CUPE bargaining: University applies for "No Board"
Contract talks between the university and Queen’s employee groups represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) entered a new phase on Wednesday as the university requested a “No Board” report from the Ministry of Labour.
The request signals an end to the conciliation phase of the negotiations, which began in April, and sets the stage for a strike/lock-out deadline. Either side must wait until the 17th day from the date of the “No Board” report before beginning a strike or lock-out.
“We believe it is time to come to a decision,” said Al Orth, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources). “It’s over a year since the CUPE agreement expired and we need to have an agreement and move forward as an institution.”
A key issue in these negotiations is the re-shaping of the Queen’s Pension Plan. Quick action is required to reverse the underfunding problem and to make the most of the solvency relief options that have been put forward by the Ontario government. The plan's actuaries have confirmed that the university needs to have a remediation plan in place as quickly as possible or else the problem will continue to escalate to unmanageable levels. The law requires the valuation of pension plans every three years. The Queen’s Plan is due for its next valuation on August 31 of this year. The valuation is a “snapshot” of the financial state of the plan on that date. August 31 is, therefore, critical because the state of the plan on that date will determine what additional contributions the university will be required, by law, to make over the next three years. Those additional contributions are required to bridge the gap between what the plan has in it and what the provincial law says must be in it – and the larger the payments, the greater the impact on the university’s operating budget.
By requesting a “No Board”, the university has signalled that it feels the conciliation process has gone as far as it can. In conciliation, the parties are assisted by a provincially-appointed conciliation officer as they work through outstanding issues. The request for a “No Board” in no way guarantees a strike or a lock-out. The parties are free to continue negotiations until a deal is reached. In the 17-day period after the “No Board” is issued, the negotiations enter a mediation phase. The mediator, also a provincially appointed individual, is often the same person who served as the conciliator, to ensure continuity in the process. The usual practice is for the mediator to request meetings with the parties for one or two days during the 17-day period in a final effort to work towards an agreement.
“We respect the collective bargaining process,” says Mr. Orth. “We are heading into the mediation stage looking to reach a negotiated settlement.”
Regular updates on all negotiation activity at Queen’s will continue to be distributed through e-Queen’s and can be found, anytime, at http://queensu.ca/labournews.