Dons await bargaining as certification granted

Residence Dons at Queen’s University have officially been certified as members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2010.

Current dons with the university said unionization had been discussed in previous years, and the time was right to put it to a vote resulting in 73% voting in favour.

USW organizing manager Amanda Zakhour said after an objection with the Labour Board from Queen’s, USW expected a hearing to take place but on Friday they were told the dispute had been dropped.

Zakhour said from her knowledge the objection stemmed from a potential conflict of interest in USW representing both residence dons and their direct superiors, Residence Life Coordinators (RLC).

She said USW never viewed that as an issue considering RLCs don’t have hiring or firing power over dons, and their only managerial relationship is through scheduling.

Zakhour said she would guess that the university realized the dispute would not carry and decided to not prolong the process and delay negotiations.

In a statement from Queen’s, the university says the Labour Board itself handed down the decision.

“The certification process has been completed. The Ontario Labour Relations Board has provided a decision in writing confirming that ‘there are no issues in dispute for the Board to address prior to issuing a certificate in this matter,'” Queen’s University said in a statement.

Now next steps for the newly certified dons will be getting to the table with the university, which Zakhour says normally will take a couple months.

By nature the position of residence don has a lot more turnover than most other roles represented by USW, and as such Zakhour says there will be more hands on guidance from the local unit than typically seen.

She says particularly with how transient the position is, it will take a few years to get things really solidified.

“It’s going to take a few years until it’s running smoothly and they can basically take things to the university on their own,” Zakhour said.

“Typically in any new unit that we organize it takes a couple years to make sure that people are trained up and understand the process.”

Current dons say there have been ongoing issues regarding communication about expectations for the position that the university has failed to address, this and a general lack of clarity on who to go to with issues are what led to dons ultimately seeking union representation.

Zakhour said some of the stories she’s heard from dons really “grind her gears”, including some student workers saying they’ve been tasked with so much in their buildings they barely had time to study for their mid-terms.

Many are feeling like their work compromises their school, but that without it they couldn’t afford school in the first place.

“The fear is if they were to be fired then they’re also losing their education,” Zakhour said.

As part of USW 2010, dons will pay 0.05% of their salary as union dues, or roughly 50 cents for every thousand dollars.

While a deal isn’t likely to be reached until well into fall or later, it’s expected to be retroactive to the beginning of the fall semester for dons.