AEWU files notice of strike amid CBA deadlock

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MEMBERS OF the Ateneo Employees and Workers Union (AEWU) have been staging lunchtime protests since January 3, following a deadlock on Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations between AEWU and the Ateneo administration.

A CBA is a series of agreements negotiated between representatives from the administration and the recognized employees’ union on the terms of work and employment.

AEWU filed a notice of strike on December 21 after both parties failed to reach an agreement on the CBA by its supposed completion on November 30. Both parties then agreed on a 30-day “cooling-off period” where “negotiation and communication shall continue in order to come to an agreement.”

The two parties have been talking since the notice was filed.

On January 5, the administration and AEWU panels appeared before Conciliator-Mediator Hacelfeo T. Cuares of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for talks.

After the talks, AEWU president Sonny Amata said that the administration gave a “new position” regarding their wage increase offer.

The next mediation meeting is set on Saturday, January 13, at the Ateneo.

‘Improved’ offer

On January 9, AEWU released a statement citing the new (also referred to in statements as “improved”) offer.

“The Union members comprise 7.91% of the total employee complement. Despite this, Ateneo is offering the Union a paltry 5.91% of the portion of the TFI [tuition fee increase] allotted for increases in wages and benefits as an ‘improved’ offer,” the statement read. Ateneo’s initial offer was 4.72% of 70% of the TFI.

AEWU also said that while Ateneo maintained the “general increase of 2.5% or Php 700 per month and merit increase of 6% (maximum) or Php 1,680 per month on an average salary of Php 28,000 in previous years” for non-union employees, union members have been treated differently.

“[Ateneo] has drastically reduced its offer to the Union [with] a general increase of Php 275 per month and merit increase (maximum) of Php 925 per month, down from 3.5% per month and 3% per month, respectively, with a minimum guaranteed increase of Php 1,300 per month,” AEWU explained.

AEWU also said that Ateneo admitted to including endowments and grants in the salaries of faculty and non-union employees in computing the union’s share in the 70% of the TFI, when these should have been excluded.

In January 3 statement, AEWU said that this inclusion has led to a “substantially lower budget” for the increase of AEWU’s salaries.

AEWU said in the same statement that Ateneo “refused to reconsider its position of limiting the budget for improved CBA benefits of rank-and-file employees.”

The union also said that Ateneo “refused to give the data” on non-organized employees and their salaries, which was supposed to verify if Ateneo’s offer is indeed based on a “pro-rated distribution of existing salaries.”

They also claimed that Ateneo’s previous general increase offer of Php 210 per month with maximum merit increases of Php 900 per month by 2017 and 2018, is significantly lower than the government-mandated minimum wage increase of Php 21 per day or Php 547 per month.

However, Ateneo maintained that they complied with this mandate.

On January 5, the CBA administration panel released a statement in response to AEWU’s open letter.

“As of this time, only 14 AEWU members receive minimum wage, as they are new employees and their salaries have been adjusted accordingly in compliance with the new minimum wage,” the statement said.

Administration also said that the average monthly salary of AEWU members is at Php 27,000, and that “some 58% of AEWU members have salaries between Php 20,001 and 40,000, and 4 AEWU members (with 30 years of service or more) earn more than Php 88,000 per month.”

Ateneo also said that as of June 1, the union is comprised of 246 members, making up 34.45% of the non-academic staff and 7.91% of the overall employee population.

The administration then pointed out that AEWU’s demand amounting to Php 40.6 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017-2018 and Php 45.5 M for FY 2018-19 would comprise “47% of what is earmarked for the whole university.”

Moreover, Ateneo claimed that the Php 85+M asked by AEWU for the remaining two-year period of the five-year CBA will leave Php 96+M for the University’s 2,683 other employees.  

Ateneo also said that they submitted a counterproposal during a conciliation conference on December 21, increasing their initial offer of 4.72% to 5.91% by Year 4 and 5.39% by Year 5 of the Tuition Incremental Proceeds (TIP).

“The University reiterates that it has been negotiating in good faith,” the statement said.

Questions remain

However, AEWU said in their most recent statement that it is “erroneous and misleading” for Ateneo to claim that only 70% of the TFI is available for increases in salaries and benefits of all its employees.

Citing Republic Act No. 6728 and Department Order 15, s. 1992, AEWU explained that while these laws mandate 70% of TFI to be allocated for employees, they do not state that increases should be taken solely from the TFI.

“Hence, the 70% of the tuition fee increases is only the MINIMUM amount that Ateneo may give as increases in salaries and benefits of its employees,” the statement read.

Moreover, AEWU emphasized that “Ateneo has not denied” that the net income of its General Fund has exceeded Php 1 billion for the past three years: Php 350 M in 2015, Php 382 M in 2016, and Php 415 M in 2017.

AEWU is referring to Ateneo’s January 5 response, which stated that the balance of the General Fund consists mainly of “Restricted for Property and Equipment.”

The administration also revealed that the “not restricted” or available portion of the net income by the fiscal year-end of 2017 is at Php -26 M.

“Does being ‘restricted for property and equipment’ mean that the funds have already been spent? Or does it mean that these funds have merely been ‘allotted for property and equipment’? Ateneo does not say,” AEWU said.

AEWU then questioned why Ateneo has so much money allotted for property and equipment that it can only give its “organized employees” a general increase of a “measly” Php 275 per month–Ateneo’s “improved offer” from the previous Php 210 per month.

“Does Ateneo value ‘property and equipment’ more than its employees?” AEWU said.

