Queen’s faculty members are prepared to strike if negotiations with a conciliator in January don’t bridge the gap between the two sides.
QUFA, the union representing faculty, libraries, and archivists at Queen’s, announced on Wednesday that 82% of 1,077 voting members were in support of strike action.
While the vote means an unsuccessful round of bargaining with a conciliator could see all QUFA members striking some time in February, both sides are hopeful for a resolution next month and QUFA President Jordan Morelli said he’s “cautiously optimistic” as the bargaining teams set their sights on the meeting with a conciliator.
Provost and Vice-Principal Dr. Teri Shearer, the university’s chief budget and operating officer, says the university’s bargaining team are hopeful to reach a fair deal for both sides, and pointed out that the bargaining teams have historically come together to fair agreements.
“I’m very optimistic,” Dr. Shearer said.
“I feel like QUFA and Queen’s have a history behind us of working collectively to advance the wellbeing of our students and I’m confident we can bring that history of good relationships and mutual respect to the table with the conciliator and reach a negotiated agreement.”
Dr. Shearer said the university wants it to be clear that they respect and appreciate the contributions made by QUFA members, calling them the “frontline workers” of Queen’s student experience.
She said while the allegations of being disrespectful throughout the bargaining have been made by the QUFA team, that isn’t the case.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Dr. Shearer said.
“It’s certainly very far from the truth.”
QUFA has said that the university team has not been willing to meaningfully engage at the table, leading to the union deciding to forego mediation planned between the two sides in December and instead prepare for conciliation facilitated by the Ministry of Labour.
President Jordan Morelli says the priorities for QUFA haven’t changed throughout negotiations, and that while they hope to avoid strike action, the overwhelming vote in favour shows members still consider the same things as important as ever.
“We obviously don’t want to strike we want to be at the bargaining table and working collaboratively with the university to negotiate a fair collective agreement,” Morelli said.
“But they have to come to the table willing to do that… our members are strongly supportive of the proposals that QUFA has been making at the bargaining table.”
The negotiations between the two sides have stretched on since June, with significant progress being made on certain asks but little to none on some key areas QUFA has identified in its proposals – like greater job security for adjunct members.
In the interim, an Ontario court struck down the wage suppressing Bill 124, meaning that QUFA employees aren’t restricted from fighting for more than a 1% annual raise.
Given that the negotiations started under Bill 124, members have been prepared to accept just the 1% raise, and Morelli says anything more than that would be better than what had been expected.
Compensation isn’t the driving factor in the negotiations, he says, but that QUFA could ask for more in the absence of Bill 124.
“If you don’t get an increase in compensation that is equivalent to the inflation rate then you’re losing money,” Morelli said.
“For some of our members they’re barely or not even making a living wage in Kingston… so you know, having a fair compensation increase is also important.”
While a date still hasn’t been set for conciliation, the two sides are expected to meet in mid to late January.
If no deal is reached at that time, there will be a 17 day cooling off period before the university can lockout the employees or the QUFA members can strike.
Both sides are in agreement that they hope to reach a deal and not impact Queen’s students, and Morelli says even if a strike happens the timing might align so that it begins when students are on reading week.
He says that will only happen if the university doesn’t negotiate in better faith.
“If we end up on strike it will be because the university wasn’t willing to compromise at the bargaining table,”
“Ther ball is in their court.”