Day 18 – News from the Picket Line

Today, after 17 days in the President’s office, sit-in students gave their closing comments to President Mike DeGagné and informed him that they were joining their professors on the picket line. They marched towards us with signs and they were chanting, “People united are never defeated!”.  What a tremendous day it has been!

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NUFA Responds to Berube’s Inflammatory Comments

In an email sent directly to each student of the University last week, Board of Governors Chair Marianne Berube claimed that the faculty strike was “strategically intended to have maximum impact on students and that is deeply unfortunate”. Not only is this claim false, but for Ms. Berube to suggest this to students in her capacity as Chair of the Board is unprofessional and unacceptable.

The faculty association has in fact had almost no influence over the timing of this labour action. As Ms. Berube well knows, negotiations with the Administration began in the spring semester. Throughout April and May, it proved extremely difficult to schedule meetings with the Administration’s bargaining team. Indeed, of the 11 meetings originally scheduled over the course of April and May, the Administration cancelled 6 of them. We have had persistent scheduling problems with the Administration due to the need to work around the schedule of their chief negotiator, Toronto-based lawyer and partner in the employment law firm Hicks Morley, Mr. John Brooks. While faculty represent themselves in bargaining, the Administration and Board of Governors hires an extraordinarily expensive labour lawyer, whose bills are paid out of the operating funds of the university, and who must commute to North Bay for each meeting.

As soon as the provincial conciliator became involved, that introduced another set of limits to our scheduling: we expressed our preference for the earliest available dates when filing for conciliation back in August, but we were unable to secure the services of a conciliator until October 7th. The setting of a strike deadline is a matter of law in Ontario and not the choice of the union. After the failure of conciliation to produce an agreement, provincial law stipulates a 17 day cooling-off period from the filing of a “no-board” report before a union is in a legal strike position. In our case, that happened to be November 2nd.

Ms. Berube’s job as the Chair of the Board of Governors is to be a steward for the long-term health and reputation of Nipissing. We remind Ms. Berube that the reputation of this university has been built fundamentally on the dedication and care faculty give our students. For the Chair of the Board of Governors to suggest to the students of the university that faculty deliberately harmed their interests is not only false but shows extremely poor judgement on her part, and suggests she has failed to understand her role as Board Chair.

The faculty of Nipissing University call for Ms. Berube to immediately retract her comments by sending a corrected communication to our students or by forwarding this post to them.

Day 16-News from Picket Line

It’s the beginning of the fourth week. Unbelievable and yet here we are. Still, you have to stand up for what you believe. Change doesn’t come without steely spines and a willingness to take the long view.

A few of the NUFA Executive started the day by picketing with the locked out employees of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC). President Susan Srigley demonstrated NUFA’s support by offering a donation, including coffee and donuts to UNIFOR folks on the their line.

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The snow began to fall late in the day. A nice winter wonderland touch before the NUFA Special Meeting this evening.

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Financial Games and Manufactured Crises at Nipissing

Do you know that old Groucho Marx line: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them… well, I have others.” That’s a pretty good summary of what it’s like to negotiate with our current administrators: one day, the strike is about money; the next, it’s about governance. One moment, they’re eagerly trying to set dates to meet; the next, they can do nothing but wait on the mediator.

In their most recent public statements, the Administration has decided to return to claiming that the strike is all about money and that their last tabled offer, although less than half the average provincial settlement in the sector, is “fair and reasonable.” It’s also half what the Board of Governors recently gave senior administrators in percentage increases in a single year. Apparently when it comes to Senior Administrative salaries, the so called “financial circumstances” at the university don’t matter.

