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Friday September 26th, 2014

Posted at 4:12pm

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The president of the University of Windsor has released a letter to the community addressing concerns over a looming faculty strike on October 1st.

September 26, 2014

To the University Community,

Universities are great places for debating juxtaposing ideas, particularly when the outcome of the debate has no material impact on one’s health or livelihood. A rousing difference of opinion or defeat in an argument can always find comfort in the anodyne that “we can agree to disagree”.

The Windsor University Faculty Association has asked its members to go on strike on October 1st. This invitation is based on various arguments that have been put forward by WUFA. Specifically, WUFA argues that we are building buildings at the expense of hiring people or paying them more. WUFA argues that the pension plan challenges are over-hyped. WUFA argues that the University of Windsor is in good fiscal shape.

On these issues, there is no “the truth is in the middle”. WUFA’s representation of the University’s funding of buildings, its operating budget, and its pension challenges are wrong and not supported by any credible bodies to which the University’s operations are accountable. These include our Board of Governors, auditors, the provincial Ministry that funds universities and colleges, provincial pension regulators, funding bodies, credit rating agencies, and donors. Should WUFA go on strike, any eventual solution and return to work will contain no changes in the administration’s position that in any way validate WUFA’s misrepresentations.

The University of Windsor is in the midst of an exciting $250M renewal of its campus. This has been badly needed for our university to be competitive and attractive to prospective students from here and around the world, and for our faculty and staff to have better facilities for their work. The attached table lists every Board- approved major capital project. There is a wide range of funding sources in support of the projects, and each funding source is identified. The date on which each project was approved by our Board of Governors is indicated. Agendas and minutes of all Board meetings are available (http://www.uwindsor.ca/secretariat/12/agendas-and-minutes), and any supporting documentation referred to but not directly on the web site is available on request. In the entire capital plan there is a funding solution for every project, including principal and interest costs if applicable. In the entire plan, to date only $680K, one- time, is taken from the operating budget with no related offsetting revenue source.

More and more money is being taken from the operating budget to pay the increasing costs of the Faculty Pension Plan (http://www1.uwindsor.ca/president/system/files/President-Update-23.pdf). The going concern deficit in the Plan is projected to increase by $10M, to $55M. In 2011/12 the University contributed $10.7M to the Plan. By 2015/16 this annual cost is expected to increase by 53% to $16.4M annually. This additional $5.7M is coming out of the operating budget and is one of the main drivers causing the realignments that have affected every department on campus. Over this time, member contributions will only increase from $5.2M to $6.2M. Unless members increase their contribution, the University will soon be paying more than 70% of the cost of the Plan. This disproportion is significantly out of step with our Employee Plan that has full cost-sharing, and out of step with the province’s expectation that public sector plans move to full cost sharing.

For six years, in detail, the entire community has been apprised of revenue and expense growth at the University through regular updates (http://www1.uwindsor.ca/president/communications-presidential). The fact is that expenses have risen faster than revenues every year, which is why we have had to realign our budget every year. Enrolment across Ontario is dropping, and realignments will continue unless we can dampen the cost escalation curve. Six years of communications, all of which map directly onto our financial statements, audited statements, reports to credit rating agencies, enrolment reports to government, and Board-approved operating budgets, are accurate, and the truth is that almost 80% of the operating budget goes to salaries, wages, benefits and pension contributions for employees. WUFA’s extraordinary claims all summer that somehow the University has no financial challenges are utterly baffling.

After twenty days with a mediator in June and July, it was clear that WUFA did not share the administration’s desire – first stated in January – to get a new collective agreement when the existing one expired. This desire was expressed because students should not have their education unnecessarily disrupted. Unfortunately, it is WUFA’s stated principle that the union must always use the threat of a strike to get what it wants. The final offer was implemented because the administration could go nowhere in bargaining with WUFA denying the fiscal facts summarized above. The final offer – an offer that over three years will see an average increase of 8.9% plus Windsor Salary Standard adjustments to keep salaries at the provincial median – confirmed the commitment to keep salaries at the University of Windsor competitive. If WUFA’s anger that a final offer was imposed rather than negotiated is enough to justify a strike, there is no financial remedy to reduce that anger.

The University wants its faculty to be paid competitively and wants to see their work and contributions celebrated. Some have expressed frustration that the Windsor Salary Standard has not helped them in the past couple of years. This is because salaries at the rank they are in had in fact moved ahead of the provincial median.

I am being urged to send the administration team back to the bargaining table. Many people purport to know or to have heard that the two sides are very close, and if the administration gives just a little bit there will be a deal. To all of you I say this. It seems that some may not be informed of WUFA’s demands – demands which indicate that the fiscal realities are not being acknowledged. In Update #23 I indicated that there will be a realignment challenge of $5.4M in 2015/16. That was based upon a projected first year enrolment decline of 200 students. We now know that the actual decline will be 380, and undoubtedly this will increase the realignment challenge.

Our final offer was developed in the context of the initial enrolment assumption. It was an offer meant to moderate the escalation in salaries, but to do so in a way that was fair, transparent, and maintaining the commitment to keep our faculty at the provincial median. The enrolment reality has also been shared with WUFA. Lastly, I hope that we can all recognize that we should strive to separate professional opinions from personal attacks. We will get through this and go forward as a community that has built a proud fifty year legacy. This is something I know our University can do.

To students at the University of Windsor, I know that this is a frustrating situation. There are two points I want to make. First, neither the administration nor the faculty want to see your education disrupted. There are exceptional teachers and researchers across the University, and there will be a resolution to the current impasse. Second, I personally cannot guarantee that there will not be a strike. That is the decision of WUFA. I assure you, WUFA members, and everyone on campus, that the administration will continue to do all it can and use whatever flexibility it has within its immediate and longer term fiscal realities to reach a negotiated collective agreement as quickly as possible.

Sincerely,
Alan Wildeman
President and Vice-Chancellor

You can read the entire letter and its attached appendix detailing the campus transformation plan here.

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