Bosses demand workers buy their jobs by giving back pay already earned


JAY RUNHAM CAN’T BELIEVE HIS BOSSES. They demand that he give back some of the pay he has earned since March 31. If he’s not ready to do that he’ll just have to quit working for the University of Alberta.

Jay is a web designer. He has worked at the U of A for nine years. He is represented by the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASA). Contract negotiations with the university bosses are not going well.

Hard ball from the start

The university opened negotiations with a demand that faculty and non-academic staff take a pay cut, accept reduced benefits and pay back wages they’ve already received.

The contact demands are in keeping with the university’s scorched earth job cuts policy: 800 jobs were cut in the last two years; a restructuring plan calls for another 650 jobs to be cut by 2022. Most of the job cuts hit the non-academic staff.

The university’s opening position in negotiations for three per cent retroactive wage cuts was nothing unusual. It is the unheard-of proposal that the workers give back pay earned before a new contract is in place that is stunning.

‘A slap in the face’

“It’s an absolute slap in the face,” says Jay.

“Taking money from out of the pockets of hard-working people is just absolutely devastating at a time like this,” Jay says. “What kind of an effect is this divisiveness going to create for staff and the university for years to come?”

“We’re facing an employer that’s looking to roll back wages and roll back benefits and roll back [contract] language. So it’s been tough,” said Ricardo Acuna, president of the association of academic staff at the university.

“We’ve been called upon to do more, because of COVID. But also because of government cutbacks on campus, our workloads have increased, our stress loads have increased.”

Tenured faculty would also see a 15-per-cent reduction in the value of their benefits under the university’s proposal, Ricardo said. The university is also aiming to reduce the top salary scale for sessional instructors, who earn far less than tenured faculty, by 15 per cent.

Ricardo said the proposed wage clawbacks are an indication of how aggressive the university’s bargaining stance is this time around.“We are a top five university, and our academic staff are not in the top five of compensation nationwide, and we’re dropping.”

The provincial government has cut U of A funding by $170-million over the last 2½ years. The university expects to lose a further $54-million in provincial funding by 2023.

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