Early Monday afternoon, the Brock University Faculty Association issued a public letter to President Gervan Fearon regarding termination of staff members’ and human resource practices.
The letter was issued by Michelle Webber, President of BUFA. It begins by stating that the faculty was copied on a memo sent to Fearon regarding the termination of a staff member in the Department of Psychology. It continues to state that this is not the first time BUFA has heard of these concerns from its members and that Brock University Retirement Association has previously met with Fearon regarding similar problems.
BUFA is the university’s faculty union, certified under the Labour Relations Act of the Province of Ontario.
The letter states that the issues regarding employment dismissal at Brock began in 2014, whereas prior to, the university was known as a place to enjoy work and people would refer to the university as a “family” or “community”.
“This is no longer the case,” the letter states. “Staff tell those of our members whom they trust that they now feel afraid and unappreciated. [Staff] feel like a disposable commodity rather than a valued colleague and a team member.”
BUFA’s concern expands to the reputation of Brock that have begun circulating, in which staff members who are dismissed are walked to their cars by campus security and that the privacy of email is not respected by administrators.
Some practices of HR that have caused concern are listed as following:
- When a staff member is terminated, they must leave immediately without being allowed to finish jobs that are in the midst of being completed and are unable to say goodbye to their coworkers.
- When a position is eliminated by a layoff (to reduce the number of positions for financial reasons) it’s later posted as an opening and a new person is hired. The letter also allegedly states that the positions are being filled by people who reside in the Niagara Region, which causes concern.
- BUFA claims that age could also be a factor, as those who are let go are significantly older than the new hires. The Faculty says it does not know if this is true, but “the perception that it is true contributes to a belief that employees will be discarded when they inconveniently cost Brock more”.
- Recently, new staff or those given promotions/new job descriptions, are given a mandatory multi-page form to sign, in which a section says that they waive their right to negotiate or pursue through the courts a better severance package than what is set out in the Employment Standards Act.
BUFA claims, although no concrete numbers are available, that there has been an increase in sick leave since 2014.
With a handful of layoffs and changes within departments, some employees are uncertain who they need to contact when trying to help a student with a problem.
The following example was given in the letter:
“As an example, one of our members had a student whose grade change had not gone through and who now was in danger of not being able to convocate. In times past, this crisis situation would not have happened because the student’s grade change would have been swiftly processed. Now the faculty member had to intervene but whereas, before she would have known who to call, neither she nor the department administrative assistant knew who to call. This confusion was the result of personnel and job responsibility changes, with inadequate transition of knowledge and practice. In the meantime, our member had multiple interactions with the upset student and the student’s parents.”
BUFA issued this letter to allow Fearon and Brock Administration know that the union is troubled about the university’s current direction. The union has also been informed by a former Brock employee that an interviewer told them that no explanation was needed regarding their dismissal at Brock because the university is now known to terminate employees.
The letter proceeds to ask about the costs that come with firing an employee, from severance packages, lawyers and the posting/hiring of a replacement.
BUFA does not put HR employees at fault here, but rather the instructions by senior administration.
In November 2017, Brock was ranked in the top-15 for employers in the Hamilton-Niagara area – a competition organized by the editors of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. This was the second consecutive year Brock was ranked in the top-15.
In an e-mail response from Fearon’s office when asked for a statement, The Brock Press was informed that the President was not on campus on Monday and was unavailable for a comment.
The letter closes by stating, “BUFA recognizes that administration has management rights, but we suggest that changing HR practices would allow us to gradually rebuild trust and employee loyalty”.
The full letter can be found here: https://www.bufa.ca/bufa-letter-of-concern-to-the-president-of-brock-university/