Two weeks ago, the University, citing budget cuts, laid off 17 members of custodial staff and reduced hours for six others, generating an angry response from members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 229.
Seventeen people with non-continuing appointments will not have these contracts renewed, leaving them without jobs after they end. Non-continuing appointments are typically renewed year to year.
Six workers are being moved to a department with nearly 17 less hours per week, going from 37.5 to 20 hours per week.
The University intends to replace the workers who were laid off with part-time casual employees, who lack job security.
CUPE has warned that the increasing casualization of employment at Queen’s will have a negative impact on the university, including on students.
CUPE 229 represents several hundred maintenance, cleaning and food workers at Queen’s.
The workers affected by layoffs have “non-continuing appointments”, which allow them to join the union and obtain better pay and benefits. These employees typically work throughout the academic year, or for eight months.
Pat Cummings, president of Local 229, said these employees no longer have any guarantees for their future.
“They’ve been working towards a full-time position, there’s no longer full-time positions, and they go back down to 12 dollars an hour plus four per cent vacation pay,” he said.
“What happens is you end up casualizing the workforce, so you end up with a lot of turnover and nobody can survive … on 12 dollars an hour.”
In “casualizing” the workforce, jobs that are full-time or have job security are eliminated in favour of temporary work with lower pay and no access to benefits. Casual workers are unable to join unions.
Cummings said that Queen’s told CUPE that budget cuts were the reason for the layoffs. John Witjes, the engineering and operations director at Physical Plant Services, gave the employees notice just over two weeks ago.
Queen’s administration was unable to comment by deadline.
Cummings believes these layoffs will affect the quality of custodial services, especially after a harsh winter that has seen custodial staff take on extra responsibilities.
“They’re going to be changing the amount of cleaning they do, the frequency of the cleaning they do … washrooms might not get cleaned as often, garbage won’t be getting picked up as often because you don’t have the workforce to do it,” Cummings said.
“Things are slowly going to go downwards.”
The layoffs took CUPE by surprise.
“We meet once a month with Queen’s … there was no indication that there was any layoffs coming,” Cummings said.
The future is still uncertain for other CUPE employees. Cummings said he doesn’t know if there will be more layoffs in the future.
CUPE is now planning a campaign to raise awareness of the effect that these layoffs will have on campus life and highlight the negative effects of casualizing the workforce, particularly on students.
“Everybody here likes going to a safe and healthy place to work. The only reason we’re here in Physical Plant Services, or anybody at this university, is to support the students. I mean, without the students, there’s no reason for us to be here,” Cummings said.
He said he wished that there had been consultation between the University and Local 229.
“We recognize there could have been other avenues that could have been taken, but the dialogue wasn’t there,” Cummings said.
— With files from Sebastian Leck
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