Strike vote to be held

Post-doctoral fellows discuss benefit options

Post-docs gather for their last opportunity to vote.
Post-docs gather for their last opportunity to vote.

With post-doctoral fellows diving deep into research, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is urging them to take a step back and fight for the benefits they say they deserve.

For the past three days, post-doctoral fellows at Queen’s have met on campus to seek a strike mandate for their members — a measure they claim will allow them access to the same benefits as other campus full-time employees.

The meetings serve as the last opportunity for post-doctoral fellows to exercise their right to vote on whether or not their group will go on strike.

PSAC is one of Canada’s largest unions and represents workforces throughout Canada. The bargaining unit of postdoctoral fellows consists of approximately 200 people, with a large presence on campus through research.

“We are the only full-time employees that don’t have dental benefits ... we can’t even join the dental plan from the university without paying from our own pocket,” Abdi Ghaffari, a post-doctoral fellow for the Cancer Research Institute and a member of the bargaining team, said.

In addition, the post-doctoral fellows are not offered child-care benefits or a set baseline for their salary. Regular wage increases are undefined in their contracts, unlike other full-time employees on campus.

Salaries for post-doctoral fellows vary depending on their fellowship, ranging from $28,000 to $40,000. There’s currently no minimum salary for post-doctoral fellows, despite the number of years of experience they may have.

“We want to be a part of this community, but we want a fair contract. We want a minimum salary and fair benefits for all post-docs,” Ghaffari said.

Nearly 150 post docs are estimated to have already voted, although the decision to go on strike has yet to be announced.

“We are one of the most important communities of Queen’s University, we are doing research, and university institutions are known by research ... [the University] can’t just say [they’re] going to take care of some of [its] members and exclude a whole bunch of others,” Ghaffari said.

Dan Bradshaw, associate vice-principal (faculty relations), and a conciliation officer are working closely with administration and PSAC to collaborate a collective agreement which has been in negotiation since April 2012.

Bradshaw declined to release the name of the conciliation officer.

“The notion of a strike mandate doesn’t mean that the Public Service Alliance is necessarily going on strike,” Bradshaw said.

“A union seeking a strike mandate from their members is not unusual.” Bradshaw, the conciliation officer and the rest of the bargaining team will meet again regularly in hopes to reach an agreement, Bradshaw said.

He declined to comment on the concerns raised by PSAC during the ongoing negotiations. The bargaining committee requires a strike mandate of 50 plus one per cent before they can legally call a strike.

PSAC does not need everybody in the bargaining unit to vote yes before a decision is made.

“From my perspective, as long as the parties are continuing to work at the table, and focus on the issues at the table, and ... on getting a collective agreement then the outcome will be a collective agreement,” Bradshaw said.

— With files from Olivia Bowden

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