This letter is written out of respect for our membership requesting a response to an Open Letter that is now hosted on the UBC Insiders website. To that end, please allow us to clarify various points that we found problematic in the ‘Open Letter’ written by Dr. Klonsky. We have also sent a copy to the UBC Insiders to host if they choose.
The Union’s role in bargaining is to achieve for its members the best collective agreement possible. We chose the University of Toronto as a comparator because (a) UBC compares itself academically to the University of Toronto, (b) our counterparts at the University of Toronto have been in bargaining at the same time as we, and (c) the collective agreement for TAs at the University of Toronto is in many ways superior to ours.
Dr. Klonsky asks: “Why did union leadership not provide similar information about McGill University? Why did union leadership opt to keep this information from membership”
These are independent questions. The first is answered above. The answer to the second is: we didn’t.
Dr. Klonsky writes: “At present UBC is hindered by stringent, unusual, and temporary BC governmental restrictions (e.g., “net-zero”). This is precisely the time when UBC has the least they are permitted to offer TAs. A strike next academic year after the “net-zero” restriction is lifted could yield far more benefits for TAs.”
This is a mistake. As we have made clear in membership meetings (which, to be fair, Dr. Klonsky is not welcome to attend, as a non-member of CUPE 2278), the provincial mandate for the years 2012-2014 is not “net zero” as it was for the years 2010-2012. We learned of the new “cooperative gains” mandate in January 2012. Under a “cooperative gains” mandate, UBC can, in fact, offer financial improvements to our collective agreement; as we have told the Employer at the table, the Union is seeking to negotiate a four year agreement (i.e., from September 2010 to August 2014). To clarify, the current contract under negotiation applies to 2010-2012 regardless of when it is settled. So, we are negotiating for terms for the 2010-2012 ‘net zero’ years regardless of when they are settled.
Dr. Klonsky asks: “Why was this issue of timing never introduced to membership for formal discussion? Why was there no discussion of pros and cons for striking now vs. after “net-zero” is lifted?”
This has, unsurprisingly, been discussed at membership meetings. Perhaps Dr. Klonsky has some other sort of “formal discussion” in mind, but we are not sure what it could be. (Again, in Dr. Klonsky’s defence, he is not a member of this union, and therefore not welcome at our membership meetings.)
CUPE 2278 enjoys cordial relations with the UBC Faculty Association. In the event of any job action by CUPE 2278, we would of course communicate with all of our friends on campus.
Nevertheless, it is true that we could have done more to reach out to faculty. However, our focus has been on (a) bargaining effectively for a collective agreement that best serves our members’ interests, and (b) reaching out to our members over a very short time about possible job action. Our members will always be our priority, even though in this case that may have meant that we failed to exhibit “common courtesy” to faculty.
“A Rush to Strike”
This section of Dr. Klonsky’s letter consists largely of vague accusations against the union leadership, which are correspondingly difficult to refute. Here are some of the concrete things he says:
“Other TAs told me that in an effort to ensure a positive strike vote union leadership repeatedly emphasized that a positive strike vote did not mean there would be a strike. This sentiment was also apparent in posts by TAs on the TA union Facebook page, for example: “it was heavily implied before the vote (though in a conveniently non-binding way) that there would not necessarily be a strike.””
It is a fact that a positive strike vote does not necessarily mean a strike. We have more than implied this, we have explicitly stated it, for example in the Job Action FAQ on our website. Please also refer to this article in the Ubyssey, which contains the following passage:
Lucie McNeill, director of UBC Public Affairs, said strike votes are a normal part of negotiations. “The reason why strike votes are often taken is so that the bargaining team for the union comes back with a stronger mandate to the table,” she said. “We understand that, and we respect that.”
Returning to Dr. Klonsky’s letter: “Other TAs expressed to me that union leadership went out of its way to emphasize the pay available during a strike but never explicitly mentioned that receiving strike pay requires working for the union and picketing. If you don’t picket, you don’t get strike pay. You have a doctor’s appointment and can’t make it? Too bad. You don’t come to campus on Wednesdays? Too bad.”
