Labour practice charges laid over proposed Extension changes
The union representing faculty at the U of S has filed unfair labour practice charges against the institution over its handling to the proposed disestablishment of the Extension Division, a process the Provost said honoured his commitment to the employees of the division.
At a news conference March 24, Tracy Marchant, biology professor and chair of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association (USFA), said the charges were filed March 20 with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board in Regina after administration “ignored the association and failed to negotiate their plans for the Extension Division with us. This is illegal.”
University Council will deal with motions April 20 that disestablish Extension by July 1, 2007, and create a New Learning Centre and a Centre for Continuing and Distance Education that will reassign the Extension Division’s responsibilities. A human resources plan will be drawn up to address the relocation of faculty and staff positions.
While acknowledging Council’s right to determine the academic direction of the University, including the disestablishment of Extension, Marchant said the association’s concern is that under the new structure, non-faculty instead of faculty members will handle the development and delivery of education programs. “That,” she said, “is the basis for our legal action.”
There is no indication how many faculty positions will ultimately be lost, she said, but a decision to “scrap” Extension will trigger layoff and severance provisions contained in the USFA collective agreement for the 11 association members in that division. She added the transfer of faculty positions to other units is voluntary, “but I suspect the vast majority of them (faculty positions) will disappear.”
When asked why the USFA chose to file charges before the decision is made to dissolve Extension, Marchant said the association was not included in discussions about the proposed structural changes, “and with all due respect, our rights as a union cannot be ignored.”
Responding to the claim the USFA was excluded from preparation of the proposals, Michael Atkinson said the association “was made aware of the University’s proposals regarding Extension at the same time as Extension itself, and that was done in order to honour my pledge to Extension that I would not take any proposal anywhere until I took it to them first. I thought it would be untoward to talk to their union before I talked to them.
“If the question is about who should have talked to who first, the way we chose to introduce those proposals is perfectly defensible.”
The proposed changes were initially presented to Extension staff and faculty Feb. 1 and the USFA was well represented at that meeting, said Atkinson, adding the faculty association has an “outstanding invitation” to meet with administration.
“I have indicated I would be willing to sit down and talk to the faculty association. In fact, I felt it was necessary because any human resources plan would need their input. However, there would be no HR plan unless we had agreement to disestablish Extension in the first place.”
The University will be filing a formal response to the association’s charges with the Labour Relations Board, but Atkinson believes the situation could have been handled differently.
“I think that if there is a genuine problem with the process, it might have been managed better through discussion instead of asking us to atone for something that hasn’t happened yet. “