The real question then is this: just what are the financial circumstances of the University? Despite the Administration’s claims to transparency, it can certainly seem difficult to tell. If by transparent they mean that it took NUFA filing a bad faith bargaining complaint against the employer at the Ontario Labour Relations Board in order to force them to release documents related to their financial claims, including a third-party audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, then indeed they meet this unusual definition of ‘transparent’. The PwC financial report reveals a complicated story of financial mismanagement at Nipissing and clearly identifies worrisome financial practices; “NU’s current financial management practices have impacted the University’s ability to manage the deficit in recent years. The lack of timely and reliable information and strong financial management practices resulted in the absence of long-term strategic plans…” (PwC, 2015: 4)

The report also contains damning statements related to the Board of Governors, like the following: “Reporting to the Board has not included detailed analysis of performance against budget and risk mitigation discussions due to limited availability of financial reporting,” and “Capital budgets for the University are not discussed in appropriate detail during Board and Management meetings” (PwC, 2015: 30). Ultimately this means that major decisions, like the decision to close our satellite campuses or to cut 54 positions at the University have been made without a sound financial rationale, let alone an academic one.

Moreover, during the same period in which full time contract faculty positions were not renewed and the decisions were made to close the Muskoka and Brantford campuses, Nipissing did not have a Chief Financial Officer. The Finance team at this time and indeed since has been the Provost and Vice President Academic as well as the Head of Human Resources.[1] No surprise then that the PwC third-party audit report rated the Administration’s financial performance as “Poor” and “High Risk” in almost every category of evaluation (PwC, 2015: 33-42, 83-90). This is a story that needs to be told, too, for the sake of the future of the university

Yet there is a much simpler story which is equally revealing. From 2010 to 2015, the Administration projected budget deficits every single year. But every year until 2013, the reality of what was actually spent turned out to be very different as each time the audited financial statements indicated surpluses. In 2014, the current Administration projected a budget deficit of $4.8 million, but after the annual audit it was revealed to be a deficit of only $400,000 before amortization. This year, the Administration ramped up their rhetoric and declared a financial crisis – though this time, they pleaded, it was for real – and laid off 54 employees. This time they projected a deficit of $11.9 million. Shockingly, though again perhaps not surprisingly in light of the PwC assessment of their inadequate and risky financial practices, the actual deficit in the audited financial statements was $3.5 million before amortization. The VP and Provost, Harley d’Entremont has repeatedly insisted when pressed in question period during Academic Senate that this discrepancy was not the result of the job cuts at the University, since severance payments cancelled out the reduced payroll costs. In other words, the only conclusion to be drawn here is that this enormous difference between projected and actual spending is sheer, and perhaps strategic, error. But this time, this is an error that saw 22 limited-term full-time faculty lose their positions regardless of the actual need in the programs they taught. This has left many of those programs straining to offer enough courses for students to complete their degrees. Some of those same faculty have been reemployed on part-time contracts which is a clear demonstration of programmatic need. Financial decisions so dramatically removed from programming implications are irresponsible and damaging to the short and long term health of the university.

In reality, every year since 2003 – with the sole exception of 2008, when the University invested in a capital project – the administration has dumped money into its “Internally Restricted Funds” account, including every one of those years in which they reported a deficit. But it does not count these funds in its operating budget, so it does not include them when calculating deficits or surpluses. As we write, and in the context of their claims to a structural financial crisis, the University is currently sitting on nearly $30 million in this account.

Chart Internally Restricted Funds

Data Source for chart: Statement of Changes in Net Assets in Nipissing University’s Audited Financial Statements

So what else does the Administration leave out of their projected operating budget? It turns out that they leave out the $5.8 million in “sales and services” that Nipissing has consistently made each year since 2010. The 2011 annual financial report describes this as “Accommodation fees and conference services”: in other words, money made from residences and other rentals of university property.

What that means is this: every year since 2010, the Admin has left out about $5.8 million dollars of expected revenues in their projected budgets so that they could claim that there would be a deficit, and they have used that claim to justify a number of decisions which have seriously impacted our students and co-workers. In every one of those years they have found money to put into their Internally Restricted Funds account at the same time as the audited financial statements have revealed their projections to be millions of dollars off every single year. The Board of Governors of the University, which approves these budgets and receives the audited financial statements, has signed off on this charade, year after year after year. Once again, this university Administration deserves an F.

Astonishingly, in an inflammatory and misleading email to students sent at the end of week three of Nipissing University’s first ever faculty strike, the Chair of Board of Governors, Marianne Berubé, exclaimed to students that “our projected deficit this year is $5 million, less than half of what it was last year”.  Given the wild inaccuracy of budgeting at the University, it’s nothing short of astonishing that she finds grounds for pride in the performance of the senior Administration and her own colleagues on the Board on this score. It appears that the Board again finds themselves unaware of the pattern of fiscal incompetence that has plagued the university over the recent past. In her communication to students, Berubé neglected to mention that the budgeted prediction for last year turned out to be $8 million dollars off the mark.

