Administration encourages participation as CUPE and QUFA seek membership direction
As the leadership of Queen’s local branches of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) prepare to hold general meetings of their membership this week, the university’s administration is urging employees in both groups to exercise their rights and get involved.
QUFA has stated explicitly that it will be seeking a strike mandate from its membership when it meets this Wednesday, July 13. It is expected that CUPE will also be seeking direction on its negotiations with the University when it meets with bargaining unit members on Tuesday, July 12.
Under Ontario’s labour laws, unions are required to seek a strike mandate from bargaining unit members, all of whom are entitled to vote by secret ballot. A strike mandate requires a simple majority (50%+1) from those who attend the vote and cast a ballot – not of the total membership of the bargaining unit.
QUFA has announced its intention to hold its vote in conjunction with its July 13 meeting. The meeting will also be webcast and online voting will be made available to members who cannot be there in person.
“We are deeply respectful of the collective bargaining process,” said Bob Silverman, Provost and V-P (Academic), “and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunities they have to get engaged with the process. Depending on the union’s specific constitution and by-laws, a mandate vote may be an individuals’ last opportunity to get involved in the decision-making process around whether or not to go on strike.”
While contracts have been reached with two other employee groups in recent weeks – ONA and PSAC have signed agreements with the university administration – both CUPE and QUFA are still engaged in contract talks with the university. CUPE’s contracts expired last year (on June 30, 2010), while QUFA’s agreement expired this spring (on April 30, 2011).
QUFA and the university are currently in conciliation – a process that allows a provincially-appointed conciliation officer to work with the two sides and, hopefully, narrow the issues and find points of potential agreement.
The conciliation process with CUPE ended last Wednesday and the talks are expected to move into mediation, once the Ontario Ministry of Labour issues the “No Board” report requested by the university on July 6.
The issuing of a “No Board” begins a mandatory 17-day waiting period, after which the parties are legally allowed to initiate a strike or lock-out. Even so, a strike or lock-out will not necessarily occur. Negotiations can continue indefinitely, even during the 17-day period and once it expires.
Both the unions and the university administration have pointed to the major challenges that a potential work-stoppage could bring. In a June 29 Labour News report, V- P (Research) Steven Liss commented on questions that have been raised about the effects a work-stoppage could have on research activity, saying the only certain thing is that it would not be business-as-usual. The university is currently engaged in a comprehensive contingency-planning process to help it deal with a potential labour disruption, but the primary goal remains reaching agreements at the negotiating tables.
“We are focused on securing agreements,” said Dr. Silverman. “Engagement in the issues is key. All Queen’s faculty and staff have a significant personal stake in this. We feel strongly that the more people participate in the process, the more likely it becomes that negotiations will reach a meaningful and satisfactory outcome.”
Proposed changes to the Queen’s Pension Plan (QPP) have been central to all contract talks this year. The problem of the underfunding of the plan has been growing in recent years, as it has with most private- and public-sector pension plans. The problem has become so acute in the post-secondary sector that the Ontario government has mandated reform of the plans to return them to solvency. Queen’s has been working with employee groups for several years to bring changes to the QPP but has, so far, been unsuccessful reaching agreement on how to move forward.
“It’s a big challenge, but solutions are available,” said Dr. Silverman. “The issues are very complex and not easily understood. In that kind of environment, it can become difficult to weed the fact from the fiction.”
In an effort to help clear up some of the uncertainty, the administration has released a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the QPP.
Regular updates on all negotiation activity at Queen’s will continue to be distributed through eQueen’s and can be found, anytime, at http://queensu.ca/labournews.