn’t believe that unionized employees truly care about the issues introduced at the bargaining table, then it would, presumably, have little motivation to make meaningful compromises.  If, on the other hand, unionized employees are able to communicate that they stand behind their bargaining team and insist upon their own demands, then the bargaining table can in fact become a place where necessary changes can be successfully negotiated without a strike — changes that include improvements to the job security and equal treatment of precarious workers, as well as protections for the full-time complement of the bargaining unit.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

I agree that the hammer of a strike is indeed primitive.  Far preferable would be for both sides to engage in an honest discussion of the current strengths and weaknesses of our college system, and understand what changes are needed to workload, complement, and governance, in order to provide a stronger footing for the colleges to face the next 50 years.

But — based only on both sides’ public statements, and particularly on the Employer’s current offer  — I see no appetite for any such discussion on the Employer’s side right now.

I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA?

Well, if the conclusions that I arrived at in my last post are valid, they would do that if it was the best remaining alternative to actually negotiating the Union’s primary demands at the bargaining table.

But I suspect that any offer on which the Employer forced a vote wouldn’t look precisely like the current offer.  [Hint: Remember that missing 0.25% that I mentioned earlier?]

Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch.

Well, I won’t presume to read management’s mind about the state of the College system, but the Employer’s offer would seem to make clear that it wishes to see no substantive changes in our working conditions (and especially in our working relationship) for the next four years.

In other words, the status quo is working quite well for them, and their curious description of their offer as an “extension” of the current Collective Agreement — indicates the degree to which that offer is intended to be a status quo offer.

My question is: Is the status quo working quite well for our students?  For their employers?  For Ontario’s workforce and society?  No doubt we’ll have weeks to contemplate the answer to that one, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

For Those Just Tuning In…

I originally intended to crunch some numbers here and look at what the Employer’s offer really means for the financial life of its intended audience.  But then I started trying to summarize the negotiations so far (from what I can interpret, based on the parties’ public statements), and, well, I got a bit carried away.

So today will be that background/summary; soon I’ll try to get into the weeds.

For those of you just tuning in, you may recall the that College Faculty (OPSEU CAAT-A) bargaining team was charged with negotiating a list of demands that originated from Local demand-setting meetings that were held at each of the 24 Colleges.

Probably the best summation of the demands presented to the bargaining team can be found on pages 3 and 4 of the Negotiations Bulletin #3 (located here for those reading on phones and here for those who like the graphics).

Those demands include workload measurements for all faculty, so that all of our work — including the work of partial-load faculty, counsellors, and librarians — is actually measured and so that we have sufficient time to properly help our students.  They also include improved job security for all faculty, plus language that limits outsourcing, and language to limit the erosion of Full-Time jobs within the bargaining unit.  They also include demands that would give faculty meaningful authority to make the academic decisions that their expertise as educators uniquely qualifies them to make.

Judging from the following Negotiations Bulletin (#4) (web text here; colourful pdf here), those demands met… a chilly reception.  To quote from the Bulletin:

[I]t only took 24 hours from the union’s presentation of their first set of proposals . . . for management to declare their lack of belief in the need to discuss issues ranging from faculty’s top issue of academic freedom / collegial governance to the grievance process.

The College Employer Council’s bargaining team’s refusal to consider demands at the, er, bargaining (or is that “bargaining”?) table resulted in the faculty bargaining team’s requesting an OLRB-appointed conciliator, and, later, requesting that a strike authorization vote be held in September.

That, in turn, inspired management to broadcast an offer directly to faculty, seemingly in an effort to bypass negotiating with a democratically-elected bargaining team.

And the offer?  Well, nothing about workload; nothing about Partial-Load; nothing about counsellors; nothing about librarians; nothing about job security; nothing about decision-making authority.

Let’s just say that the College management is clearly contented with the status quo, and the offer is clearly designed to maintain that status quo — of an overreliance on contract faculty who are treated as fungible; of a decision-making authority that rests exclusively in the hands of those who may lack teaching experience; of college credits literally being obtainable at McDonalds.

The offer does, however, offer money.  Not much else — maybe even a new expense — but it does offer money.

