POSTED ON August 04, 2014
Bargaining and Conciliation Mega-Update

As we prepare for conciliation with the Employer (the University of Ottawa), this post’s aim is to provide you with information about conciliation dates, ongoing bargaining issues, agreed upon articles, and the possibility of a strike.

As we previously announced, the Employer put an end to direct bargaining on June 30 by calling for conciliation, despite the Union’s continued willingness to negotiate at the table. Abruptly calling for conciliation instead of working toward a fair deal for its workers is an established pattern for the University of Ottawa: in 2013, a similar stunt had been used after more than a year of bargaining with the Support Staff Union (SSUO), and after two months of collective bargaining with the Full-Time Professors Union (APUO).

Since our last update, a Conciliator has been appointed by the Ministry of Labour. CUPE 2626 and the Employer are now set to meet with the Conciliator, Michael Lalonde, for a first meeting on August 13, 2014. Hopefully this process will put pressure on the Employer to provide us with the information we need to move forward with bargaining and reach a fair deal for you. However, should the Employer keep refusing to bargain in good faith, we must prepare for the possibility of a strike in the near future.

Quick navigation (click on the links below)

Back to top

What happens now? A brief timeline of events leading up to conciliation meetings

  • On June 30, the Employer announced to CUPE 2626 that they had filed for conciliation.
  • In a letter dated July 2, the Ministry of Labour of Ontario confirmed that they had received an application from the University of Ottawa for the appointment of a Conciliation Officer.
  • In a letter dated July 9, the Ministry of Labour announced the nomination of the Conciliation Officer, Michael Lalonde.
  • CUPE 2626 will meet with the Employer and the Conciliator for two conciliation meetings on August 13 and 14.

Back to top

Main contentious issues with the Employer

Despite some progress throughout bargaining (see “Agreed upon articles” section), the overall process has not been smooth. Negotiations have been ongoing for almost a year with the parties meeting several times each month. Throughout bargaining, the Employer repeatedly failed to communicate the financial data and other information they are legally obligated to provide, and which is necessary to substantiate their proposals. As a result, we are is still far from reaching an agreement with respect to salary increases and other major issues: the Tuition Rebate, which protects members against further salary erosion (losing more of their salary to tuition hikes), and the Health and Dental Insurance provision.

Summary of the situation regarding financial proposals

CUPE 2626 has been requesting that the Employer provides better figures in order to properly evaluate their financial proposals. So far, the Employer will only talk about a so-called “pot” – the total of all financial proposals – without giving any indication as to the size of this “pot” or as to the value of each of its parts. This makes it difficult for us to clearly report on the Employer’s proposal in terms of specific amounts or figures, as the figures provided by the Employer are incomplete or even incorrect. The Employer simply changes money from one proposal to another according to the subject at hand, without explaining why the money is limited other than by reference to this mysterious pot. This situation not only impacts bargaining regarding salary increases for our members, but other important provisions as well, such as the Tuition Rebate, Health Insurance, Maternity Leave, etc.

Salary InCrease

The previous Collective Agreement (from September 2010 to August 2013) had provisions for the following salary increases: 1.5% for 2010-2011, 1.5% for 2011-2012, and 2% for 2012-2013. Unfortunately, these salary increases proved insufficient to counter higher-than-expected tuition fees hikes from 2010 to 2013, along with the standard cost of living.

As a result, for the current round of bargaining, CUPE 2626 asked for a 5% salary increase per year, in order to offset the effect of massive tuition hikes. The Employer first countered our demand with a rather dismal offer of 1% per year, but amended their offer to 1.7% following CUPE 2626’s successful strike vote in March 2013.

In the spirit of working toward a satisfactory agreement and to maintain the Tuition Rebate that the Employer seeks to eliminate (see below), the Union suggested a salary increase of 3% per year. Combined with the protection of a proper Tuition Rebate, such a salary increase would still be a considerable improvement on previous years. In response, the Employer came back to the table with an offer of 1.8% per year. At this point, negotiations hit a wall regarding financial proposals.

In summary, we are entering conciliation with the following proposals: The Union is asking for a 3% salary increase per year, with the protection of an improved Tuition Rebate. The Employer is proposing a 1.8% salary increase per year, while seeking to completely eliminate any form of Tuition Rebate – such a proposal would basically strip our members of any protection against future tuition increases.

Tuition Rebate

Current situation: At this time, the Tuition Rebate (also known as the Tuition Support Bursary) allows members to receive a rebate for any increase in tuition fees in excess of 4% per year. The rebate is calculated based on the tuition fees paid during the reference year – May 1 of the year in which a member first registered into their program. The Employer has been interpreting this threshold as equivalent to the average of tuition increases from year to year. For example, a (fictional) increase of 3% in 2011 would have resulted in no rebate for members first registered in September 2010, and a (fictional) 7% increase in 2012 would have resulted in a rebate of only 2% for the same members. 

