LOU Update, Student Grants, SSUO Negotiations

Dear members,
 
As you know, to date, we have negotiated and signed five letters of understanding (LOUs) with the Central Administration that serve to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our working conditions.
 
This being said, our work is not done. The parties are still negotiating two very important LOUs. The first focuses on the performance assessment of members, and the second seeks to establish a collective operational framework regarding course development and delivery during both the Spring/Summer and Fall 2020 terms.  
 
COVID-19 Performance Assessment of Members
 
The objective of this proposed LOU is to ensure that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on members’ work shall not, in and of itself, be used to a member’s detriment by the Central Administration in performance evaluation, and career recommendation and decision processes under the Collective Agreement.
 
COVID-19 Course Development and Delivery
 
The objective of this proposed LOU is to provide an operational framework for teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing from the results of the APUO’s survey on Fall 2020 teaching, it focuses on ensuring that the resources identified by members as necessary for preparing and delivering high-quality distance courses are in place. This LOU was written with the following key elements in mind: 
 

  • The Central Administration, the APUO, and indeed the entire university community share the goal of ensuring the best possible learning experience for our students during the current academic year.
  • Distance teaching and learning introduce inequities as well as barriers to both accessibility and accommodations for educators and students alike. Moreover, distance teaching and learning research consistently identifies low student retention rates as a key concern.
  • Optimizing student retention amid the COVID-19 pandemic requires that members have the necessary resources and supports in place to design and deliver courses that provide quality education for all students.
  • Our students’ learning conditions share a symbiotic relationship with our working conditions.
  • Academic freedom, including academic freedom in teaching, as referred to in Article 9 of the Collective Agreement is a core value shared by the APUO and the Central Administration and will not be affected by this Letter of Understanding.
  • The continuing health and well-being of APUO members, students, and all university employees must be at the core of our decisions regarding the current academic year.

 
Our proposals set out the resources needed to support members in preparing and delivering courses during the exceptional circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with technical and pedagogical support assistance for the preparation and delivery of remote teaching, members would receive, among other resources, additional workload credits, class size reductions, and one-time increases to both the Professional Expenses Reimbursement (PER), and the Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) funds.
 
The APUO believes that in this exceptional time of crisis, the Central Administration needs to make significant investments in supporting our institution’s educational mandate and the overall health and well-being of all University employees. This includes extending benefits provided to APUO members to University employees who are members of different bargaining units. In other words, now is not the time for half-measures. The APUO and the Central Administration must do all that we can to ensure our University continues to provide the best possible learning experiences for all our students, and maintains its excellent reputation. 
 
We view the content of these proposed LOUs as serving the short and long-term interests of our institution and are confident that the Central Administration will work in partnership with the APUO in realizing these goals. We are counting on your continued support, and will keep you informed of any developments pertaining to the negotiations of these two LOUs. 

Covid-19 Student Emergency Aid Fund
 
The APUO is concerned about student retention, accessibility, and accommodations as we move to distance teaching for the Fall semester. Students have few job prospects amid the pandemic, and as announced by Jacques Frémont last week, the University will not offer any tuition fee reductions. 
 
This is why the APUO is currently engaging in discussions with our University to develop a campaign that will increase the amount of emergency funding available to students next fall. In this context, the APUO has committed $50 000 in additional student grant money to support students in financial need.[1] Details regarding the campaign will follow in the coming weeks. 
 
Support Staff of the University of Ottawa: the Central Administration Imposes a Final Offer Vote
 
On Tuesday, May 26, APUO members have received a communication regarding the Central Administration’s move to impose a final offer vote to members of the Support Staff of the University of Ottawa (SSUO) engaged in collective bargaining since March 2019. The APUO is deeply troubled by the Central Administration’s decision to file such a request with the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development as it breaks down any negotiations between the two parties and severely undermines the SSUO. 
 
The APUO has been in touch with the SSUO regarding their collective bargaining process over the last several months. Among the remaining matters in dispute are salary increases capped at 1% (under the rate of inflation), the Central Administration’s attempt to roll back the health benefits of SSUO members from 100% to 80%, and a lack of commitment on the Central Administration’s part to fill vacant SSUO positions.  
 
The Central Administration is taking advantage of the exceptional circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to strong-arm SSUO members into accepting an unfair deal. According to our research, the University of Ottawa is only the third university in the province of Ontario to file a request for a final offer vote in the last twenty years.[2] We are appalled by how the Central Administration has been engaging in negotiations with the SSUO, and we support the SSUO executive recommendation to their members to reject the Central Administration’s final offer. The APUO President has expressed the APUO’s concerns to President Frémont in a letter that you can read here.
 
The vote, which will be conducted by the Minister of Labour, Training and Skill Development, should take place within ten business days from May 25. An analysis of the issues at stake for both SSUO and APUO members will follow in the coming days.
 

 
[1] In 1972, the APUO established its Student Awards Program. This $50,000 is in addition to the $112,000 remitted to students on an annual basis.
[2] The other cases are: McMaster University – 2010, York University – 2000, 2015 and 2018. The only other cases in the postsecondary education sector were for Ontario Colleges in 2009/2010 and 2017.