And evidently, the College Employer Council believes that that offer of money is so important, that it had to be shared directly with the union membership.  In fact, the Employer’s Offer FAQ included the following:

4. Why are you putting out the terms of the offer? Isn’t that bargaining in public?

OPSEU . . . did not provide any information to its members about the 7.5% increase, the new maximum of $115,094, and other benefits with no concessions. We felt it very important to get the information out to faculty. 

Well… mission accomplished?

So let’s start (and, for today’s purposes, finish) with some reasonably self-evident conclusions.

  • The employer would rather offer money than negotiate any meaningful changes to the work that we do, and how we do it.
  • The employer is counting that college faculty care about salary, to the exclusion of every other issue.
  • The employer would rather hold up dollar bills to the members than negotiate the members’ demands through the bargaining process to which they apparently have committed themselves.
  • The employer feels no compulsion to negotiate serious issues, when they have the option instead of trying to get Union members to hold votes on the employer’s offer(s)

All of which leads me to my final, tentative conclusion (which is obviously subject to change in the face of new information and events):

The employer will feel no compulsion to negotiate serious issues when they are given any alternative, whatsover.

And, by logical extension:

The College Employer Council bargaining team will negotiate serious issues only when given no alternative.

And, by logical extension:

If Ontario College faculty truly wish to see fairness for Partial-Load faculty, authority over any educational decisions, control over our own students’ grades, ownership of the material we produce as teachers (to protect our own jobs), or a workload formula that truly measures all of the work that we do, there is only one route by which to make any possible gains in any of those areas, at the bargaining table.

 

[Are my conclusions based upon an error in reasoning?  Are they premature, given the data?  Are they consistent the experience or previous rounds, or your experience at your college?  Hit “Leave a comment”, below, to let me know.]

Why Not an Offer Vote?

Right.  So, the College Employer Council (i.e., “College Management”) bargaining team presented a “comprehensive offer of settlement to extend the existing collective agreement” to the OPSEU CAAT-A (i.e., “College Faculty” bargaining team) on August 1, and then, having not received a response to a proposed four-year deal within a week, decided to present the offer directly to faculty, provincewide.

You can find both the text of the offer (August 1) and the summarizing “Academic Bargaining Update” (August 8) linked to the right-hand column.

I hope to talk about the offer soon — to try to crunch the numbers about what the proposed salary increases really amount to, and to try to put them in some context, as well as to try to figure out the difference between “extend[ing] the existing collective agreement” vs. negotiating a new Collective Agreement.  (Particularly when your proposal contains changes to about six different articles or letters of understanding, no less).

[Aside: So clearly I’m missing something, but my reading of Part III, Section 8 (2) of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008 suggests that a Collective Agreement can only be extended “for a period of less than one year”, not the four-year period proposed in the Employer’s “Extension Agreement”.  Can one of you legal types help me to square the Employer’s proposal with, er, existing legislation?  Operators are standing by at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.]

But regardless of the title affixed to management’s proposal or the contents therein, I just wanted to focus for now on one little section of the College Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, published today.  It reads:

sanctimony

Happily, everything old is recyclable again, so I’m happy to reuse a portion of a post that I wrote on January 28, 2010, as follows…

♠                    ♠                    ♠

In short, the colleges have put forth an offer that they feel is [. . .] 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. . . .

 

♠                    ♠                    ♠

Of course, if the Employer could somehow persuade OPSEU to hold a vote on their offer (instead of, you know, the Employer holding a vote on their own offer), then it’s the people from the College faculty Locals who get to devote the hundreds of labour hours needed provincewide to notify the membership, hold pre-vote meetings, organize advanced polling, staff the polling booths, and count the ballots.

That would be a ridiculous amount of work for the Union to put in, to facilitate a vote on a contract that they don’t even want.

Best of all, if that offer were rejected by the membership, the Employer could get to “urge” OPSEU to hold a vote on their next offer (and the next, and the next).

My reading of the CCBA (specifically, Part IV, Section 17 [2]) indicates that the Union holds a vote for an offer/settlement that it supports; conversely the Employer has the right to force a vote on the offer that it wants faculty to vote on.

