I first published this essay in The Scoop, Issue 134, August 29th, 2014, Windsor, ON. Thanks to the publishers for allowing me to repost it.
University Administration Tactics Threat to Labour Movement
On July 18th, 2014 the administration of the University of Windsor informed the Windsor University Faculty Association that they would cease to bargain. Instead of continuing what had been a productive—if hard-nosed– set of negotiations, the administration chose to walk away. But not only that, four days later, on July 22nd, a letter from President Alan Wildeman informed WUFA members that his administration would be imposing the terms and conditions of work contained in the July 18th offer.
The unilateral, authoritarian move has understandably alarmed and angered WUFA members. It ought to alarm and anger all unionised workers in the city. It is not a well-known fact that employers have the right, under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, to dictate terms and conditions of work in the absence of a signed collective agreement. It is not a well-known fact because most employers chose not to exercise this right. So why is the University of Windsor administration behaving more like Caterpillar, (who moved their Electro-motive locomotive plant from London to Muncie, Indiana two years ago after insisting on impossible-to-grant concessions from their workers), and less like academic colleagues devoting some of their career to administrative duties?
The answer is complex. It involves intensified pressures on public universities as a result of the 2008 financial crisis and austerity ideology, endless demands from government for ‘accountability’ measures that waste time and resources but make administrators feel like they are the only people standing between the institution and oblivion, and policies that have put universities and other institutions of higher education in competition with each other, increasing the pressure of market forces and making administrators feel more like bosses in private business than colleagues in a university.
These factors are important, but on their own insufficient explanations of the Wildeman administration’s approach to bargaining. These pressures exist across the university sector and our sister institutions have been able to settle fair collective agreements. In the past couple of weeks Carleton and Brock have settled difficult negotiations on terms better than currently being offered by the University of Windsor, even though Windsor is not in worse financial shape than either.
In addition to the political economic pressures being exerted on all public universities, Windsor seems to suffer from a leadership style that has no place in a twenty-first century public university in a democratic country.
Leadership is important. Boldness of vision is important. Investment is important. No one faults the President for doing his job, articulating a vision, or investing in new infrastructure and buildings. But investments are supposed to create work, not come at the expense of it. Over the last six years the University of Windsor has lost 48 full-time faculty while increasing its enrolments modestly. That means fewer courses, larger class sizes, and a threat to the comprehensive nature of the University of Windsor.
It does not have to be this way. Universities are not for profit business in which the owners appropriate the surplus as private property. There is no structural conflict of interest between administration and faculty in the way there is between owners and workers. If relations between administrators and faculty take on the adversarial character of relations between owners and bosses, it is because administrators start to act like bosses. (Faculty members typically are more interested in their own research and teaching than union politics).
The problem at Windsor takes the form of an administration that simply cannot get along with its workers, its faculty, or its students. Last year CUPE 1393 was on strike for more than a month. The President regularly took to the press to denounce the CUPE leadership for not understanding fiscal realities. Last March, an attempt by students to organize a boycott of products made in the occupied West Bank created a campus wide controversy which, while sharp, is just the sort of controversy one hopes for on a university campus. It potentially gave students an opportunity to put into practice the communication, argumentation, and criticism skills they are supposedly here to learn. But rather than let students democratically figure out a solution on their own, the President intervened to effectively suspend student government and take over the finances of the University of Windsor Student Alliance. This shocking move came after an organized protest was successful in preventing the election of a full slate of UWSA councillors. Now, as summer of 2014 draws to a close and the beginning of the fall term nears, the University again finds itself at a critical moment. Instead of finishing the job of negotiating a collective agreement with WUFA, Wildeman has once again put his interpretation of the problems ahead of democratic deliberation and compromise and has attempted to impose terms he finds acceptable on the faculty.
Faculty, of course, have rejected this unilateralism. On August 14th ,we took a successful strike vote. 81.4% of faculty voted in favour of job action if it proves necessary to achieve a negotiated agreement. Regardless of what Windsorites may think of the university’s offer (and it is not as generous as it has been made out to be by the administration or The Windsor Star, and does not meet norms in our sector), all working people have to be concerned, and ought to raise their voice against, the tactics of the administration. For most working people, terms and conditions of employment are arbitrarily dictated by management. The great benefit of belonging to a union—indeed, the great advance for democracy represented by the union movement—is that unions enable working women and men to help shape their work conditions through the collective bargaining process. If the university administration’s draconian tactics are allowed to stand, the hard won rights of collective bargaining are put in jeopardy for all workers.
Please visit WUFA’s website: www.wufa.ca for more information on solidarity actions and WUFA’s position on the state of negotiations. If you are alarmed by the unilateralism and authoritarianism of the tactics being pursued, please email President Wildeman to voice your opposition: firstname.lastname@example.org