Shared Precarity: Towards a Better Understanding of the Complicated Relationship between Units 1 and 3
By Erin Black
The bargaining events of last year, in particular Unit 3 ratifying an agreement while Unit 1 was on strike, raised many questions about the relationship between the units. In truth, it is a complicated relationship, in large part because there is shared work between the units in the form of sole-responsibility instructorships for courses not taught by faculty (UTFA): the Memorandum of Understanding in both units’ Collective Agreements (CAs) states that work can only be posted to one unit at a time with departments having sole discretion to choose which unit to post said work to.
In 2005, at the time of Unit 3’s certification, only about 20% of non-UTFA taught courses (university-wide) were posted to Unit 1. Coming into the 2012 round of Unit 3 negotiations the number had risen to 26%. On a university-wide level, that shift may not seem too dramatic, but individual departments like English, Political Science, and Sociology saw much more dramatic shifts representing, in some cases, a decline of up to 60% in the work available for Unit 3 members.
The shifting availability of work between the two units led to two key concerns for Unit 3 members: 1) declining opportunities for work in general, and thus a loss of income and, in some cases, a loss of work entirely; and 2) problems accessing the advancement process as departments shifted courses in such a way as to block Unit 3 members from becoming eligible for advancement, and thus achieving some small measure of job security.
Unit 3 bargaining teams first began trying to address these problems in 2009. With no success achieved at that time, the 2012 Unit 3 bargaining team again raised the issue of balance of work between the units, at which time the Employer said that such a possibility could not even be discussed because Unit 1’s CA was still in force. In response to this, the Unit 3 Bargaining Team attended a Unit 1 membership meeting to ask for a motion of solidarity around this issue. While the motion ultimately passed, it did so narrowly and after many voices of opposition were raised, with some Unit 1 members going so far as to refer to Unit 3 Sessionals as “failed academics”.
Coming into the 2014 round of bargaining, with both units negotiating at roughly the same time for the first time ever, the Vice Chair of Unit 3 proposed (during an Executive Committee meeting) a solidarity pact between the units, such that no one unit would sign an agreement at the expense of the other. The Vice Chair of Unit 1 at that time argued that Unit 1 members would not support this, and no such pact came about. Subsequently, however, the Unit 1 and 3 Bargaining Teams were able to work out joint language to amend the shared Memorandum of Understanding in both agreements with two goals in mind: 1) establishing a ratio of work between the Units, and 2) since many Unit 1 members eventually spend some time in Unit 3, building transitional bridges between the units.
While the creation of the joint language marked a positive development — especially in light of the inter-unit tension in 2012 — and while Unit 3, which began bargaining four months after Unit 1, did its best to speed up the process and align timelines with Unit 1 so as to allow for the possibility of a joint strike should a tentative agreement not be reached by the strike deadline, no official solidarity pact was ever reached.
Ultimately, Unit 3 was able to negotiate a renewal agreement prior to the strike deadline that met the job-security priority set by the membership, while also upholding the spirit of the joint language. The Unit 3 Bargaining Team succeeded in negotiating protection for bargaining-unit work by placing limits on a department’s ability to shift work between the units, but in so doing they made it clear to the Employer that no agreement would be achieved that did not also include increasing the amount of Unit 1 CI-ships that could be counted towards Advancement within Unit 3.
While it is understandable that some Unit 1 members may have felt a sense of betrayal with Unit 3’s ratification of an agreement, having awareness of the larger history will hopefully help to put the situation in context. Additionally, one needs to be aware that the units, by the very nature of their constituencies, have quite different priorities: job security for Unit 3 and issues around funding and tuition for Unit 1. Acknowledging this does not negate the many similarities created by our shared precarity, but it does require a broader understanding of each other, including the specific nature of the precarity within each unit. Hopefully we can build towards this understanding and toward greater solidarity as we move toward the next round of bargaining.
Credit photo: Lennart Maschmeyer