Let’s just review that language for a moment: “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” (emphasis added).  According to legislation, the College Employer Council’s requests for votes on offers are supposed to be directed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, not to the Union.

So what do we have here, in the end?  Well, it’s kind of summed up neatly in the FAQ section of Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, which reads in part:

KindofSad.jpg

In short, the Employer’s bargaining position is that OPSEU should not hold the vote that it intends to hold, but should instead hold the vote that the Employer wants it to hold: A vote on a four-year “settlement” that fails to incorporate any significant faculty demands.

Well, I suppose that’s one way to do things, and hey — it probably takes a lot less energy than, you know. . .  actually bargaining.

[Lastly, I’m struck that this offer states on the front page that it will be withdrawn on August 24.  Given that it’s being distributed in public on August 8, has the Employer given any indication of when, specifically it “urges” for this vote to take place?  Before or after the offer’s withdrawal date?  Enquiring minds want to know.]

Employer’s Offer; Union’s Response

Okay, well — a bit of excitement on the negotiations front.

The College Employer Council bargaining team had presented an offer (dated August 1) to the College Faculty bargaining team, and today made that offer public, along with an announcement and explanatory FAQ , in the form of a third “Academic Bargaining Update” (both of which I hope to post on the right-hand column).

(It appears to have been sent today to faculty in some, but not all Ontario Colleges.  This is curious only because the Council in its FAQ justifies the public broadcasting of its offer by stating ” We felt it very important to get the information out to faculty”.)

In response, the OPSEU Faculty bargaining team has e-mailed an initial response to members, which I’m copying  below (since I can’t yet find it online, to link to).

Please stay tuned for my initial thoughts and criticism^H^H^H^Hque; I invite you to pre-empt my thoughts with your own, by sending them to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

P.S.: The CAAT-A (Faculty) bargaining team’s immediate reply is as follows.

 

Dear Members:

You may have received a communication from your employer indicating that a settlement proposal was brought by the Employer to the Bargaining Team last week. The Team followed our consultation process in sharing the proposal confidentially with the Presidents of all 24 Union Locals as well as the Bargaining Advisory Committee (BAC), which is comprised of 24 full-time and 8 partial-load faculty members. The Presidents and the BAC agreed that the proposal is flawed for a number of reasons set out below. The Team is considering an appropriate response to the proposal.

The settlement proposal is actually a four-year extension of the existing 2014-2017 Collective Agreement, including an extension of all of the concessions from the last round. This proposal has serious negative implications to our members that the Team cannot accept. Here are the key features of the proposal:

(1) The existing moratorium on Article 2 would remain in place for another four years. In other words, the terms of this offer would not allow us to grieve for any new full-time faculty positions over the next four years. With 70% of our faculty complement already being contract faculty, the Employer’s offer would only worsen this situation; it would radically reduce the overall number of full-time faculty as retirement and other openings are not filled. This will have implications around workload for full-time faculty, few pathways to full-time employment for partial-load members who desire that, and a general weakening of our union as we continue to bleed full-time positions. Our membership has been clear that this is unacceptable;

(2) The salary increase being proposed is less than the rate of inflation and would result in our members earning less in real income by the end of the four-year extension than they are today;

(3) There are no meaningful gains for our partial load members. Precarious work would continue to be as much of a problem over the next four years as it is today;

(4) There is language around Bill 148 – proposed provincial legislation that is meant to ensure equal pay for equal work – that will undermine the application of that legislation once in place to the detriment of our members. Under the Employer’s proposed language, for partial-load faculty to make any gains in wages and benefits, it will come at the expense of full-time members, thereby pitting the two groups against each other; and

(5) None of our members’ concerns around academic freedom, intellectual property, collegial governance, or workload have been addressed.

In short, the consensus of the Team, the Local Presidents and the BAC is that this offer is unacceptable as it stands. If the Employer really believes that this is a solid offer, they can bring it directly to the membership for a final offer vote as set out under the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act

We are taking this opportunity to underscore the need for a strong strike vote from our members to send the Employer a message that we are united in negotiating a new Collective Agreement that reflects a better plan which addresses the demands of our members.

