Faculty raise questions over compensation

Principal Williams misled public about budget negotiations, group alleges

QUFA President Cathy Christie says the administration is using QUFA as a scapegoat for the University’s financial problems.
QUFA President Cathy Christie says the administration is using QUFA as a scapegoat for the University’s financial problems.
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Following Principal Tom Williams’s report to the Queen’s community Apr. 23, the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) has accused the administration of misleading the public about negotiations to reduce the amount of the University’s budget allocated to salaries.

Compensation costs account for more than 70 per cent of the University’s operating budget; faculty salaries specifically account for approximately 29 per cent of the operating budget and 15 per cent of the University's total income.

In 2009-10, Queen’s total compensation expense will be $275.4 million. The University is projected to post an $8.3 million deficit.

Principal Tom Williams said QUFA rejected a proposal to close the University for five unpaid days per year to save $400,000 a day and publicly expressed frustration on Apr. 23 about negotiating an early retirement program with QUFA.

QUFA President Cathy Christie said Williams only presented half of the story to the public.

“So far, [QUFA] is the only employee group that has been approached to take these unpaid days,” she said, adding that although faculty wouldn’t have to teach during the five days the University closes, they would have to continue out-of-classroom work such as research.

The early retirement program, which aims to reduce the number of faculty by more than 50 positions that won’t be replaced in order to save $5 to 6 million, hasn’t been offered equally to faculty members, Christie said.

“The term they’re throwing about is a package that’s ‘mutually beneficial’ for members,” she said. “So if a member declares they want to go and the University wants to keep them, then that gives the University the power to keep them.”

She said QUFA would only agree to an early retirement program that all faculty have equal access to.

By not presenting these details clearly, the administration is trying to scapegoat QUFA, Christie said.

“They’re trying to put students against faculty and they’re trying to say to students, ‘If those big, bad faculty won’t take salary cuts, we’re going to have to raise tuition,’” she said. “It’s singling out one group and blaming them for the problems at Queen’s and, quite frankly, deflecting blame away from the Board of Trustees.”

Christie said QUFA has proposed borrowing operating money to give the University time to draft a long-term financial plan and looking at cuts to administrative salaries.

Faculty compensation makes up 15 per cent of the University’s operating budget.

“Why [the Board is] so focused on 15 per cent of the total when they’re in charge of dividing the 100 per cent … I honestly am puzzled by it,” she said.

The University is also considering layoffs of non-faculty staff next year to reduce the wage bill, Williams said.

QUFA’s collective agreement protects faculty from being laid off.

Queen’s support staff aren’t represented by a union, which means they don’t have a collective agreement or standard grievance procedure to protect them from layoffs, Registrar’s Office Registration and Fee Assistant Gillian Berry said.

“It’s a really big concern for a lot of staff members here,” she said.

The University has been unclear about whether layoffs would target a percentage of staff or a salary range, she said.

“They just kind of throw this all out there and leave us all shaking in our boots,” she said. “We’re part of a staff group that aren’t high on the pecking order, so to speak … and it’s a really big concern for us.”

Williams said it may be impossible to avoid layoffs next year if the University doesn’t make progress on cutting other areas of compensation.

“When you’ve got over 70 per cent of your budget for compensation, the assumption is that you’ve got to try to do something on that front,” he said, adding that vice-principals and other members of the administration have agreed to freeze their salaries beginning in the 2009-10 academic year.

Williams’s salary is $370,000.

Williams said he hopes QUFA will consider re-negotiating parts of the collective agreement, which was signed in June 2008 and expires in June 2011.

“We’re trying to ask, ‘Okay, can we get you to change some of the things we agreed to when the economy was looking all rosy?’” he said, adding that there is no deadline for negotiations.

Williams said the total wage bill for faculty will increase by 5.5 per cent next year.

“We’re at 1.2 to 1.5 per cent inflation,” he said. “The spending power of that wage increase is a lot more than what a lot of other people in society are getting these days.”

Bill Young, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the Board asked Williams at its May 2 meeting to rework his financial plan—which projects a total deficit of $33.3 million after three years—by targeting compensation costs.

“I don’t think we’ve budgeted a deficit in living memory,” Young said, adding that the Board hopes the new budgets Williams prepares over the summer won’t project a deficit in the 2011-2012 academic year.

“The only way to really have an impact with our costs is to deal with the rate of increase in salaries and benefits,” he said. “There’s an ability within our community to deal with this problem.”

—With files from Holly Tousignant

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