Mediator sought in faculty contract talks with University of Regina

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government has been asked by the University of Regina Faculty Association to appoint a mediator to help reach an agreement in its lengthy contract talks with the university.

The association is the certified bargaining agent for 1,400 full- and part-time employees.

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Their last collective bargaining agreement with the U of R expired in June 2017.

Negotiations on a new deal began in April of last year.

The key issues include job security for sessional instructors, predictable teaching hours, protecting the academic mission of the university and compensation that keeps up with inflation and pensions.

Last fall, faculty members voted 87.4 per cent in favour of a strike mandate following what the association called unworkable proposals put forward by university management.

"Unfortunately, despite a strong strike mandate, and after multiple days of negotiations, we have failed to reach agreement with university management on a number of issues," association president Sylvain Rheault said in a written statement.

The association's request for a mediator comes as U of R students and their union call for a tuition freeze.

Their demand follows a Maclean’s magazine article, which called the university the fourth most expensive for Canadians living away from home.

The article prompted the University of Regina Students' Union to launch a petition, asking the province and university administration to freeze tuition increases.

"I know of instances where eight students are living together, because they're trying to keep costs down because they can't keep up with the rising tuition," said Jermain McKenzie, union vice-president of student affairs.

"If we don't address this issue of rising tuition, we will keep seeing more of our students moving out of province," he said.

The university said it understands the financial pressure students face, but noted that tuition makes up about 40 per cent of operating costs, which increase each year.

"We try to find a way to mitigate tuition increases, while recognizing the reality that they pay an increasing portion of the bills at the university," said provost and vice-president for academic Thomas Chase.

The 2017-2018 provincial budget cut operating grants to the university by five per cent. They have remained at that level since, which Chase said is a challenge when it comes to balancing the budget.

Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said the U of R is the fourth most dependent on government operating funds in the country.

"So, if you're getting a very high level of government operating funding compared to other universities in your class across Canada, and you're also charging a lot of tuition, I think we need to ask, 'What's going on?'" she said.

McKenzie met with Beaudry-Mellor to discuss the tuition issue. He called the meeting positive, but said he will continue to push for students who are feeling the financial pinch. (CTV Regina)

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