What we want: CUPE 2626’s goal is to prevent further loss of revenue for our members due to tuition fees hikes. We are demanding the elimination of a % threshold: Upon obtaining a contract, our members would receive a tuition rebate equal to the difference between the fees for the year in progress (whatever that year may be) and the fees paid during the reference year, as long as they are members – essentially, they would benefit from a tuition freeze. This would ensure that our members would be better protected against increases in tuition fees.

The Employer’s stance: At this time, the Employer seeks to completely eliminate any rebate or bursary offsetting tuition fees increases. By eliminating the rebate, they wish to ensure that they can collect the full amount of the recent tuition fees increase – which is greater in value than the net increase in wages for our members. It is clear, therefore, that the value of this clause has increased dramatically due to the above 4% tuition hikes over the past few years. This also means that this is THE main issue on which the Employer refuses to move, affecting other provisions. However, the Employer has yet to properly quantify the value of the Tuition Rebate, ignoring our own corrections and research, and making it difficult for us to reach an agreement.

Health and Dental Insurance

Current situation: The Employer is discontinuing the optional, Employee-paid health and dental insurance that was provided through Manulife at the request of the insurance company due to insufficient use of the program.

What we want: CUPE 2626 proposed that the first payment of the first contract obtained in an academic year include an additional one-time lump sum of $40/year to be used toward health insurance as employees see fit. This Employer-paid stipend would help our members offset the cost of their existing health insurance, such as GSAÉD’s Greenshield insurance. The Union originally proposed a stipend of $100, which the Employer categorically refused. At this time, they have not responded to our second proposal of a $40 lump sum, saying they could not and would not do so until the Tuition Rebate issue is resolved.

The Employer’s stance: The Employer proposed a mandatory adherence to an Employee-paid insurance program for all members at a cost of $72/month ($864/year) per member. While this rate constitutes a tiny reduction in premium compared to the previous optional program, such a mandatory Employee-paid insurance is redundant for our members due to already existing superior student coverage (such as GSAÉD’s Greenshield insurance). Ultimately, the Employee-paid plan proposed by the Employer does little to address the healthcare needs of TAs and RAs.

Term of Collective Agreement

There is some disagreement between the Union and the Employer regarding the duration of the new Collective Agreement. Historically, our Collective Agreements have been for terms of three years. Due to the high turnover of our membership, CUPE 2626 seeks to maintain the 3-year term, since a shorter term means we renegotiate more often and can better accommodate the demands and needs of our membership. The Employer, however, wishes to move to a 4-year term – mainly to avoid having to negotiate with CUPE 2626 along with other unions on campus at the same time.

Back to top

Issues on which CUPE 2626 is close to reaching an agreement with the Employer

While we have made some progress on the following issues, we have yet to reach an agreement with the Employer. We’re hoping to be able to move forward on these issues once the conciliation process begins on August 13.

Increased funding for the Conference Fund and Financial Aid Fund

Summary of the situation: We are currently getting $ 20,000 per year for the Conference Fund, and approximately $150,000 per year for the Financial Aid Fund. These funds are extremely popular with our members, due in part to increasing tuition fees and the overall cost of education in Ontario. As a result, these funds get depleted quite fast.

We are asking for increased funding in order to help more members throughout the year. However, negotiations are stalling, and it is difficult to get a clear idea of how much the Employer is willing to provide in terms of increased funding. Due to the Employer’s refusal to share clear financial data (see above), it is difficult to establish precise demands. We hope to be able to move forward on these issues and provide you with a more complete picture following conciliation on August 13 and 14.

More Flexible Maternity Leave Provisions

Summary of the situation: The Employer has accepted (but has been attempting to backtrack for a few weeks) to remove the threshold of 13 weeks worked during the year to gain access to maternity leave. The most important aspect of this improved disposition is that now, if an employee has an entitlement for a contract for the next semester (as per article 18.7), and if the maternity leave (with a duration of 17 weeks) starts at the end of the current contract, it may continue into the next semester. This means the maternity leave becomes more flexible and easier to access by members at any point during their contract – ultimately making the whole process fairer for our members.

CUPE 2626 considered this matter nearly settled, but now the Employer is sending mixed signals, as they appear unable to provide us with a clear indication of the cost related to this disposition. It would seem that the wall that was hit regarding the overall financial aspect of the proposals (see above) is the main reason why we have yet to agree on maternity leave. It is also worth noting that the Employer is using FGPS data to justify the price of this proposal (FGPS data does not always represent our membership accurately, since not all members are grad students, and not all grad students have contracts throughout the year).

