Just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Queen’s Academic Assistant (AA) bargaining team entered into their third round of conciliation negotiations with the University, bringing with them a surprise addition to the bargaining table.
The AAs, represented by the union group United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2010 and 2010-01, arrived at the Four Points Sheraton downtown equipped with a petition — signed by over 900 members of the Queen’s community in support of what they termed ‘academic assistant wage equity’.
AAs work similar to teaching assistants (TAs), however, while TAs tend to be graduate students, AAs have already graduated from their degrees. The negotiations over their new collective agreement with Queen’s have been ongoing since June.
Standing outside the bargaining room, USW 2010 and 2010-01 Vice President Briana Broderick told The Journal that she thought they had a strong case going into negotiations.
“These workers, highly skilled, highly educated, have gone practically 22 years with just about stagnant wages. They had a wage freeze for 18 years. They had a $4/hour wage correction to the base wage rate in 2012 with the first contract, and after that, they had another four-year wage freeze,” she said.
“We hope that by presenting these facts, written down in plain language, as well as having the community support behind it, will bring these issues to the attention of the employer.”
In a later email to The Journal, Dan Bradshaw, Interim Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources) stated that the last four years had not been, in fact, a wage freeze.
“In fact, what was negotiated by the parties was a significant wage increase in year one of the collective agreement which began in 2012 rather than having smaller wage increases distributed over the life of the four-year agreement,” he wrote.
“The effect of this agreement between the USW and Queen’s was that employees received a more substantial wage increase earlier in the life of the collective agreement rather than smaller increases throughout the agreement.”
As they headed into their third round of conciliation with the University, Broderick told The Journal that “all our monetary proposals are still on the table, wages, pay in lieu of benefits.”
She said that AAs don’t receive benefit packages or pensions. Their team expected opposition on several aspects of their proposal. However, she said, they were very grateful for the community support they had received with their petition.
“We hope that this petition is the impetus that we need to move forward,” Broderick said.
Coming out of the third-round meeting later Wednesday morning, Broderick called the day’s negotiations “difficult”.
“We came in with what we thought were a good set of proposals, willing to talk, willing to negotiate and move on certain aspects in order to get a deal that everyone can live with,” she said.
She conceded that Queen’s was a “very tough employer”, with a bottom line to protect as any employer would.
John Goldthorp, chief spokesperson for USW 2010-01, relayed his impression of the administrative reaction to the petition.
“There was no positive or negative response. The weight of the paper was the weight of the paper,” Goldthorp wrote in an email. “Do we think it is going to change any outcome with respect to their position? My personal feeling is no.”
After holding four bargaining dates in June, both parties had asked the provincial government to appoint a conciliation officer to assist with their negotiations.
According to Bradshaw, requiring help from conciliators in tough negotiations is normal. “A provincially appointed conciliation officer confers with the parties as they work through outstanding issues,” he wrote.
“The university values the contributions of its many employees and remains
committed to the collective bargaining process while balancing the university’s need to preserve its core academic mission and respect the limitations dictated by current financial realities.”
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