Deveryn Ross on Brandon University Strike

By Errol Black

Deveryn Ross’ column on the Brandon University strike in the November 24 Winnipeg Free Press (“Administration, province will wear this one“), represents a significant advance on his first column on this issue October 13, 2011(“BU strike needs adult supervision“).

That first article was published the day after the strike started on October 12. In this article, Ross cites some of the factors contributing to the strike and the likelihood that it could last for a very long time. Unfortunately, Ross wasn’t able to cobble the pieces together in a way that produced a coherent analysis. On the contrary, he ended up trivializing the issues and blaming equally the University Administration and BUFA for the strike: “While they battle over picayune issues such as whether faculty members will get free gym memberships, they are apparently oblivious to the harm they are doing to a university that already has more than enough problems.”

He concluded that “[I]n the interests of both the university and the students, the situation requires an adult to step in and take charge.” Specifically, he proposed that Labour Minister Jennifer Howard emulate Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and “impose a solution,” a recommendation that seemed to reflect disdain for the democratic rights of workers and their right to protect those rights through fair, collective bargaining.

Over the past six or so weeks, however, Ross has been doing research on the strike and he’s changed his tune. He is now digging closer to where the bone is buried. He now understands that the BU administration went into collective bargaining with a well-defined strategy which was contracted out to Grant Mitchell for execution. The plan was a simple one. Stall, delay, refuse to bargain, confuse the issues, and force BUFA into taking a strike vote.

As so often happens in these situations, the grand plan hatched by the University very quickly unraveled. The strike vote was taken. Support for strike action was around 70%. The University apparently interpreted this result to mean that BUFA would retreat and seek to negotiate a settlement. But BUFA didn’t retreat and a strike was called. Then the University thought they could exploit the divisions in the Union by simply inviting faculty members back to work, thinking presumably that the people who voted against strike action would be eager to cross the picket line. However, solidarity prevailed and the strike continued.

The University has stuck to its original strategy since the strike started. Stall, delay, refuse to bargain and confuse the issues. The University stuck to this strategy through conciliation and mediation, pushing the line that the Manitoba government had put limits on how much they could raise wages and pleading for the government to impose binding arbitration. As well, they fed a lot of nonsense to the media (especially the print media) that was intended to, as Ross clarifies, discredit BUFA members and put the blame for the strike on them.

It is unfortunate that Ross’ October 13 column was not nearly as clear-sighted as today’s; a lot of the misguided attitudes we heard during the early days of the strike were likely inspired by his earlier piece. Nonetheless, Ross clears up a lot of misconceptions today: he concludes that the blame for the strike and the failure to get a negotiated agreement rests squarely on the University. It is important to have this on the record. It is also important to have on the record the fact that the only people who were concerned about the situation of the students (apart from the students themselves) were the members of BUFA.

Ross also blames the government for what has transpired. “The Selinger government doesn’t escape culpability in this debacle. It dictated BU’s initial salary stance and refused to take reasonable steps to pre-empt the strike.” This claim about the government dictating BU’s initial salary stance is what the University and their lawyer told everyone. It is my understanding that this claim was bogus. We should endeavour to find out where the truth is.

The other question that we need to address is: how did it come to pass that all three universities employed the same lawyer, Grant Mitchell, to negotiate with their faculty unions to achieve a uniform outcome on wages?

Hopefully Mr. Ross hasn’t quit digging around.

Errol Black is a CCPA Board Member.

14 Comments

Filed under Brandon, collective bargaining, education, Labour, media

14 responses to “Deveryn Ross on Brandon University Strike

  1. Terrific commentary. Now someone should do one on binding arbitration. The trouble with binding arbitration is that, unless there is only one issue and unless it is pretty clear cut one, the process goes on and on. Protraction of the process is in the interest of only one side.

  2. This is an interesting analysis by Black of the articles written by Deveryn Ross in relation to the Brandon University negotiations and strike.One wonder if the individual members (as per the BU web site) on the Brandon University Board of Governors (who it seems have mostly been excluded from the bargaining issues and process), might have now informed themselves by reading the November 24, Ross article.And if they have, one wonders if those individuals now recognize that they may well have dragged the University into a potentially destructive state for which each of those members may well "carry the can".The negotiator will stay in Winnipeg, the president may well depart for home, other admin may depart or go into hiding …. but the Board members will continue to be visible and accountable for an extended time period in this larger community!