Improved Harassment Complaint Process and Provisions

Summary of the situation: The harassment complaint process currently in place for TAs, RAs, etc, is rather murky, as there is some incoherence regarding the interaction of labour law and health and safety law. We are seeking to clarify the process by ensuring that complaints are investigated by an unbiased expert mandated to act according to a clear and standard procedure that conforms to the Ontario Health and Safety Act. In short, CUPE 2626 is proposing that the entire harassment complaint process in the workplace reflects the University’s own Policy 67a, and that this process be enshrined in the Collective Agreement. This would solidify the Union’s role as the entity mandated with defending workers in cases of harassment in the workplace.

At this time, the Employer and CUPE 2626 have yet to agree on this procedure. However, progress has been made in a joint committee tasked with studying the anti-harassment process provision. Recommendations to create a unique process to deal with both sexual and non-sexual harassment would create one consistent approach, coherent with Policy 67a. We’re hoping to be able to move forward in reaching an agreement on the actual process during conciliation.

Back to top

Articles on which CUPE 2626 has reached an agreement with the Employer

We’ve successfully reached an agreement in principle on the following points with the Employer. While these provisions won’t come into effect until the Collective Agreement is ratified, we consider these matters settled. Don’t hesitate to contact us for for more details on these points.


    • Article 18  A simpler job application system will go online by January 2015. NB: Some details remain to clarify regarding the start of the period during which a member is entitled to a contract. The Union is pushing for the period to be defined in terms of “year of study” – in other words, the 12-month period following registration. The Employer wants to define it in terms of “academic year”, from September 1st of a given year to August 31st of the following year. A “year of study” definition would be most effective at ensuring better job protection for members, no matter what month they begin their studies.

Better Working Conditions

    • Article 31 – The “average of 10 hours/week” rule will be replaced by a total of 170 hours/session. The old rule was sometimes problematic, especially if marking contracts were issued near the end of the semester. This new rule will allow for a fairer, more flexible workload for our members, and should help curb administrative problems.
    • Article 31 – Greater flexibility for research assistants regarding the maximum hours per week. RAs will have the right to request exemptions from the 25 hours/week or 40 hours/2 weeks limit during busy periods (eg grant applications, publication deadline, field work, etc.). This will make it easier for RAs to create a work schedule better adapted to their needs.
    • Article 4.3 – Paid preparation time for TAs who have to perform teaching duties. A period of 3 days is now necessary to allow time for TAs to prepare. In addition, the preparation time is now paid.

Better protection

    • Article 13 – An improved grievance process, simpler and hopefully faster, shortened to one step. This simplified one-step grievance procedure excludes deans from the grievance process.
    • Article 25 – A better working environment in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act. This new provision, now embedded in our collective agreement, will make it easier to ensure that the Employer meets its obligations – or, if they don’t, to grieve.
    • Article no longer applicable – Work-Study program contracts will no longer be excluded from the Collective Agreement. The Work-Study program, previously run by the Government of Ontario, was officially discontinued in April 2012 and has been run by the University of Ottawa ever since. Previously, the collective agreement included a non-application clause for Work-Study contracts. This non-application clause has now been lifted at the demand of CUPE 2626, allowing for better working conditions for Work-Study contracts, and a clearer, less confusing system.


    • Article 20 – Paid training in health and safety and in understanding the collective agreement. The law requires that everyone complete health & safety training. The collective agreement now reflects this obligation clearly and incorporates a reference to the law itself. At the end of the training period, the Union will also have a 1-hour period to talk to members about their rights, their union and their collective agreement.

Back to top

Strike Preparation

At this time, the Bargaining Team is ready to begin the conciliation process with the Employer. On August 13 and 14, when CUPE 2626 and the Employer meet with the Conciliator, we hope to continue working toward a fair deal for our members. However, should the Employer keep refusing to bargain in good faith, we must prepare for the possibility of a strike in the near future. Please see our previous post for more information regarding conciliation and what happens in the event the process fails to get parties to reach an agreement.

Picketing pays!

Should the Employer’s attitude at the conciliation table bring about a strike, we’ll need you  the members  to send a strong, decisive message and state loud and clear that the Employer must cease stonewalling on financial issues to reach an agreement in good faith. A strike would also become necessary to avoid being locked-out by the Employer, which would prevent members from performing their duties and getting paid.

In the event of a strike, CUPE 2626 wants to provide opportunities for members to keep making a living wage while showing solidarity and determination. Members who participate in the execution of strike related activities will be paid at the rate of $39.75 per hour, plus the 3% salary increase we are asking for, for a maximum of 10 hours per week  effectively what TAs and RAs would be paid under a new collective agreement. As we move through the conciliation process, keep an eye out for further information regarding the possibility of a strike, including a call for picketers.

Back to top