The Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) is taking issue with the voluntary severance program (VSP) the University of Alberta employed to meet a provincial deadline to balance its budget by spring 2015.
AASUA — representing 4,429 employees at its most recent calculation — said it supports the VSP but opposes what it calls the university’s unilateral introduction of the VSP without a ratified agreement.
“The AASUA has the exclusive authority statutorily provided to it pursuant to the Post-secondary Learning Act to represent all its members respecting terms and conditions of employment, including severance terms. The various collective agreements contain articles that deal specifically with severance for continuing academic staff,” the union said.
On July 29 the union’s executive committee passed a motion to approach the university’s administration pledging support for the VSP on the condition a memorandum of agreement (MOA) was ratified by AASUA’s membership. The university refused to enter into the MOA.
Martin Ferguson-Pell, the university’s vice-president and acting provost, said the VSP was a result of the union’s refusal to consider re-opening current agreements to reduce faculty and staff compensation and avoid large-scale job losses.
AASUA is currently considering its next steps and will hold a town hall meeting on October 2.
Despite the union’s issue with the VSP, 121 staff members participated in the program. A one-time payout of $16.7 million will be awarded to the 83 faculty, faculty service officers and librarians and 38 administrative professional officers leaving their positions at the end of June.
“We would like to thank all of the individuals taking voluntary severance,” Indira Samarasekera, the university’s president, and Ferguson-Pell said in a joint statement. “Their talents and many years of service and dedication to their departments and units — as well the University of Alberta more generally — are highly valued. We know they will be missed deeply by colleagues and students… Our thanks again to all of the individuals involved for their willingness to take this step to assist the university at this critical time.”
The effects of the VSP will reportedly save up to $14 million per year, but the university announced in August that it will have to cut upwards of $56 million in order to balance its budget by the provincial deadline.
Ferguson-Pell told the Calgary Herald the VSP was only a “critical first step,” and the remaining shortfall will likely lead to “involuntary severances.”
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