In solidarity,

The CAAT-A Bargaining Team

2017 Negotiations Messages (#4)

So in my last two posts, I’ve looked at the first “Academic Bargaining Update” from the College Employer Council.  Specifically, my last post started thinking a bit about the relationship between form and content, as the CEC presented its primary bargaining posture (which I very loosely summarize as “College faculty should be grateful that we’ve done as great a job as we have so far, given that the Colleges are going broke”).

So, I’m now wondering if it’s simply bias that’s leading me to be concerned about the lack of developed, nuanced efforts at persuasion in that bulletin.  I recently got called a ‘dinosaur’ for the first time by a colleague (perhaps I should be surprised that it took this long), and maybe it’s simply unreasonable for me to hold anyone to the standard of actually trying to engage with ideas and context and reasoning in the medium of a bargaining newsletter.  (With that said, I do note that pages 7 and 8 of the OPSEU bargaining team’s March 2017 Newsletter contains a “Message from the Chair” that attempts to situate the current needs of the Ontario College system within the context of its history and original mandate, as well as the evolution of a current corporatist managerial culture).

Anyway, on that topic, I wanted to share some welcome feedback I received from our most dedicated correspondent:

A former boss – a Campus Dean to be precise – once told me that if I expected him to read any memo I sent on matters of college policy or procedure, it had better be no more than a single page. Anything that can’t be said in one page isn’t worth saying, he declared.

I foolishly assumed that he was merely displaying a bad case of AADD (Administrator’s Attention Deficit Disorder). I have now read enough “visioning” statements, “mandates,” “core competency” summaries and other glorifications of the next new big thing (purloined from decades-old business magazines and MBA exams) to know that a preference for bullet-points isn’t just a reflection of NRA politics.

I am now convinced that a studied indifference to authentic evidence, an inability to make or understand cogent arguments, and simple failures in common sense are not anomalies in the logic and rhetoric of managerial exposition, but an endemic feature of the current corporate culture.

Any half-way serious analysis of the structure and symbolism of both formal and informal communications from the authorities will immediately reveal that there is no intention to communicate, much less to deliberate, but just to intimidate, distract, obfuscate and misdirect.

And maybe that helps me to articulate my real issue.  I’m not concerned with the CEC’s relying on the language of marketing (“Investing in faculty”!) and techniques of marketing because I think that marketing is inherently evil: I’m concerned because the Employer’s exclusive reliance on marketing indicates that the  Council is currently unwilling to engage in a thoughtful discussion with faculty — with Ontarians — about the current needs facing the College system.

What’s working in our Colleges?  What’s not?  Is the status quo truly sufficient for the needs of Ontario’s economy and society?  How many students are prospering, and how many are merely getting a piece of paper at the end?  Does the College Employer Council believe that it’s actually desirable for over 70% of College faculty to work on one-semester-long contracts?  Desirable for faculty to lack ownership over the materials they create?  Desirable for faculty to lack the authority to decide whether students are evaluated using written work or multiple choice?  And if so, what’s the data behind that belief?

Now, one could certainly argue that there are better forums to have a discussion about how to best ensure that Colleges are able to accomplish their mandate than by trying to hash it out in partisan newsletters in the heat of bargaining.  But here’s the point: that debate doesn’t appear to be occurring in any meaningful, influential way anywhere else, at any other time.  And the fact that the College Employer Council so far appears unwilling to attempt to seriously engage with those issues (or, indeed, with reasoned principles at all) in its newsletters suggests that there is literally no place for such discussion to occur, in the opinion of College management.  It suggests that the College Employer Council appears confident that a serious, influential debate over the needs of an underfunded College system can be replaced with the repeated reassurance that “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.

(In truth, it’s probably premature for me to make that claim without first considering whether the above concerns are contradicted or upheld by the Employer Council’s second newsletter — one that was published on July 10, after three days of bargaining had been completed.  I invite you to weigh in on that issue, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.)