  3. Regarding the claim that the Selinger government dictated BU's initial salary stance: It is what the University and their lawyer repeatedly told the media and the mediator. Black regards the claim as bogus, based on a casual conversation with the premier. That is textbook hearsay. The claim/allegation has never been formally denied by the government, however, and should be deemed to be true until it is disproven by convincing evidence. Don't allow loyalty to the party to blind you to the political realities of the situation, Errol. Just look at what Minister Howard has done to the collective bargaining process, by ordering the vote. They are clearly on the employer's side. Heck, they are calling the plays for the employer's bargaining team.

  4. I have lived in the general Brandon community for many years. During that time I never ceased to be amazed by the number of people in this community who, with great knowing self-assurance, label all who are employed at Brandon University as NDP, socialists, reds, communists, feeders at the trough………!As one quite involved in local, provincial, federal politics for a considerable number of years, I had an opportunity to know and converse with many people from all political stripes…. local, provincial, federal.And of course, I specifically knew that many people 'labled' by "those who know" as NDP or socialists, were actually members and supporters of other political parties.However, from my personal knowledge, that did not mean that those in parties other than the NDP, were some how unprincipled individuals, without a social conscience.And yet, it was that disclosure of owning a "social conscience" that got them labeled (by those who know!) as NDP, socialsits or ….. you get the picture! But and unfortunately, it is this very same "socialist label" that when capitalized on for negative benefit, provides for community opposition to any comment by or expectation of the Professors at Brandon University.As an example, comments on the CBC news forums, and comments in the Brandon Sun attest to this.And without hesitation nor conscience it seems, the negotiators at Brandon University and their supporters have unfairly played on this perception!Maybe things would be different if there was just one person, whose major area of study was 'ethics', who had been involved in the negotiation process!

  5. Regarding the conflicting claims about whether or not the "Selinger government dictated BU's initial salary stance," I offer the following points:1) Yes, this is "what the University and their lawyer repeatedly told the media and the mediator." However, despite repeated requests from BUFA, the University and their lawyer repeatedly refused to produce evidence to demonstrate that their claim was valid. This was not apparently an issue that was of interest to the media.2) My conclusion that the University's position on this issue was bogus, is based on more than simply a "casual conversation with the premier."3) Nevertheless, I do not have a formal statement in writing confirming the government's position on this issue.4) And that's why I stated in my comments that "we should endeavour to find out where the truth is" on this matter.Errol Black

  6. Deveryn Ross???????????? I mean really……… Does everyone forget about Perkins ……………I guess people really need to forgive and forget. That would be a good lesson for the prof and admin at BU

  7. "Hopefully Mr. Ross hasn’t quit digging around" If Mr. Ross continues digging around, perhaps he will dig into the University position on these issues and produce a balanced article, not one taken directly from the BUFA manifesto.Mr. Ross does not have a history of being able to conduct research.It was on Aug 3,2011 in a letter to the Brandon Sun that Errol Black made the following statement with regards to an article written by Ross dealing with the Bipole lll:"This not what we have a right to expect from a newspaper columnist. It seems to us that if we want to find facts and solid analysis on the Bipole III debate and the programs of Manitoba Hydro, we would be well advised to look beyond the columns of Mr. Ross."One could use BUFA strike instead of Bipole lll and have Brandon University replace Manitoba Hydro for Mr. Ross's most recent article.

  8. Now that the strike is over, it seems that the pro-administration side has targeted Ross for their attacks on this and other websites. Their bitterness is apparently boundless.If you are suggesting that the facts/dates/etc. in Ross's column are wrong, provide facts in support of your argument. Ross's column may have been the catalyst for this strike to finally reach a negotiated settlement. If you want to blame him for something, blame him for that.

  9. It is interesting that in attemptng to continue to promote what is most likely an "indefensible' position, some posters now seem to be resorting to a personal attack on Deveryn Ross as well as dragging in totally unrelated issues.But I guess one should not be surprised since it is just so much easier to do that if one does not know, or wishes to expend any effort, assembling facts to support a contrary opinion.I believe that Deveryn Ross by laying bare facts to the public, that could not be disputed, caused people with influence to rethink their stance and thus encourage and bring a settlement to this strike.Given his earlier (Oct 13) stance on this strike, Deveryn Ross is to be commended for having the courage and ethics to then set the record straight by disclosing what is apparently indisputable facts relatd to this strike!I see no such evidence (by her statements in the Saturday Brandon Sun) that the University president intends to have the same courage in the healing process with the UniversityFaculty (who were not even mentioned) and this from she who writes a column on "ethics" for the Brandon Sun! Of course this is the same paper that writes of "journalistic standards and ethics" and "nothing but fair and balanced coverage" so I guess that should be an expecation.

