25 July 2011 (updated 27 July 2011)
From the employees who organize data at the libraries, to the employees who help provide healthy food choices, to the employees who make sure we can access technological resources, to the employees who maintain the high standards of education that attract students and professionals from around the world, to yet the employees who clean and maintain the campus spaces we all enjoy: the University could not function without a high diversity of work sites, and employee skills and abilities. To ensure fair and equitable working conditions for the diverse range of employees, there are six unions on campus (PSAC, CUPE, USW, OPSEU, ONA, and QUFA), several union locals, and several more labour groups or associations.
To ensure 901 can help build and maintain strong and healthy relationships with other unions and labour groups on campus, 901 Executive members are committed to participating in open dialogues with other unions and labour groups. As such, we have recently helped re-establish the Unity Council at Queen’s. The Unity Council meets once a month and is currently made up of representatives from union locals and labour groups at Queen’s. Unity Council meetings create a forum for labour representatives to talk to each other about different local activities and development, bargaining, and labour issues at Queen’s and in broader communities. It helps representatives understand and appreciate the different working conditions at Queen’s. We have a common employer. We face common labour-related issues. We are ready to work together.
This past year was a particularly active time for unions at Queen’s. Several contracts were up for negotiation, and new union organizing meant the expansion of protected labour at Queen’s. Recently, negotiations for three CUPE locals (library technicians, technical and lab support technicians, and industrial trades workers, custodial staff, and food workers) and QUFA (faculty), hit serious impasse at their respective bargaining tables. In both cases, the University filed for conciliation (either party can apply for conciliation if there is an impasse at the table; however, a conciliator can make parties meet, but they do not have the legal jurisdiction to force a settlement). CUPE locals were the first to enter conciliation. The University filed for conciliation for QUFA negotiations shortly after. Both the three CUPE locals and QUFA took votes for strike mandates. Members of all units voiced strong strike mandates. The University has applied for a “no-board” report for negotiations with both CUPE and QUFA (the conciliator applies for a “no-board” report if the parties cannot resolve their differences). After a “no-board” report is issued, employment terms and conditions are frozen (they follow current collective agreements) for the first sixteen days. On the seventeenth day, the University is in a legal position to lockout employees in the bargaining units to which the “no-board” report was issued, and affected bargaining units are in a legal position to go on strike. For more information about negotiations for CUPE and QUFA at Queen’s, please visit the following websites:
CUPE locals 1302, 254, 229: http://254.cupe.ca
At the table, both CUPE and QUFA are fighting for fair wages and pension plans. These are aspects of their relationships with their employer that seriously impact their working conditions. 901 Executive members have issued letters of support and solidarity, and are in regular contact with representatives from CUPE and QUFA. No bargaining unit at Queen’s wants to go on strike, but they should and will if they have to. A bargaining unit’s power to collectively bargain the terms and conditions of their work is the result of their ability to withdraw their labour. That sort of labour action is the result of much discussion and deliberation, long bargaining sessions, and direct member consultation. It’s not a split-decision call. And it’s an incredibly difficult path to follow. The issues they are dealing with are worth fighting for.
I would like to encourage all members to speak with QUFA and CUPE members to learn more about their working conditions and to offer support. Should there be strike/lockout action at Queen’s, I expect no 901 member to be taking away work from those bargaining units. Moreover, should there be picket lines at Queen’s, I encourage 901 members to be respectful of the line tactics CUPE or QUFA strike coordinators employ (e.g. be respectful of their decision to be out on the line). You can do this by bringing food or drinks to those on the lines, or by speaking with affected locals about the issues they’re facing. Respecting picket lines and line tactics does not mean you have to engage in “solidarity strikes.” The Ontario Labour Relations Act prevents outside bargaining units from engaging in such action. However, the Occupational Health and Safety Act outlines provisions for employees who feel unsafe crossing lines. In addition, our own collective agreement has provisions for refusing to cross picket lines if you feel unsafe doing so. (More on that in the q & a listed below.)
After reading the q & a below, if you have questions or concerns about how you, as a 901 member, might be affected by possible labour action at Queen’s, please contact me directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Helping shoulder the burden,
President, PSAC local 901
PhD Candidate, Department of English
Directly Chartered Local Academic Worker Representative, PSAC Ontario Council
Information for 901 members about labour action at Queen’s:
PSAC local 901 currently represents graduate-student Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows at Queen’s University. While representatives of 901 understand and appreciate the various intersections and tensions between graduate-student research and graduate-student employment (in fact, the two are not mutually exclusive), the primary tasks of 901 representatives revolve around the work graduate students perform as Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows. We represent you as University employees, and are not comprehensively capable of dealing with questions and complaints about the “student” part of a graduate student’s relationship with the University. Despite that, we are willing and able to help graduate students find the resources they need to answer their questions and address concerns that may arise.
