Academic Unions, Collective Bargaining and Contract Academic Faculty
This project examines the link between bargaining unit structures and collective bargaining priorities and outcomes for contract academic faculty in Ontario universities. According to a recent report (Field and Jones 2016) by researchers at OISE, over 50% of university courses in Ontario are now taught by contract academic faculty whose employment is generally precarious, part-time, comparatively low pay, without benefits, and comes without access to the same level of academic freedom and collegial decision-making as traditional tenure-stream university faculty. The shift towards precarious academic work threatens to undermine the preservation of the more stable and rewarding tenure-track positions traditionally associated with the academic profession and contributes to personal stress for a large number of contract academic faculty.
Higher education is the most densely unionized sector in Canada. Therefore academic unions and associations play a key role in determining terms and conditions of work for contract academic faculty. How individual unions and associations tackle the important issues facing contract academic faculty is complex because bargaining unit structures differ dramatically across the sector. Some contract faculty bargain alongside full-time faculty within the same association, while others belong to separate unions. Given the variety of bargaining structures and the existence of multiple unions or associations on the same campus, it can sometimes be unclear who speaks for contract academic faculty, who best represents their interests, and how those interests are understood and framed in collective bargaining.
The proposed research has significant strategic implications because it will demonstrate if and how different bargaining unit structures lead to different kinds of results for contract academic faculty in negotiations with university administrations. Data collected in the form of interviews and primary labour relations documents will be analyzed in order to reveal the dialectical interplay between institutional structures and social/organizational dynamics over time. The research uses a mixed methods design and is informed by a critical institutionalist theoretical approach in order to allow for a careful assessment of the institutional context of collective bargaining without losing sight of the conflict-laden social dynamics that colour and give life to the relationship between academic unions and university administrations, on one hand, and contract academic faculty and their own unions, on the other.
The proposed research will achieve the following objectives: (1) to chart the complex network of existing bargaining unit structures and inter-union or association relationships; (2) to explain how these structures and relationships influence internal debates about contract academic faculty, bargaining priorities, and collective bargaining strategies; (3) to reveal what factors drive or influence the relationship between bargaining unit structures and organizational dynamics over time; (4) to determine whether one specific bargaining structure leads to greater advances for contract academic faculty; and (5) to better explain the role of inter-union conflict and/or cooperation in either hindering or advancing the interests of contract academic faculty.
The research will (1) raise awareness and promote interdisciplinary understanding of the growing problem of precarious employment faced by contract academic faculty; (2) assist in developing negotiation strategies that take into account different bargaining structures; and (3) provide stakeholders with a publicly-accessible collective bargaining database that can be put to practical use in preparation for negotiations.