Principal's letter leaked to Facebook

Labour disruption in the upcoming year discussed in a letter to Board of Trustees chair

Updated July 29, 2011

A letter containing Principal Daniel Woolf’s plan for the upcoming year was leaked to Facebook on Wednesday, revealing Woolf’s expectations that the school year “could prove to be a time of major labour disruption at the university.”

University administration is in mediation meetings with both the Queen’s University Faculty Union (QUFA) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Administration has filed No Board reports for disputes with both unions. A No Board report calls an end to conciliation meetings and can be filed by either party if negotiations are found to be insufficient.

Ongoing labour disputes were cited as limitations to Woolf’s year plan throughout the letter to William (Bill) Young who chairs the Board of Trustees. The letter was written before University administration filed No Board reports for disputes with QUFA and CUPE. The No Board reports mean the University could be in a strike or lockout position in August. “The upcoming six months of labour negotiations will inevitably take its toll on employee/administration relations,” Woolf wrote.

The breakdown of labour talks would cancel Woolf’s travel plans, which were planned in order to fundraise and improve the University’s international profile. The potential for a strike or lockout forced Woolf to strategically plan trips to Brazil, Germany and China for the winter months.

“Given the likelihood of labour disruptions in the fall, it has been prudent to schedule these for the winter term,” he wrote.

Woolf stated the University’s financial constraints have caused a drop in Queen’s domestic reputation.

“The quality that once defined the institution is clearly being compromised,” he wrote. “It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that the quality reputation of undergraduate education at Queen’s would be challenged by Waterloo and McMaster … but it is clearly happening.”

According to the letter, a strike or lockout would interfere with Woolf’s plans to launch a fundraising campaign in an effort to reduce the University’s deficit.

“Labour unrest in the fall or winter would necessitate my focus to be at Queen’s and not on the campaign trail.”

Queen’s Communications director Ellie Sadinsky said Principal Woolf learned via Twitter that the letter had been leaked and circulated. She said his only comment to both the content of the letter and the fact that it was leaked was stated in a tweet to former Engineering Society President Victoria Pleavin, Sci ’10.

“This is my annual 'goals' doc to the Board--a normal process; negotiated labour agreements are a priority, as stated,” Woolf wrote in a reply to Pleavin on Twitter. Paul Young, president of QUFA said he saw the letter over three weeks ago as it had been circulating around faculty emails.

“I was fairly upset about the tone of discussion,” he said. “It was as if the whole thing was planned this way.” Young said the letter circulated this morning was authentic.

“I thought it was inevitable it be released,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel it was QUFA’s role to release the letter when they received it in June. With Principal Woolf’s stance on the length of labour disruptions made clear in the letter, Young said QUFA took this into consideration when at the bargaining table. “It would explain the tone of the bargaining,” he said.

Donna Carlaw, national representative for CUPE, was in mediation meetings with Queen’s administration and could not be reached for comment.

QUFA, CUPE and the Queen’s local of the United Steelworkers released a public response to the leaked Woolf letter Thursday. The response, addressed directly to Woolf, called the principal's approach to labour relations “disturbing.”

“We are writing this open letter to urge you to change direction, give bargaining teams the time and scope to reach fair agreements, and if necessary, obtain approval from the Board for a revised budget framework and negotiating mandate,” the letter stated.

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