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Residence Dons at Queen’s vote in favour of unionizing

Editor’s Note: Article has been edited with a response from the university and from USW

Residence Dons at Queen’s University have voted in favour of unionizing, the United Steelworkers have confirmed to YGK News.

The vote, which took place March 22nd to March 23rd, saw Residence Dons vote 73% in favour of unionizing. The vote took place online via the Ontario Labour Board portal. There was a voter turnout of 80%.

“We are proud of the solidarity that the Dons showed during this campaign. One of the main reasons they wanted to form their union is to have a voice and a say in their contract,” USW organizer Amanda Zakhour said. 

“They recognized the need to have a meaningful say in their conditions of work, as their current roles and compensation are currently not defined in a legally binding contract. With their own Steelworker local union, they will have an advocate, a voice in their workplace and a legally bargained contract that protects them.”

Over the course of the campaign, Kelly Orster, President of the United Steelworkers Local 2010 & 2010-01, which represents Support Staff and Academic Assistants at Queen’s University, published an open letter supporting Residence Don unionization. 

“We voted in March 2010 to begin our journey to take our seat at the table with the Employer through unionization. From our experience, to achieve this kind of autonomy and independence in the workplace, you will need support and assistance from the on-campus community. And you have it with USW Local 2010 (representing *1,400 Support Staff, and USW Local 2010-01 (representing *150 Academic Assistants). We are with you every step of the way.”

Response from the university was limited over the past week. An email was circulated among Residence Dons encouraging them to seek out initiatives which have already been implemented by Residence Life.

“Dons have raised several concerns and we listened and responded with various strategies,” wrote the university in an email last week. 

By Thursday, March 23rd, the Ontario Labour Board had confirmed that a majority of Residence Dons at Queen’s voted in favour of unionization. 

The Ontario Labour Board will now need to determine the appropriateness of the bargaining unit and resolve an objection by Queen’s University regarding the vote. If the objection is rejected, Residence Dons will be certified as a bargaining unit. 

The unionization would affect Residence Dons, Living Learning Community Dons and Residence Life Assistants. 

Programming Assistants and Front Desk Representatives are also overseen by Residence Life & Services, but are not included in this vote.  

“We were approached by Dons directly. In the future if Programming Assistance and Front Desk wish to organize, we hope they approach us for assistance.” Zakhour said. 

Residence Life Coordinators (RLCs), who directly oversee Residence Dons, are currently unionized and also represented by the USW. In 2021, RLC’s saw a new memorandum of agreement signed as a result of the elimination of the Assistant Residence Life Coordinator position.

When asked if representing both Residence Life Coordinators and Residence Life Dons would be a conflict for the union, Zakhour said that this is one of the issues being brought before the Labour Relations Board.

“Queen’s University has raised the issue of a potential conflict of interest, so this will be dealt with at the Labour Board in the coming weeks. The USW’s view is that there is no conflict,” Zakhour told YGK News.

If the union is certified, Residence Dons would be expected to pay $0.50 for every thousand dollars dons earned.

Dons at Queen’s University are currently compensated through a taxable benefit equivalent to the current value of a single room and a meal plan. Living Learning Community (LLC) Dons receive a $1000 stipend in addition to remuneration they receive as a Residence Don.

It’s currently unclear what changes will be made under a new collective agreement.  

In response to the election, Queen’s University said that it was “pleased with the high voter turnout to the certification vote for the United Steelworkers union (USW) and Residence Dons.”

“The University’s administration respects the certification process and outcome of the vote and is committed to the next steps in the process,” Queen’s University said in a statement.

Few Residence Don unions exist in Ontario. In 2019, Residence Dons attempted to unionize at the University of Western Ontario, but failed by three votes. Community Assistants at the University of Ottawa are currently unionized and in 2021, some colleges at the University of Toronto signed their first collective agreement.

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