When it comes to negotiating for workers’ compensation, Unity Council showed Queen’s administration they meant business.
Workers from multiple on-campus unions gathered at Agnes Benidickson Field on June 20 demanding Queen’s renegotiate a collective agreements determined while Bill 124 was in effect.
“This is a serious issue. Inflations got out of control, Bill 124 was unfair, the Government screwed us too, but we need help from Queen’s now,” said Jesse Bambrick, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 229 to the crowd. CUPE 229 represents trades and grounds workers, as well as lab and library technicians.
“[Queen’s has] lots of pockets of money. They need to reallocate, they need to put us first because we always put our services first,” he said.
Unity Council represents seven unions, and approximately 3,300 staff and faculty, on campus. United, the unions are asking to receive the same salary increases Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) negotiated at the table this February.
QUFA President Jordan Morelli called on Queen’s to live up to the values it claims to have.
“Over the past nine years, Queen’s has accumulated a surplus of little over a half a billion dollars. It has reserves to write out the current budget shortfall. It’s choosing to balance its books on the backs of you the workers,” Morelli said at the rally.
Along with wage hikes, Unity Council is asking Queen’s to reduce parking fees on campus for workers, and to end the hiring freeze.
If Queen’s can afford to increase wages for QUFA, its highest paid union, it can afford to compensate other workers, explained Bambrick in an interview with The Journal. Bambrick said he’s heard of workers sleeping in their cars and losing their homes.
“We’re looking at finding the money for them if they can’t find it themselves,” Bambrick said. “They could re-allocate the administrations’ travel budget. It’s a few extra million right in front of their faces.”
Burnout is huge among workers, President of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2010 Kelly Orser told the crowd. USW 2010 represents general support staff and academic assistants at Queen’s. Orser shared workers’ medical documentation for sick leaves are being rejected at a higher rate than pre-pandemic.
“There are so many Queen’s workers that don’t understand what’s happening behind the scenes with the budget, with senior administration, and why these decisions are being made,” Orser added. “It’s really good as a unionized community at Queen’s to come together and share our stories.”
While they stand united, different workers at Queen’s face different challenges. For facilities workers, there’s a two-tiered system where caretakers make $10 less than custodians. Caretakers at Queen’s will be seeing a pay raise of $2 per hour as of July 1, but it’s not enough, according to caretaker Jason Herrington.
“In the custodial department the hiring freeze means we’re going to be taking on more responsibilities,” Herrington said in an interview with The Journal. “We already have a very hard time to recruit enough people to get the work done. The workloads are tremendous, mainly because of the low wages.”
Herrington claims he’s been approached by professors in the Bioscience Complex because their labs are not being cleaned regularly.
“They’re supposed to be done every other day. We’re looking at weeks, sometimes months that they’re not getting done. It’s a huge health and safety issues for the students,” Herrington added.
In response to a letter from Unity Council, Queen’s said its budget deficit is responsible for its prudent fiscal management, which includes a hiring freeze. The letter is signed off by Donna Janiec, vice-principal (finance and administration), and Teri Shearer, interim provost and vice-principal (academic).
“While we cannot speculate on the ultimate disposition of the legal challenge, it is important to recognize that while the provincial government conducts their appeal of Bill 124, no additional funding has been forthcoming from the provincial government because of the 2022 Superior Court decision,” the letter from Queen’s read.
Ontario’s provincial government introduced Bill 124 to cap wage increases of Ontario Public Service employees at one per cent for a three-year term. Bill 124 was found to be unconstitutional in 2022 by the Ontario Superior Court for interfering with union’s right to collectively bargain.
No other Ontario universities are re-opening collective agreements unless they have wage opener language, according to Queen’s letter.
Unity Council has garnered support from multiple Queen’s Union chapters, including CUPE 229, CUPE 254, CUPE 1302, ONA 067, OPSEU 542, PSAC 901, QUFA, USW 2010, and USW 2010-01.
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