Bargaining resumes this week.  It would be interesting to know to  what degree the dynamic of the bargaining table reflects the dynamic of messages that have been put forth for public consumption by both sides thus far.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#3)

So, I wanted to come back to the College Employer Council’s first Academic Bargaining Update (June 8, 2017). In my last post, I looked at the first half of the Update – the bios of the team members.

Thanks to both of you for reading it, by the way.

So, moving on to the second half of the CEC’s Bargaining Update. Now, I note that this newsletter came out almost one month before the first scheduled day of negotiations (on July 4).  As such, the Update would be expected to set out the broadest general themes that the Council’s bargaining team brings to the table.

In the last post I pointed out that the newsletter was marked by overall tone of experience and professionalism. It’s the rhetorical embodiment of Stephen Harper’s sweater-vest, and it’s quite effective at communicating an ethos as custodian of the public purse. That’s even clearer in the last two pages, where the essential opening strategic position is presented.

CEC-ABU-1p3

Now, since I work in words, I’m kind of struck that this issue of the Update has surprisingly few of them. In a four-page newsletter, the body of pages 3 and 4 consists of thirteen sentences (by my count), which fall under under one heading and five subheadings. That’s an average of less than just over two sentences per sub/heading, with a large banner on the right-hand third of the page that restates or summarizes the sentences of the body.

 

 

In short, for roughly every two sentences, there’s a heading and a large-print summary on the right. Of the nine paragraphs on these pages, I count six that have only one sentence.

So, why does that matter? Well, firstly it would seem to confirm my Chair’s wisdom in never assigning me to teach a Business Communications class, so there’s that. You see, I’ve always taught my students that any kind of persuasive writing depends upon a structure that includes claims, evidence, and analysis. The one- or two-sentence paragraph has the effect of removing the analysis altogether, leaving one sentence of claim, and (possibly) a second sentence summarizing one of the three charts introduced as evidence.

In the end, it turns an argument into a bullet-point list of claims — no context, no developed relationships between ideas, just a parade of assertions, with occasional sentences telling readers what to look for in the next colourful graph.

The overall thesis can be found in sentence 3: “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.  Just in case you missed it, that claim is repeated again in the very next sentence: “Ontario colleges have consciously invested in our faculty despite a very challenging economic environment.”  (Seriously: was the word ‘consciously’ added merely to distinguish the two sentences, or is it designed to inspire confidence in the CEC’s responsible stewardship, by reassuring readers that there was no unconsicous investment in faculty? That all investment was influenced by neither reflex nor Freudian impulse?)

But I digress.

Now, just in case you missed the theme of “investing in faculty” in sentences 3 and/or 4, the newsletter helpfully includes that phrase an additional five times, all in 20 point font.

I am not making this up.

*               *               *

So, “Times are tough, but we’ve invested in faculty”. That’s the message, and it’s presented authoritatively and effectively, in the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources. Presented authoritatively and effectively. . . in virtually every single sentence of the Update’s second half.

Now, I note that this was the first Bargaining Update from the CEC, so perhaps extensive messenging is too much to expect, particularly given that it was published prior to the first day of bargaining. With that said, it was published roughly three months after the bargaining demands from the CAAT-A Union members had been published in the Union’s 2nd Negotiations Bulletin, in March – demands that include issues like job security for contract faculty, academic freedom, intellectual property rights, the recognition of all workload performed, and workload metrics for counsellors and librarians.

In short, there are many different demands put forth by the Union – some of which can logically be answered by saying “we’ve invested in faculty despite tough economic times”, and some of which rather clearly cannot.

One possibility is that the CEC never seriously considered responding to the Union’s demands in the public arena, and instead opted for (what I am now learning is) a classic marketing principle, known as the “Rule of Seven”, which states that “a prospective buyer likely won’t see or hear a marketing message, or seriously consider buying, until they’ve been exposed to the message at least seven times“.

The question that remains is: Does the College Employer Council’s repeating the “investing in faculty despite tough economic times” theme reinforce that message (per the principles of marketing), or instead underscore the lack of a second message?

Time, perhaps, will tell.  In the meantime, I hope to look at some of the evidence provided by the CEC in my next post.

As ever, I invite you to send your thoughts, prayers, corrections and objections to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.