  10. I believe that a number of years ago, the Faculty Association initiated and carried out an internal assessment on the performance of one of the University administrators.Given the manner in which the current president of the University a)handled these current negotiations with less than a seemingly high level of competence, b) inferred a disrespect to and for the Faculty in the negotiation process, and c) may have created a setting where Faculty trust has been severely damaged to the point where the president's future effectiveness could be greatly dininished; It would seem that a similar assessment by the Faculty, related to the president's past and possible future performance, would now be in order!

  11. I have no doubt that many Manitoba taxpayers and those who pay tuition fees, would like to see disclosed, by the Brandon University Board of Governors, the total expenditure of 'public funds' (taxpayers' funds) by the University administration in the recent negotiatons with BUFA.The disclosure should be 'posted' on the Brandon University 'Web site' and must include:1. cost for consultants from British Columbia: fees, honorariums, expenses2. winnipeg lawyer negotiator: fees, expenses 3. University administration: overtime , bonuses, expenses4. other costs directly related to the negotiation process and not included above. Individual taxpayers, it seems, have no direct mechanism to cause the Board of Governors to disclose these expenditures.Is there some manner that the CCPA could make this an issue and lobby the appropriate agency/agencies with power and influence to cause this disclosure to be made??As it is, I am sure that the BOG and University administration are hoping for 'out of sight, out of mind'!!That does not help me see where/how my hard earned taxpayer dollars have been expended by this publicly funded school!

  12. Anonymous suggests in the November 30th comment that Brandon University owes it to taxpayers and students to disclose details regarding the costs incurred by the University in the recent negotiations with BUFA. Specifically, he/she wants posted on the University website the following information: (i) expenditures on fees and expenses of consultants hired to assist in the preparation of a bargaining agenda; (ii) expenditures for fees and expenses of the Winnipeg lawyer hired to head the Brandon University negotiating team; (iii) expenditures paid for overtime, bonuses, expenses of adminstration; and (iv) other costs directly related to the negotiation process. We at CCPA-Manitoba agree that universities (and other public sector bodies and institutions) must be transparent and open with respect to where they get their revenues and how the monies are spent. The recent round of collective bargaining at Brandon University, which started May 17 and ended after a 45-day strike on November 25, 2011 is an issue that impacted the University budget in many ways (including, for example, the salaries that weren't paid to faculty members). It would seem appropriate, therefore, that the University prepare and post on its website a comprehensive analysis that includes the details requested by Anonymous. We would submit that the best way to obtain this information would be for Anonymous and/or other interested persons to request that this be done in a letter to the Board of Governors and the BU administration. If the request is denied, a formal application requesting the information could be filed with Information and Privacy Policy Secretariat in Winnipeg. Information on this process are available on the government of Manitoba website. Good luck!

  13. From information that was made available to me from a Brandon University email from the Vice President administration, it is apparent that the overtime and/or bonuses for administration has already begun!Totally unexpected!!Further to the Errol Black message above, I guess this could be added to the list of non-voluntary-disclosures!!

  14. I agree with the comments of the Nov 30 post of Anonymous and the follow up Dec 01 post of Errol Black that the University Board should post on the Univesity web site, the'BOG/administration expenditure of taxpayers and tuition money', for the 'total cost' of the recent negotiations process.However, unlike Black suggests, I have little faith that based on what I saw during the negotiations, that a few letters of request to the Board will even be acknowledged let alone acted on….. and I would not even bother sending them to the Administration who seem to believe that they are above reporting to the public!I think that an 'online petition' needs to be initiated, gathering hundreds of signatures, and asking for this public disclosure, with copies of the completed petition being copied to; the provincial premier, minister of education,COPSE,and responsive media, to name a few.It seems that this kind of broad action has been effective in the past …even with the federal govenment who are pretty difficult to mobilize into action.However, it would take people with the technical skills to initiate such a process(and not some bumbling neophyte like me!)……. knowledgeable individuals such as would be found in BUSU! I'm just the idea person, I do not know how to actually carry out my suggestion!?! But as a taxpayer I am 'mad as hell'!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s