PSAC strike looms, union asks Queen’s to rejoin table

University District

Queen’s says recent proposal addressed all concerns

Post-doctoral scholars protested their salaries through messages written on Mr. Noodles packages on August 31.
Credit: 
Journal file photo

Over the course of a three-day vote on Oct. 13, 14, and 17, Queen’s postdocs voted in favour of a strike if Queen’s administration didn’t return to the bargaining table, after their negotiations broke down last month.

“No one wants a strike, but we’re being forced by Queen’s to take action to get the dignity and equity that we think we deserve,” said Craig Berggold, president of the Post Doctoral Scholar and Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 901. 

“Not only had we reached an impasse, where they had asked for a conciliator, but now the conciliator was there and they weren’t happy to give us a counter offer. At that point conciliation stopped,” Berggold said.

The conciliator was told that postdoc’s are willing to take strike action “and they will now be in touch with Queen’s to let them know. We’re asking Queen’s to come back to the table now, and if they don’t we’ll be forced to take job action and go on strike.”

When contacted by The Journal after PSAC announced their plans to vote on a strike, interim Associate Vice-Principal (Faculty Relations) Dan McKeown stated that the University was committed to reaching a negotiated agreement. 

Queen’s believes it’s most recent proposal has addressed all concerns raised by the union, he wrote. 

He believes that the proposal would also ensure that postdocs at Queen’s would be among the best compensated in their role across Canada, as well as ensuring childcare benefits and professional development funds. 

PSAC’s request for a 25 per cent increase in minimum salaries during the first year, he noted, exceeded the proposal that the University had tabled. When contacted post-vote, Queen’s didn’t have additional comments to add regarding the situation. 

For Berggold and PSAC 901, the next step will be the forming of a strike committee. As of yet, there are no dates set for a strike, but Berggold says they’re making preparations while they await the administration's response. 

When asked about what may happen in the case of class disruptions before winter break, Berggold was firm with faith in his 200 colleagues on the Queen’s campus. 

“We live in a democratic society and when you vote you express your views and as a union we work together collectively,” he said. 

“So we expect all postdocs will support the will of the overwhelming majority.” 

According to Queen’s archives, only three known strikes have taken place on campus. 

The first, a student strike, took place in 1928. For three hours in the late 1980s  or early 90s, the Canadian Union of Public Employees were on strike from midnight to just before daybreak, and Sodexo food service workers went on strike in the mid-1990’s. 

According to the archives, Queen’s only began to unionize around the late 80s and 90s. 

Berggold told The Journal that the situation for postdocs currently employed by Queen’s may be more dire than people realize. One of the postdocs had written a letter, spelling out his situation and finances on a postdoc salary. 

Making $32,175 per year, his take-home in a month was just over $2,200. However, he also owed $1,000 per month in student debt payments.

“It’s hard for somebody to understand that somebody with a PhD degree has that much difficulty making ends meet,” Berggold said.

With strike action imminent, if administration doesn’t return to negotiations, Berggold is resolute in his belief that equal pay should be offered for equal work.

“Postdocs work in the same labs, teach the same courses and have the same degree as faculty.... we’re saying to Queen’s that ‘you’re announcing huge funding for research [and] we know you need postdocs to do that work. We’re asking that you pay them a living wage’.”

Corrections

A previous version of this article stated that PSAC 901’s displeasure with the collective bargaining process was linked to the fact only 10 of 200 postdocs on campus would see wage increases under the agreement Queen’s had proposed and that the vote percentage was 92 per cent. This information was from a previous dispute in 2013, not the current agreement. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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