- Are you representing us as students or as employees of the University?
We represent you as employees of the University.
- What is CUPE and how does their job action affect us?
CUPE is the Canadian Union of Public Employees. With over 600,000 workers in Canada, CUPE is the largest national union. There are three CUPE locals at Queen’s: local 229 (trades, custodians, parking, and food); local 1302 (library technicians); and 254 (technical and technician support staff). These employee groups support the University’s day-to-day functioning. Because we’re not yet sure of the working conditions they will negotiate during a strike or lockout, we’re unable to assess the extent of how affected our members will be. We do know that without them, the University cannot function smoothly or effectively.
Click on the following link for a flyer from CUPE handed out at their recent information picket: CUPE Flyer 26JUL11
- What is QUFA?
QUFA is the Queen’s University Faculty Association. They represent over 1200 faculty, librarians, and archivists at Queen’s. They’ve recently affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and, as such, are a nationally recognized labour body. They are also affiliated with the Kingston and District Labour Council. Their contract with the University expired 30 April 2011 and they have been in negotiations since. At the bargaining table, the University applied for conciliation, and after a strong strike mandate (72% of 78% of their entire membership voting in favour of strike action), the University applied for a “no-board” report.
- What are the issues QUFA and the University administration are debating?
The University has applied for a “no-board” report, which means they have reached a serious impasse at the table. The main issues they are facing are related to fair compensation, appointments language, and pension plans. For more information about their negotiations, please visit their website, http://qufa.ca, or their blog, http://qufa.ca/jobaction.
- How does QUFA job action affect graduate-student Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows?
The exact terms and conditions of a QUFA strike or University lockout are, at this time, unclear because the terms and conditions are negotiated between those two parties. QUFA representatives have assured 901 representatives that they are committed to ensuring their job action has as least as possible impact on the student aspects of our relationship with the University. They are ready to ensure we can still take our exams/defend our theses. On the employment side of things, they are ready to advocate our compensation is paid as outlined in our contracts with the University. There is overlap in the work 901 members and QUFA members do. If classes are cancelled, Teaching Assistant positions may be cancelled or reorganized. Despite this, if you have signed a TA or TF contract with the University, you should be paid for the hours outlined in the binding agreement you’ve made with the University by signing an e-contract and/or a TA or TF Form. If you feel the university has rescinded on hours owed to you in a contract, please contact our chief steward, Christo Aivalis, at email@example.com, or our assistant chief steward, Doug Nesbitt, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We strongly advise against taking on additional work that would take away or undermine bargaining unit work performed by QUFA members. It is your right to refuse work that you believe to be scab labour if it goes against a personal belief.
- I feel unsafe crossing a picket line. What can I do?
Ontario legislation, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, offers provisions for workers to have the right to refuse work if they believe it is unsafe.
In addition, our 901 Collective Agreement (the binding contract we have with the University), explicitly outlines our right to refuse to cross picket lines if we feel unsafe doing so:
Article 6, No Strike/ No Lockout Provision of the PSAC local 901 Collective Agreement reads:
6.03 Notwithstanding any other provision of this Collective Agreement, in the event that Employees other than those in the Bargaining Unit engage in a strike and establish picket lines, an Employee has the right to refuse to pass through or work behind such picket lines where her/his safety is at risk. In such circumstances, the Employee will inform her/his Employment Supervisor that she/he will not be in attendance at her/his Scheduled Work and the Employee will cooperate with any efforts by the Employment Supervisor to reschedule the work.
If you feel threatened or harassed or feel unsafe crossing picket lines, you should call the University’s picket hotline at 613-533-6464 or campus security at 613-533-6733. For more information on who to contact about refusing unsafe work, contact a 901 rep at email@example.com.
- What else can I do to support the CUPE locals and QUFA?
- Write letters of support.
- Ask administrators of the University questions about their inability to negotiate a fair contract with these employee groups, and/or ask questions about their aggressive stance in their negotiations, and/or ask them to work toward better and stronger labour relations at Queen’s.
- Talk to members of those bargaining units to better understand and appreciate the work they do.
- Talk to your colleagues, friends, and families about the issues these employee groups are facing to help dispel myths and rumours.
- Attend information pickets, and/or rallies.
- Respect picket lines.
- Talk to a 901 rep to learn how to get involved with your local.
If you have questions, concerns, or suggestions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org