URFA members show "incredible effort" during COVID-19 pandemic

Note: This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the Sum­mer issue of URFA Update. Find the lat­est issue of URFA Update here.

It has been an aston­ish­ing spring for all of us. In March, with the sus­pen­sion of class­es for a week, and our return to remote” teach­ing for the remain­der of the semes­ter, all of the employ­ees of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Regi­na — both URFA mem­bers and oth­ers, includ­ing staff in CUPE, as well as URFA’s own staff — have been work­ing dili­gent­ly, sud­den­ly, at times chaot­i­cal­ly, at times hero­ical­ly, scram­bling to ensure that our insti­tu­tion­al mis­sion car­ries on with as lit­tle dis­rup­tion as pos­si­ble, in the face of a rapid­ly-emerg­ing and unpre­dictable pan­dem­ic whose final out­comes are still far from clear. Spe­cial men­tion should be made of all the peo­ple – mem­bers and non-mem­bers of URFA — who were not able to work from home. Among oth­ers, secu­ri­ty staff and facil­i­ties man­age­ment togeth­er ensured that the cam­pus remained as safe and healthy as pos­si­ble, an accom­plish­ment that might not be imme­di­ate­ly vis­i­ble to those of us work­ing from home. This incred­i­ble effort and its results — a Win­ter 2020 semes­ter com­plet­ed under unique­ly chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances — speak to the ded­i­ca­tion, intel­li­gence, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and deep pro­fes­sion­al­ism of all of our mem­ber­ship in all of our con­stituen­cies. This includes mem­bers at the fed­er­at­ed col­leges and First Nations Uni­ver­si­ty; it includes APT mem­bers; and it includes our diverse aca­d­e­m­ic staff of librar­i­ans, ses­sion­als, and full-time instructors.

The costs and bur­dens of the tran­si­tion of work to our homes have fall­en on dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways. For some — espe­cial­ly full-time aca­d­e­m­ic fac­ul­ty — tran­si­tion to remote deliv­ery involved skills we had already acquired, and the use of equip­ment we already pos­sessed. But even in these cas­es, work from home cou­pled with the clo­sure of schools has meant for many fac­ul­ty the impo­si­tion of full-time child care and home-school­ing in addi­tion to their usu­al work. And full-time fac­ul­ty have encoun­tered some seri­ous chal­lenges to their on-going research duties, espe­cial­ly when that work involves spe­cial­ized equip­ment or access to labs. 

For ses­sion­als the sit­u­a­tion was, and con­tin­ues to be, even more prob­lem­at­ic: unlike salaried fac­ul­ty who have con­sid­er­able flex­i­bil­i­ty in how they sched­ule their duties, ses­sion­als are paid on a by-course basis with the expec­ta­tion that this will involve a pre­dictable amount of work. There is no ques­tion that the dis­rup­tion of class­es and their tran­si­tion to on-line and oth­er modes of deliv­ery has required far more work than the norm, but with­out cor­re­spond­ing com­pen­sa­tion. Some ses­sion­als (espe­cial­ly new ones) may also have been less famil­iar with UR Cours­es and oth­er on-line tech­nol­o­gy, and may have had more lim­it­ed access to nec­es­sary equip­ment (includ­ing access to reli­able inter­net connections). 

And none of our ped­a­gog­i­cal accom­plish­ments would have been pos­si­ble with­out APT mem­bers con­tin­u­ing to work, some­times from home, some­times still on cam­pus, some­times strug­gling like the rest of us with child-care issues, and in many cas­es work­ing con­sid­er­able over­time, to ensure that admin­is­tra­tive sup­port, reg­is­tra­tion help, tech­ni­cal sup­port, finan­cial sup­port, and many oth­er ser­vices con­tin­ued to func­tion essen­tial­ly as nor­mal. In par­tic­u­lar, APT mem­bers have worked over­time to assist and offer guid­ance to instruc­tors hav­ing to make the sud­den tran­si­tion to dis­tance deliv­ery — those of us in the aca­d­e­m­ic ranks could not have done our jobs with­out them. Many of them have been required by their jobs to remain on a rather ghost­ly cam­pus, as well, and this has cre­at­ed its own strains, bur­dens, and, yes, risks.

It is one thing to make this extra­or­di­nary effort and per­form this extra­or­di­nary work when we are sud­den­ly pre­sent­ed with dra­mat­ic changes of cir­cum­stances. It is quite anoth­er, how­ev­er, for our employ­er to pro­ceed as if this is the new nor­mal. The expec­ta­tions placed on us by these new cir­cum­stances con­tin­ue to be deeply stress­ful to many, and issues around work envi­ron­ment, safe­ty, men­tal health, child­care issues, work­load and over­time, qual­i­ty of instruc­tion, and many oth­er con­cerns remain unresolved. 

In a per­fect world, the admin­is­tra­tion and fac­ul­ty, APT mem­bers, ses­sion­als, and oth­ers, would col­le­gial­ly and coop­er­a­tive­ly work togeth­er to find sat­is­fac­to­ry solu­tions to these chal­lenges. In the real world, this doesn’t always hap­pen. URFA is cur­rent­ly engaged in sev­er­al ini­tia­tives to pro­tect our mem­bers from arbi­trary or bur­den­some work demands. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that all of the col­lec­tive agree­ments remain in force. (The terms of our sev­en col­lec­tive agree­ments can be found here: https://​www​.urfa​.ca/​b​a​r​g​a​ining… — click on the link cor­re­spond­ing to your con­stituen­cy, and there will be links to cur­rent and past con­tracts.) The Uni­ver­si­ty can­not arbi­trar­i­ly or uni­lat­er­al­ly cir­cum­vent the terms of these agree­ments. If you believe that any ele­ments of your col­lec­tive agree­ment are being vio­lat­ed, espe­cial­ly as we plan for prob­a­ble remote deliv­ery of cours­es in the fall, please do not hes­i­tate to con­tact the URFA office.

Our Mem­ber Ser­vices Offi­cers have a unique range of skills in con­flict-res­o­lu­tion, hard-won expe­ri­ence in rep­re­sent­ing the inter­ests of our mem­bers, and inti­mate knowl­edge of the col­lec­tive agree­ments. They can help resolve prob­lems before they rise to grav­i­ty of for­mal griev­ances, and can offer sound advice for how you can respond to employ­er demands. Deal­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly and respon­si­bly with a unique sit­u­a­tion does not mean giv­ing up your rights.

With your help, and a lit­tle luck, we can come out of this time stronger and bet­ter, and with a renewed com­mit­ment to our insti­tu­tion­al val­ues and respon­si­bil­i­ties. In the mean­time, be safe, be well, and be kind to your­self and others.