Funding Murky for Union Raises at UBC, UVic

Budget's already squeezed before seeking 'efficiencies' says UBC spokesperson.

By Andrew MacLeod 12 Oct 2012 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Union members at two British Columbia universities have won wage increases in tentative agreements reached under the government's co-operative gains mandate, but it's unclear how the already cash-strapped institutions are expected to fund the raises.

Presented as being fiscally responsible, the province's co-operative gains mandate allows for raises in the public sector, but only if employers can find the money to pay for them elsewhere in their budgets.

Some 1,500 members of CUPE 2950 at the University of B.C. will receive two-percent increases on each of April 1, 2012 and April 1, 2013 if they ratify the tentative agreement. The workers include clerical, library and hospital staff, and are a portion of the 10,500 unionized workers at UBC.

And at the University of Victoria, 850 members of the Professional Employees Association reached a tentative agreement that will provide a retroactive two-percent raise as of July 1, 2012 and a further two per cent raise on July 1, 2013. The members include instructors, counsellors, fundraisers and engineers.

A Finance Ministry spokesperson could not provide details by posting time of what savings the universities had found to make the agreements fit the co-operative gains mandate.

The agreements follow recent deals with the BCGEU and the BC Nurses' Union that will pay for wage increases through measures that the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation's Jordan Bateman described as "nebulous".

Finding savings not easy: UBC

UBC submitted a proposal to the government under the co-operative gains mandate and had it approved, said spokesperson Lucie McNeill. She could not provide details of where the savings were to be found, but said finding ways to save money has been an ongoing process.

"The savings for co-operative gains were out of operational efficiencies," she said. "I would emphasize that finding those savings was not easy."

She pointed out that UBC president Stephen Toope was among 22 university and college presidents who earlier this year warned then advanced education minister Naomi Yamamoto through the Research Universities' Council of B.C. that the co-operative gains mandate would "exacerbate" the strain caused by stagnant funding in recent years.

A UVic spokesperson was not available by publication time.

Under the co-operative gains mandate, modest wage increases could be negotiated "through productivity gains or through savings within existing budgets" and were to be real and measurable.

According to a government background sheet, "Employers will be looking for changes in how work is performed, efficiencies, productivities, cost reductions or new revenues that will support compensation increases without additional government funding."

The agreements were not to "add pressure" to the government's bottom line, add costs for taxpayers or ratepayers, or sacrifice services. The finance ministry was to review any proposed savings.

We gave up nothing: union

Representatives of both union locals said they had hoped for larger raises to make up for the years where there were no increases, but that they were good agreements under the circumstances. Both said they didn't know what the universities had promised to meet the co-operative gains mandate.

"We didn't have to give up anything to get the two per cent," said Nancy Forhan, the president of CUPE 2950 at UBC, noting it took the school "months and months to get the plans approved" by the government.

"We agreed to no concessions at the bargaining table," said Melissa Moroz, a labour relations officer with the PEA at UVic. "I think the bargaining team worked hard for many months to get this deal and this is the best deal we could get."

The increases are on top of the three per cent raises members who are not at the top of the pay grid get each year, she said.

Asked about co-operative gains and how the increases were funded, she said, "Frankly, it's not my mandate."

Post-secondary education is already underfunded and departmental budgets have been cut, but the president's salary has climbed over half a million dollars a year, she said.

"How the employer came up with savings under the mandate is a question you have to ask them," she said. "They did not share that plan with us."

Wage increases of more than four percent in the BCGEU tentative agreement announced in late September are to be paid for through the use of an online health assessment tool aimed at reducing sick leave and the application of Kaizen, a work philosophy intended to make processes more efficient.

And a 3.5 per cent increase for members of the BC Nurses' Union is to be funded by increasing the work week from 36 to 37.5 hours, which BCNU president Debra McPherson said would reduce overtime and increase productivity.  [Tyee]

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