New UBC Faculty Association bylaws could weaken financial accountability, power to investigate

The UBC Faculty Association (UBCFA) is proposing changes to its bylaws that some say would reduce the organization’s financial accountability to its members and the authority of its grievance committee to investigate faculty issues.

According to UBCFA President Bronwen Sprout, the changes are being made chiefly to bring the association into compliance with the new BC Societies Act. The act was amended in November 2016 but it allowed societies two years to update their governing documents.

The changes include the removal of members’ rights to access certain accounting records, weakened authority for faculty who sit on the association's committee for faculty grievances, and a requirement to get hundreds of supporting signatures to be able to add items to the general meeting’s agenda.

The new bylaws, to be voted on at the UBCFA Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30, could thus make it more difficult for unelected faculty members to propose items for consideration.

Not all of the changes being proposed are required by law, and some faculty are concerned about the impact of the changes that aren’t required.

“The proposed changes to the UBCFA’s bylaws are not in the best interests of the membership,” said UBCFA member Dr. Wayne Ross, a professor in UBC Vancouver’s pedagogy department. “[They] will further erode memberships' role in decision-making, particularly on issues of grievances and other member services.”

The UBCFA’s 2017 membership revenue was $2,562,000, funded by a levy of $7 for every $1,000 of salary earned by the organization’s approximately 3,700 members. The current UBCFA bylaws allow members access to expense information including “any accounts, books, or records of the association.”

Under the proposed bylaws, members will only be able to see the association's budget and financial statements — they will no longer be able to inspect any accounting records related to those documents.

UBCFA President Bronwen Sprout told The Ubyssey that the organization’s records contain the personal information of its staff and membership which they are obligated to protect from disclosure. She said the UBCFA is making these changes to its financial bylaws to protect privacy and comply with disclosure obligations under the Act.

But she did not specifically indicate which laws would be violated by the UBCFA continuing to allow its members to inspect accounting records upon request, and the change is not required by the new BC Societies Act.

Reduced authority?

The UBCFA is a trade union whose day-to-day operations are run by a professional labour relations staff which reports to an elected committee of professors. That means it hires full-time employees to represent its members in labour relations issues.

The association's employees include an executive director and three member service officers who assist faculty with workplace grievances and report their findings to the Member Services Grievance Committee (MSGC).

The duties of the faculty members who sit on the MSGC include “investigat[ing] complaints by members.” But the new bylaws make the committee responsible only for “overseeing the processing and resolution of complaints and grievances and recommending for or against arbitration proceedings.”

Sprout said that this language change is a formality and that the MSGC was never supposed to do the day-to-day grievance work of the associations' employees.

“While the work of the MSGC has not changed in the past 15 or so years, the proposed amendments to the Bylaws provide a more accurate description of its role and function consistent with its terms of reference,” she wrote.

But Dr. Ross said that this change could make the MSGC strictly an oversight committee, and worries it will weaken faculty influence in the organization’s affairs.

Professor Stephen Petrina told The Ubyssey he believes the changes to the MSGC were partly prompted by a case he brought to the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) in which he alleged that the UBCFA failed to represent him.

He claimed that the UBCFA refused to accept his request to file a formal grievance.

The LRB’s decision, issued on July 3, found that Dr. Petrina’s application to the LRB did not prove there had been a violation of the labour code. The Board dismissed his complaint.

The new bylaws would also require that members get signatures from five per cent of the UBCFA membership — or about 190 professors — in support of an issue before it will be added as an agenda item for the organization’s general meeting.

Associate Professor Dr. Peter Wylie, who lost a bid for UBCFA vice-president in the spring, said that this requirement could disproportionately harm Okanagan members, who represent only 12 per cent of the 3,700 members.

Dr. Wylie said he was disappointed that the proposed bylaws did nothing to address Okanagan members’ complaints about poor representation from their union, following a polarizing election campaign in which this became a central issue.

Dr. Shirley Chau — the second-ever Okanagan member to win a UBCFA general election — declined a request to comment, as did all the elected UBCFA faculty representatives except the president, citing contractual obligations not to speak publicly.

Dr. Sprout told The Ubyssey that these bylaws changes were never intended to address Okanagan issues.

This article has been updated to clarify the UBCFA's status as a trade union.