After a previous collective agreement between the University and Public Service Alliance Canada Local 901 (PSAC) expired in April of 2017, the two sides reached a new tentative agreement on Dec. 20 of that same year. PSAC Local 901, a union that represents professional graduate students, has been at the bargaining table with Queen’s for months.
PSAC President Craig Berggold at the meeting on Thursday.
The vote to ratify the agreement spans Jan. 25 and 26, with the results announced at the Grad Club on Friday. Despite being allowed access to all on-campus events, The Journal was denied access to a ratification vote meeting at the Sutherland Room on Thursday by union representatives.
For several years, PSAC Local 901 has contributed $120,000 to the Society of Graduate & Professional Students’ (SGPS) Health and Dental Plan. The contribution has historically been agreed upon through a memorandum of agreement (MOA), renewed annually.
The SGPS Health and Dental Plan covers all graduate students at Queen’s. This year, PSAC 901 didn’t renew the MOA that has upheld the deal for years. If the new tentative agreement between PSAC 901 and Queen’s is ratified Friday, the $120,000 will be retroactively stripped from the SGPS from Sept. 2017.
Craig Berggold, President of PSAC Local 901, told The Journal he’s been “transparent and above board” throughout the negotiation process about whether funds would be allocated. SGPS President Adam Grotsky said in an interview that “isn’t true at all.”
SGPS-PSAC budget confusion
Legally, the deal between PSAC 901 and the SGPS hinges on an MOA that is renewed annually. Berggold told The Journal this year, “we never sent them that letter.”
“It was made very clear to them when the original MOA was agreed to between SGPS and PSAC the union was not in a position to make any future financial contributions or donations [after its expiration],” Berggold said.
Grotsky explained the MOA has existed as more of a formality between the two parties.
“Admittedly both the SGPS and PSAC have never been very diligent with the MOA,” Grotsky said. “Both parties have always taken for granted that the money will be transferred and have viewed the MOA as a formality. For example, last year it wasn’t signed until April.”
Despite this, Grotsky indicated “it was suggested to [the SGPS] by the union that we would be receiving that money this year.” He said it was “quite the surprise” to learn the new agreement was going to be retroactive and the SGPS wouldn’t be receiving the $120,000.
“Both we and PSAC had budgeted for us to receive that money. We looked at their budget, we saw they had put that money in there, we did the same for our budget with the expectation that the money was going to come and unfortunately we now have learned that is not the case,” Grotsky said.
In response, Berggold told The Journal it’s “not true” that PSAC and SGPS exchanged budget information.
“The budget that was passed at the last annual general meeting (AGM) shows zero income on the Health and Dental Plan. The local budget shows no income on those line items for the 2017-18 year,” Berggold said.
However, Grotsky noted “an important piece about their budget — from my perspective — is that none of the references to the Health Plan funding are contingent on the outcome of the collective bargaining agreement. Instead, it refers to the MOA that we always sign with them.” He added it was “business as usual.”
The reference to PSAC 901’s 2017-18 budget that Grotsky mentioned shows the allotted $120,000 in lines 18, 19 and 20. The lines feature an asterix explaining the budget items were “awaiting SGPS MOA approval,” with no express contingency on the bargaining process mentioned in the budget.
In marketing material created for the 2017-18 academic year to advertise the SGPS Health and Dental Plan, PSAC Local 901’s contribution is cited in a line at the bottom reading “The SGPS Health and Dental Plan is brought to you through generous support from PSAC 901.”
According to Grotsky, when the SGPS put together its marketing materials, PSAC 901 “requested that we include [the line],” this academic year even though the previous agreement had expired.
Berggold said in the original MOA between the SGPS and PSAC 901, the SGPS was “mandated to make that acknowledgement.”
When asked about the reference only being requested this year, Berggold said “the SGPS broke the contract repeatedly, took our money and never acknowledged that they received it publically for several years. And we continued to give them money.”
“When Adam said to me ‘oh well we have been advertising PSAC 901 for the last eight months,’ even though the contract expired. I said ‘well maybe that’ll make up for the many years that you took our money and never advertised it,’” Berggold continued.
“I understand [the] SGPS was hoping to receive the money and we had no reason to believe that we couldn’t [provide it], but we were under no legal agreement to give SGPS any future money after April 30. They were well aware of that and we were at the mercy of the bargaining process,” Berggold said.
Grotsky explained, “since Craig never brought up the fact that we wouldn’t be getting the money, in addition to the marketing request and his comments at Council, we figured it was a repeat of previous years.”
SGPS budget crisis
The results of the ratification vote — expected to be released at 5:00 p.m. Friday — will determine whether the union goes back to the drawing board. As of now, Grotsky is preparing for the worst.
“We are currently reviewing our annual budget and looking at ways that we can make cuts without sacrificing the essential services that we provide to our student body … it certainly is not easy to come up with $120,000,” he said.
Despite the difficulties it causes the SGPS, Grotsky said the agreement “is a good deal for students.”
“The three per cent pay they will receive in their paychecks is added money for them. There is good reason for them to approve it,” he said.
Though Grotsky voiced support for the deal, he explained it’s likely the SGPS will remain in a deficit this academic year as a result. He added it’s “too early to say just what that number will be.”
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