This is false. Here is what we have said on our Facebook page (which Dr. Klonsky can read): “In case of a strike (and, again, remember that a positive strike vote does not mean that we are on strike), a decision would have to be made on how much work is required to receive strike pay; but it would not be 20 hours! In the past, it has usually been only a few hours per week on a picket line.”
What we have said in membership meetings is that in the event of job action, we (i.e., the members of CUPE 2278) would have to decide what would be required in order to receive strike pay. At the meeting on March 21, our members heard from a past Union leader that during the 2003 strike, we required all members to do 12 hours of work per week to receive strike pay. Picketing was required only of those able to do so; other work (e.g., the administrative work associated with distributing strike pay) was found for members unable to picket.
Dr. Klonsky writes: “In short, it seems union leadership was selective and biased in the information they provided to TAs in an effort to achieve what they wanted: a positive strike vote.”
This sounds like a misleading half-truth. On the one hand, it is no secret that the union leadership advocated a positive strike vote. There is a reason we wrote a document titled “Why Vote “Yes”?“. As we explain in that document, we believe that a positive strike vote was in the best interests of our members. (It would be strange if we called a strike vote but had no opinion on what the outcome should be.) But on the other hand, Dr. Klonsky implies that we communicated irresponsibly with our members–that we deceived them into voting “yes”. Aside from responding to the few concrete points above, we can see nothing more to say than that Dr. Klonsky is mistaken.
Dr. Klonsky writes:
In a March 22 post on the CUPE2278 blog, union leadership noted that a different UBC union, CUPE 116, received a mandate to strike. Specifically, 75% of CUPE 116 members voted, and 89% were in favor. This means that 67% of CUPE 116 members voted to strike – a true mandate. The corresponding numbers for the TA Union strike vote are quite different: only 35% of TA union members voted, and 81% were in favor. In short, 67% of CUPE 116 voted to strike compared to only 28% of TA union members.
Based on results from their respective votes, CUPE 116 leadership can be certain that an overwhelming majority of its membership support a strike, but TA union leadership cannot. It is quite possible that the majority of UBC TAs do not want to strike. Instead of acknowledging this very real possibility, and instead of acknowledging the disparities between the two votes, TA union leadership claimed a “positive strike mandate” within minutes of the vote closing. If union leadership first and foremost cared about ascertaining the consensus among its membership, the result would have given them pause. I might suggest that union leadership cared more about claiming a positive strike mandate.
Under the Labour Code, a vote of 50% + 1 is a positive strike vote, regardless of turnout. That is, under the law, a union can call for a strike only if a majority of votes were “yes” votes. Therefore, a vote of 81% “yes” is a positive strike mandate.
The turnout for CUPE 2278′s strike vote in 2012 is comparable to the turnout for our strike vote in 2003, which did lead to legal job action. This is despite the significantly shorter time we have had to promote, advertise, and discuss potential job action, due to the government’s mandate being released in January of this year.
It is also worth pointing out that we do not have the same access to our own members that CUPE 116 has. The Employer does not provide us with our members’ email addresses. We make every effort we can to reach as many of our members as possible, but we still fall short of the reach we would like to have. (Incidentally, the Employer has agreed at the bargaining table to provide the Union with our members’ email addresses.)
In closing, let us speak to the reasons why we removed Dr. Klonsky’s letter from our Facebook page. It was not because we seek to suppress his ideas. It was not because his views differ from ours. It was not because we did not want to have to respond to him. Though our Facebook page is open to the public, it is provided as a space for our members to discuss matters related to the Union. To this end, take the following as an extreme example: if an outside member of the media were to post a “Why Vote ‘No’?” document on our Facebook page in advance of the strike vote, we would have removed it. Dr. Klonsky’s letter was not quite such a clear-cut case, but, as we have explained above, his letter contained several factual errors, misleading half-truths, and vague accusations against the union leadership—and Dr. Klonsky is not a member of this union, which, in our opinion, reduces our obligation to host his writing in our space. We are pleased that he has found an alternative space to post his letter, so that we can respond to it without even slightly endorsing it by hosting it on our Facebook page.
-CUPE 2278 Exec