On Modified Workloads and Consent

Note: The following is a reprint of the post “Modified Workload Agreements and the Question of Consent”, published here on February 9, 2010

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What are Modified Workload Agreements?  Well, the long story can be found here, but in a nutshell, they’re agreements that are designed to help the managers of full-time profs schedule classes for which the workload might vary significantly from week to week over the course of a semester, and for which a SWF that required consistent weekly workload might therefore present an obstacle to effective scheduling.

As we know, the Workload Task Force’s report recommended implementing Modified Workload Agreements on the following conditions:

  1. Any faculty member may choose not to be a part of the modified workload arrangement
  2. A course’s workload must still be carefully measured, analyzing factors like class size, methods of evaluation, and preparation time
  3. The total number of hours worked by a professor—which would be measured according to the SWF—could not exceed the number worked in the previous year
  4. The union gives its consent (which may not be unreasonably withheld) to the modified arrangement

And, as you may also know, the Task Force’s very specific recommendations — which were designed to prevent Modified Workload Agreements from being a tool to magnify profs’ workload — were largely ignored by college managment in their offer.  Rather than measuring total workload, the college management proposes MWAs that would measure only hours-spent-in-class and teaching contact days over the course of one year (or, even worse, averaged over up to three years).

How many students you have would no longer be measured — and could therefore balloon.  How they are evaluated would no longer be factored into your workload — and could therefore be changed by your manager to become more onerous.  As well, the union would be denied the power to refer MWAs to an arbitrator.

And if arbitration did occur, the union would not be able to argue that the arbitrator should deny the Agreement because it would increase the workload of the professors.  If anything, the colleges’ offer actually indicates that Modified Workload Arrangements should be approved by an arbitrator if they increase workload, since Article 11.09 B3 of the proposed offer states that the arbitrator should approve or deny MWAs based on (amongst other things) “whether it leads to a reduction in the use of part-time staff and better usage of full-time teachers” and “whether it would be an efficient workload assignment process”.

Any guesses as to what “better usage of full-time teachers” and “efficient workload assignment process” mean?  That’s right — arbitrators will be influenced to approve MWAs on the grounds that they increase the workload of full-time faculty.

But — and here’s the great point that defenders of MWAs send to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com surprisingly often — this can only happen if faculty consent.  Firstly, 2/3 of faculty in the “affected group” must agree, and then individual faculty have the right to bow out, and maintain a standard SWF.  So what’s the problem?  After all, if faculty in a department want to do their work differently, and are willing to do more work for the same amount of money, then who are the colleges or the union to stop them?

Well, one of the problems, of course, is that the “more efficient” use of 2/3 of faculty in a program could of course lead to the remaining 1/3 — those who opted against being “better used” in the first place — becoming redundant, as their colleagues enrolled in Modified Workload Agreements do their work.

But again — the 2/3 would have to consent in the first place.  Would they really consent to a deal that was bad?  Would they really agree to a Modified Workload Agreement that increased their work?  Wouldn’t they simply be able to inform their manager (as respected, valued, expert employees) that the Modified Workload Agreement was a bad idea?

Below, I send a letter sent from a contributing prof in Southwestern Ontario, who suggested that the power difference between employees and managers calls consent into question, especially since managers would have the right to spell out dire consequences if the faculty don’t acquiesce.  He says:

“In theory you can refuse, but in actual practice YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO. My colleagues and I who were under a certain Chair (who thankfully is no longer at this College) can attest to that.

You are probably familiar with the evaluation factors. At a time when most people had 0.03 across the board, we all had 0.015.   It took a half dozen years before anyone woke up.   No one dared to question it individually.   For some courses the evaluation time allotted to us was simply not enough, but everyone was afraid to speak up.  Eventually we mustered enough courage to sign a group letter, asking our Union look at our evaluation factors.

When the Chair got wind of this, every person in the department was summoned into his office and pressured to withdraw their signature.  One by one, individuals were called into his office and in no uncertain terms were told that their program was on the chopping block and, if this grievance were to go through, they will lose their job.  When the day came to meet with our Union Official at that time, only four people (out of over a dozen who had originally signed) were willing to proceed with the grievance.”

Hmm.  Twelve originally signed on (objecting to the manager’s decision).  The manager succeeded in getting eight of them to acquiesce to his will, against their own interests, and formally withdraw their objections.   That’s, umm… two-thirds.  Just enough for the manager to ram through a Modified Workload Agreement that would render evaluation factors entirely moot.

Our correspondent continues:

“This actual incident that took place right here serves to illustrate two of the traps that are in this offer. That first is the pretense that you can actually refuse to participate in the MWA, when the reality might actually be not nearly as simple.  The second trap is believing that the union could protect you before or even after you entered into one, since the Union’s ability to file a grievance on behalf of a group of faculty would be taken away by the offer that is on the table, and because there are very few grounds upon which one could grieve an MWA, in the middle of its course.”

No limit on the number of hours one can teach in a day or a week; no limit on the number of days one can teach in a week or weeks one can teach in a school year; no credit for class size, course prep; no overtime; no allocation or credit for out-of-class assistance.

My old question was: Would college management ever agree to Modified Workload Agreements if they didn’t think that the agreements would increase workload?

My new question is: Would college management ever bother proposing such Modified Workload Agreements if they did believe that faculty would actually have ability to decline, freely?

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