In the final analysis it is students, our vulnerable contract faculty and the staff who pay the highest price for this level of financial incompetence. The termination of 22 full-time contract faculty in the last year, justified as it was by a manufactured financial crisis, has resulted in fewer courses for students. When we are already hearing that retention is an issue at Nipissing, in part because of limited course choices, the termination of faculty can only be considered to be a management failure on the part of Administration. Securing faculty stability means securing more options for students and this is one of the crucial issues NUFA is fighting for in this round of negotiations. This is one of the things we mean by governance. The current Administration’s financial mismanagement cannot go unchallenged.


[1] The Head of HR was recently appointed CFO and is now fulfilling both functions, no doubt in response to the criticism in the PwC report.

Donations to NUFA from Across Canada #4

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Merci et Thank you for your continued support!

L’Association des bibliothecaires, des professeures et professeurs de l’Universite de Moncton (ABPPUM) – $1000 (deuxieme cheque)
Le sydicat des professeures et professeures de l’Universite Laval – $1000
Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) – $1000 (second cheque)
L’Association des professeurs, professeures et bibliothecaires de l’Universite Sainte-Anne – $1000 (deuxieme cheque)
University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) – $3500 (second cheque)

Day 15-News from the Picket Line

It’s Friday and the business day starts again. Executive Assistant Angela Fera controls the megaphone while President Susan Srigley is an Angry Bird!!

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A few supporters drop by with some cheques. Thank you!

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It’s Friday and the flying pickets are back to support us once again. They lift the spirits and remind us that you have to take the long view.
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You really never know what you’ll see on the picket line. Rollerskiers glide on by!
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Here we have two of our favourite Brantford professors singing “The Picket Line Blues” (left), with the Brantford gang posing with some supportive staff members (right).
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We have so many great pics in our collection so here are a few from past days too good to pass up sharing.
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Biology Department City of North Bay Clean-up Crew - 2

North Bay Labour Rally

North Bay has three large groups currently experiencing labour issues. Hospital workers, including many nurses, have recently been cut from the North Bay Regional Hospital. Though they are not legally permitted to strike, the Ontario Nurses’ Association joined the rally in North Bay to remind us that quality health care in Ontario is declining.

The workers of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) are currently locked out by their Employer. The Members of UNIFOR are calling on the government to stop hiring scab labourers and negotiate a fair deal.

Finally, the full-time faculty members of Nipissing University are striking over issues of governance, complement, and compensation. NUFA is calling on their Employer to return to the negotiating table to reach a fair and equitable deal for its Members.

On Friday morning, all three groups met outside the site of the ONTC.

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Together, we marched up Main Street in downtown North Bay.
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Eventually, we arrived at the office of Provincial Member of Parliament, Vic Fedeli. Chants rang out through the city calling on him to stand up for workers in North Bay.

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Speeches were made by representatives of the three major unions in attendance. Well known labour advocate, Henri Giroux, MC’d the event.

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MPP, Vic Fedeli, addresses the crowd. While many deeply doubt his support for labour generally, he does believe in North Bay and promises to push Premier Kathleen Wynne to bring labour unrest to an end.
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In the end, this is our community. We have to support one another because no one else is looking out for us.

 

Voyageur Inn Event Supports Labour and the Community

The owners of the Voyageur, Tom Richardson and Sarah Jane Valliquette, hosted an event on Thursday night in support of organizations currently experiencing labour issues in North Bay.

They recognize that recently cut hospital employees, locked out workers of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), and striking full-time faculty at Nipissing University, are part of the larger North Bay community and that they support businesses large and small with their patronage.

The Voyageur wanted to acknowledge this fact by bringing people together to demonstrate the support we have in North Bay. Thank you Tom and Sarah Jane!

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President of NUFA, Susan Srigley, brings thanks and a message of solidarity to the assembled group.

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