This morning, Ateneo responded to AEWU’s January 9 statement by saying that it stands by its previous letter and has “nothing further to say” on the matter, “having outlined diligently and in good faith the basis for its actions.”

Ahead of Saturday’s talks, the administration also enjoined the community to “pray for both parties to work harmoniously for the good of all.”

What went before

On June 20, 2017, negotiations for the remaining two years of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) of 2015-2019 began between AEWU and the administration.

Early in the negotiations, however, both parties have already encountered a dispute on the effectivity of the new CBA.

AEWU noted that the administration “refused to stand by its CBA counterproposal,” or the administration’s counter offer in response to the union’s demand.

According to AEWU, since their proposal and the administration’s counterproposal had the same date of effectivity of June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2019, this provision is deemed as agreed upon by both parties, as per ground rules set prior to negotiations.

“In reneging on its CBA counterproposal, Ateneo argues that it made a different proposal on the effectivity of the CBA in the Ground Rules for the CBA negotiations that it submitted to AEWU.”

Because of this, AEWU accused the administration of “unfair labor practice” and “bargaining in bad faith.” This dispute, as well as the disappointment in Ateneo’s offer, led union members to start wearing black armbands last August as a sign of protest with the way the negotiations are going.

In response, Ateneo said that “what is in force and in effect until a new CBA is agreed upon is stated in the Agreement signed on December 19, 2014.” The effectivity runs from April 1, 2014 to May 31, 2019, based on the agreement. Economic and social provisions of the CBA, meanwhile, expired on May 31, 2017.

If the CBA is not settled within six months from the date of expiry, the effectivity date shall be subject to “negotiation and arrangement by both parties.”

“As agreed upon in the Final Approved Ground Rules signed by both parties on July 25, 2017, the ‘Date of effectivity will be discussed during the negotiation proper,’” the administration panel maintained.

Notably, the current CBA under negotiation was signed in 2014 after months of painful negotiations and a similar notice of strike filed by AEWU.

Notice of strike

Continuous failures of reaching an agreement led AEWU to declare a notice of strike on December 21. This led to the 30-day “cooling-off” period between the two parties to settle negotiations.

If no resolution is reached by the end of this period, the union may opt to proceed with their strike.

Upon AEWU’s notice, Ateneo gave the assurance that they “will not interfere with or restrain the union in the exercise of their right to self-organization, as long as their actions are within the bounds of law.”

Ateneo added that they “will continue to participate in this process of negotiation and communication in good faith.”

“AEWU remains hopeful that a just and reasonable agreement will be reached,” AEWU said in their statement. “But it stands ready to protect and fight for its members’ rights to a fair and equitable CBA.”

Ateneo community speaks out

Ateneans and student organizations have spoken out about the deadlock.

Finance lecturer Miguel Sevidal said that, while he refuses to take a definite side, AEWU’s request is “not fiscally plausible.”

“A P900/month increase is equivalent to P33 million increase in salaries for all employees (given 3,109 employees),” he said in a tweet, while citing the non-restricted General Fund of Php -26 M.

“It's more of, from a balance sheet/income statement point of view, a P900/month increase is not fiscally plausible given that Ateneo is already operating on a net loss–at least for this fiscal year,” Sevidal told The GUIDON.

“Right now, the information made available to the public is still incomplete, so it's hard to come up with a formal conclusion,” he added. “I hope they can reach a higher salary increase that's amenable for all employees, not just the Unionists, while still maintaining fiscal sustainability.”

Several students have also voiced their support for AEWU.

Taun-taong hinaing ng mga mag-aaral ang pataas nang pataas na tuition sa Ateneo (Every year, students complain about the continuous tuition increase in Ateneo),” Union of Students for the Advancement of Democracy (USAD) premier Billie Blanco said,

She added, “Kung hindi sa tamang pagpapatakbo ng institusyon—sa makatarungang sahod at patas na trato sa mga manggagawa nito—napupunta ang pera, anong punto? Ito ba ang ‘Ateneo way’ na ipinagmamalaki natin?”

(If the money isn’t being used to run the institution properly—the fair distribution of salaries and just treatment of their workers—what is the point? Is this the ‘Ateneo way’ we are proud of?)

Kabataan Partylist (KPL)-Katipunan also condemned the Ateneo administration for “prioritizing the pursuit of profit over the welfare of workers.”

We implore the Ateneo community to stand in condemnation of the Ateneo administration's hypocrisy, and stand with the workers in their struggle for justice,” KPL-Katipunan said in their statement.

The Ugnayan ng mga Makabayang Guro sa Ateneo (UMAGA) also posted AEWU’s most recent statement to express its support.

Several student organizations within the Ateneo have given a collective statement of solidarity in support of AEWU.

They called the administration to “consider the welfare of Ateneo’s workers in hopes that a fair and equitable CBA will be reached.”

As of January 9, the statement had 30 student organizations and 41 individuals as signatories.

In an e-mail response to The GUIDON, John Gokongwei School of Management dean and administration panel member Luis Dumlao said that “[a]s responsible Ateneans, I request and expect that student individuals and organizations research on all perspectives and not just on one before siding and signing off on any solidarity positions.”

On the other hand, AEWU challenged the administration to honor their own commitments.

“Ateneo has taught its students to be generous—persons for others. It has also taught its students to be responsible and trustworthy—persons of their word. Time for Ateneo to live up to its teachings and practice what it preaches,” the union said in its latest statement.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated (10:14 AM, January 10) to include background on 2014 CBA.

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