REGINA/SASKATOON - University workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are slamming the University of Saskatchewan’s decision this week to request a judicial review of a recent arbitration award regarding job evaluation.
In September an arbitrator found the U of S in breach of the collective agreement with CUPE Local 1975, which represents 2,400 university workers, for refusing to continue participating in the joint job evaluation process until its completion. The province’s two universities and CUPE signed a tripartite agreement in 1998 to start the process to achieve wage parity and pay equity for the union’s members.
In 2003 the U of S abandoned the job evaluation process to unilaterally develop its own pay system. The university’s administration now claims the job evaluation process was flawed from the beginning, pointing to the mixing or “cobbling” of different job evaluation ratings at the two campuses.
But Rhonda Heisler, CUPE Local 1975 first vice-president at the U of S, says both universities and the union were equally involved in every decision relating to the job evaluation project. “The process was only branded as ‘fundamentally flawed’ after a change in senior administration at the U of S, which adopted a new strategic plan,” says Heisler. “Apparently, the university’s ‘strategic goals’ fail to acknowledge joint processes and the legally-binding agreement already in place. If anything is flawed, it’s the university’s strategic plan.”
Although the University of Regina was not found in breach of the collective agreement, they have stated publicly that they fully support the actions of the U of S administration.
“Many different resolutions were discussed when the joint job evaluation committees at the two universities came up with divergent results,” says Don Puff, chair of the union’s bargaining committee. “The decision to mix or ‘cobble’ the results was a joint union-management decision made by the Job Evaluation Steering Committee, so the universities are in fact objecting to something they agreed to.”
“The universities claim they are committed to settling this dispute at the proper table, yet they are challenging the arbitrator’s decision which would see that happen,” says Puff. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
The employer continues to insist that pay equity adjustments be paid out of the general compensation package that is being negotiated at the main bargaining table. But Heisler says pay equity increases need to be negotiated separately at the job evaluation table. “The universities effectively want our members to “buy” pay equity at the main bargaining table by forcing us to choose between pay equity adjustments and a general wage increase or benefit improvements. That’s completely unacceptable.”
Heisler warns that the judicial review will only have a negative impact on current contract negotiations, which have dragged on for over 22 months.
“The University of Saskatchewan seems more interested in litigation than education. Our tax dollars would be better spent on educating our students and fixing the pay inequities facing support staff.”
CUPE Local 1975 represents about 1,800 members at the University of Saskatchewan and 600 members at the University of Regina who work in a variety of areas including clerical, technical, maintenance and food services.
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