Academic staff at one of the largest institutes providing apprenticeship and technical training in Saskatchewan have decided to switch union representation to their faculty association from the government employees union.
“The trades were not happy with the wages we negotiated for them because these wages have gone up a lot faster outside in the industry,” said Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU).
“Some of the second and third year apprentices were making as much or even more than the instructors. Ironically, in the latest round of collective bargaining, the trades got a lot more than the mandate.”
The Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (LRB) issued a Certification order on Oct. 30, which identified the SIAST (Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology) Faculty Association as the sole bargaining agent for SIAST academic employees.
SIAST is a primary provider of apprenticeship technical training for the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission.
The SIAST Faculty Association was established as the bargaining agent for academic unit employees after a majority voted in favour of the change during a ballot conducted by the LRB in September.
As a result, instructors must belong to the SIAST Faculty Association as a condition of employment and dues will now be paid to the association.
The SGEU is working with the SIAST Faculty Association to ensure a smooth transition for employees affected by the change.
Currently, they are in negotiations regarding matters related to the transfer of responsibility and finances.
The conditions of work as identified in the current collective agreement remain in place until a new agreement is negotiated.
SIAST instructors and the SGEU signed a new contract in May, which began the process of adequately valuing the work of these skilled professionals.
The instructors negotiated a 5.5 per cent wage increase, which was broken down into 1.5 per cent, 2.0 per cent and 2.0 per cent increments over the length of the contract.
However, Bymoen said some of the trades instructors at the lower end of the pay scale received a larger increase ranging from 8-10 per cent.
“The instructors were informed of the increase, but hadn’t seen it yet,” said Bymoen.
“Did this affect their vote, who knows?”
At the time, the pay adjustments allocated in this contract were viewed as just the beginning of realigning the instructors’ wage scale.
The current hikes begin to address some of the wage inequities between SIAST instructors and their counterparts at post-secondary institutes across western Canada.
SGEU took strike action on Sept. 6, 2011 which threatened to cancel apprenticeship courses for the year.
However, apprentices started their technical training as scheduled, after the SGEU and SIAST entered a new round of mediation talks.
The dispute centered on the issue of compensation, as well the administration of collective agreement terms, which impact directly on compensation.
SIAST was hiring employees under certain job classifications and then giving them more money or a market stipend, which was not viewed as being fair or transparent.
From the perspective of the SGEU, the stipend needed to be replaced with an appropriate wage, but some members viewed this as a reduction in pay.
The collective agreement between SIAST and the SGEU expired on June 30, 2009.
The union gave strike notice to the employer and asked for a mediator in December 2010.
Since this time and the strike on Sept. 6, SIAST and SGEU were involved in four rounds of negotiation, which involved more than 42 days of direct negotiations.