Labour board ruling gives St. Mike's profs union status

  • March 23, 2011
University of St. Michael's CollegeTORONTO - Twenty theology professors and librarians at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College have won a slam-dunk ruling from the Ontario Labour Relations Board unionizing the faculty and obliging the college to negotiate a first contract.

The ruling not only recognized the St. Michael’s College profs as unionized workers seeking a contract, but ruled that all 2,600-plus faculty at the University of Toronto are in fact union members.

Before the March 17 ruling, the University of Toronto Faculty Association wasn’t formally a union, even though it negotiated minimum work conditions for university teachers and librarians, including pay, academic freedom, research and study leaves, workload, etc.

“What the board is really saying is that the nature of the relationship between the parties has the essential characteristics of a relationship between an employer and a union,” said Canadian Association of University Teachers executive director James Turk.

St. Michael’s administration had argued that a vote by its theology faculty to join the University of Toronto Faculty Association and seek a union contract was invalid because UTFA was not technically a union.

The university’s faculty association has been around since 1938, employs four full-time staff and three part-time staff, plus in-house lawyers.

“There can be no doubt that UTFA is a viable organization capable of carrying out its obligations under the (Ontario Labour Relations) Act,” wrote the OLRB adjudicator Bernard Fishbein.

The union movement at St. Michael’s was set in motion last November when the college abandoned its long-standing policy of matching pay increases awarded to the rest of the university faculty. The college intended to stick to the provincial government’s two-year pay freeze request rather than match the 2.25-per-cent increase an arbitrator awarded to the UTFA.

Most of the professors at St. Michael’s were already members of the UTFA before the board’s ruling. Theology professors were an exception because of their history as part of the Toronto School of Theology since 1970.

Four of five university professors in Canada belong to a union.

Representatives of the new St. Michael’s College bargaining unit and college administration did not return calls from The Catholic Register.

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