Collective Agreement is problematic for STUSU

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The Collective Agreement between the St. Thomas University Students’ Union and Public Service Alliance of Canada is set to be renegotiated this summer. The outcome of those renegotiations could affect STUSU employee positions and potentially student fees.

The Collective Agreement is a roughly 50-page document detailing specifics on employee pay, suspension and discipline, hours of work and job security, among many other things.

“Our employees are unionized, which is weird because that doesn’t tend to happen in student unions,” said Philippe Ferland, vice-president administration.

The agreement prevents STUSU employee salaries from being known to the public and prevents STUSU from cutting employee positions. This includes the yearbook editor, one of the positions that could be brought up in the renegotiations. Fourth-year student Ayla Poitras currently holds this position.

Poitras declined an interview with The Aquinian, but did offer the following in a Facebook message:

“I think, while I’d love to give an interview, it wouldn’t warrant one in person or on the phone. As of right now, my job as yearbook editor requires me to collect photos throughout the year and send them to the communications co-ordinator so they can put it up on the STUSU website,” Poitras said.

She said this may change depending on how next year’s STUSU executives approach the yearbook.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’m in a position to talk about the job other than what I’ve already said. I am coming back next year and would rather not possibly speak in a way that might be seen as poorly.”

STUSU has debated cutting the yearbook for the past three years as maintaining the funding for it is no longer economically feasible. It was a topic of debate in the recent presidential elections, with some candidates wanting to bring back hardcopies of the yearbook.

The yearbook switched to digital this school year, changing the job requirements for the yearbook editor. Poitras’ duties include collecting, taking and sending photos to the communications co-ordinator. An online version of the yearbook is supposed to be accessible before graduation in May, but nothing has been uploaded to the yearbook section on the STUSU website yet.

“We don’t want to have to increase our student fees every year, especially for a service that only benefits 200 students who got there first to get yearbooks,” said Brianna Matchett, vice-president student life.

Matchett said there would often be leftover yearbooks sitting in the office some years.

“That was just a huge waste money, since things are getting more and more digital,” she said.

Since there is no longer a physical yearbook, the yearbook editor essentially “gets paid to get paid,” according to Matchett.

On the budget for the 2016-17 year, the employee salaries are blacked out. The salaries are blacked out for the activities co-ordinator, chief returning officer, chair, communications co-ordinator, help desk co-ordinator, recording secretary, welcome week chair and yearbook editor.

A rough estimate, based on the information that isn’t blacked out, puts the employee salaries at about $15.85 per hour. In comparison, the president earns $9.37 for the 30-hour work week and vice-presidents make $10.41 for a 15-hour work week. The employee salaries increase on a yearly basis and returning employees receive additional increases on their salaries. The money to pay for employee positions is derived from the student fees every St. Thomas student pays.

Article 20.07a) of the agreement states, “An employee shall be granted pay increments until they reach the maximum rate for the position.”

There are two other employee salaries that are blacked out: student advocate and emergency bursary co-ordinator. Currently, no one occupies those positions. STUSU has fazed out these positions by not refilling them after the people who occupied them graduated. STUSU didn’t search for people to refill these positions because they couldn’t afford to pay for these positions without increasing student fees. Attempts to get rid of some positions in previous renegotiations of the agreement proved fruitless, so fazing the positions out was the only way to get around the limits of the agreement.

The Collective Agreement prevents the STUSU from getting rid of employee positions. Article 5.01 of the agreement states, “No employee shall be laid-off during the life of this Collective Agreement.”

The term laid-off in New Brunswick includes removing someone from their position because it’s no longer economically feasible for their employer to pay for their position.

“That means that, whether the student union can afford to pay them or not, they stay,” Ferland said.

“Consistently, we’ve had to cut services every year just to keep paying these employees because their salaries increase each year.”

In addition, the process for firing employees is multifaceted.

“We’ve had situations where employees just weren’t doing their job but we couldn’t fire them because we have to follow this complex process and, if after so much time, it still doesn’t work, then they just restart,” said Ferland.

“If an employee is returning next year to school, they have priority to keep their job anyway … so if an employee wasn’t doing a good job, we can’t just refuse them that job next year. They get to keep it and still get their pay increase regardless of what their performance was beforehand,” Ferland said.

STUSU president Fernanda Damiani said she hopes some things will change when the renegotiations occur.

“The collective agreement is very strict on what we can and what we can’t do and how we can deal with things. I would hope that it changes, but I don’t know if it will.”

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