One of the challenges that a bargaining team faces at the table is convincing the other side to accept a proposal. While it is always possible to threaten a work stoppage (i.e., a strike or a lockout) to force a proposal on the other side, it is more common to engage in log rolling (exchanging agreement on your X for agreement on their Y).
Sometimes, it is possible to simply convince the other side that a proposal is their own best interest. For example, employers might seek wage freezes by arguing that the organization cannot afford a cost-of-living increase. The implicit threat here is that a cost-of-living adjustment will come with job losses due to a lack of funds.
Athabasca University’s current negotiation with its faculty association is a good example of this. The employer has proposed a two-year agreement with no cost of living increases. This is consistent with the political direction set by the government and that other public-sector unions have accepted.
The difficulty that the union side is going to have with this proposal is two-fold: (1) taking a zero means salaries fall behind inflation (i.e., buying power is reduced) and (2) there is no good evidence that university is in serious financial distress.
The recent salary disclosure (this data is from 2017) suggests that there is lots of money for administrators. The ten-best paid administrators who are outside of the bargaining unit raked in a total of $3.3m in overall compensation.
The president’s salary was particularly interesting. In 2017, he received $450,468.94 in pay alone. His August 2016 contract (which is posted online) indicates his starting salary was to be $337,000 plus up to a 15% bonus (so a maximum of 387,550).
This $62,918 increase over one year suggests he got a ~16% raise his first year on the job. The rest of us had to fight to receive a 2% increase.
The university’s financial statements also reveal that it has recorded surpluses every year since 2013 (excepting a tiny deficit in 2016). The university’s rhetoric that surpluses reflect “one-time savings that cannot be relied upon” sits awkwardly with this long-term trend. And recent enrolment data is showing a 15% spike in undergraduate registrations (more than half of AU's funding comes from registrations so this is a big cash-flow increase).
Once bargaining gets down to brass tacks in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how committed Athabasca University’s bargaining team is to getting two zeroes and the strategies it uses to achieve those.
Given the facts the university is stuck with, I’d say that persuasion is unlikely to be effective. This leaves log rolling, threats of a lockout, or abandoning its proposed wage freeze altogether.
-- Bob Barnetson