QUFA & Ontario workers union take Ford government to court

Bill 124 has regulated salary increases at Queen’s

The court case will be heard in Toronto. 
Photo: 
Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) is joining the Ontario Federation of Labour and other unions across Ontario in a lawsuit against the Government of Ontario. 
 
The statement of claim, filed on July 25, highlighted the union’s concerns surrounding the Ontario government’s passage of Bill 124. The Bill was passed into provincial law on Nov. 8, 2019, the same year as the passage of the Student Choice Initiative
 
Bill 124 regulated wage increases in public sector employment, like the health care industry, teaching, and public universities, such as Queen’s. The central claim QUFA and unions across Ontario are making is Bill 124 violates the right to meaningful processes of collective bargaining and the right to strike in accordance with The Charter. 
 
All claims made by the unions remain untested in a court of law.
 
In the legal filing, the unions brought up concerns around the general impact Bill 124 has on collective bargaining. The unions argue the one percent cap on wages and compensation are unilateral and arbitrary in nature—having an intermediate and negative impact on the ability of unions to negotiate settlements that are “free and fair.”
 
The unions argue the primary issue with the wage cap is the fact unions are forced to negotiate below the one per cent cap. 
 
“While Bill 124 affects the ability of both unions and management to freely bargain, it has a more significant impact on unions as it shifts the balance of bargaining power in favour of management, leaving unions with almost no leverage,” the statement of claim said. 
 
Combined with issues of bargaining, the suit claims the Government of Ontario is invalidating freely negotiated agreements and arbitrated awards. 
 
The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) ordered Montfort Renaissance—an organization supporting addictions treatment, senior care, mental health and housing—to renegotiate the terms of its agreement after the passage of Bill 124, despite the original collective agreement being in effect from 2017-22. 
 
The lawsuit lays out the challenges employees face when it comes to recruitment and retention, combined with increasing inflation rates. Low-income workers and racialized individuals were explicitly mentioned as being the most impacted from the effects of Bill 124. 
 
In a statement to The Journal, Maher Abdurahman, media spokesperson at the Ministry of the Attorney General, declined to comment on behalf of the government.
 
“As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment,” Abdurahman said.
 
Jordan Morelli, QUFA president, told The Journal in an interview that Bill 124 is a large issue on campus.
 
“I’m outraged that the Government of Ontario would intervene in such a way that it’s such a violation of everybody’s rights to belong in a union and bargain, collectively,” Morelli said. 
 
Morelli expressed his concerns around the treatment of racialized workers and minorities across the workplace.
 
“Kingston’s not the most diverse city. It’s getting better, but you know, there’s not many restaurants or grocery locations where you can get food items that are traditional to your cultural backgrounds.”
 
Another issue not directly tied to Bill 124 is Queen’s reliance on term adjunct professors. Morelli believes these staff are in a position where exploitation of their work is easier due to the contractual nature of their work. 
 
Concerns of contract academic staff were brought up in the lawsuit, which claimed “precarious academic workforce” are undercompensated for their work. Morelli said this plays into concerns around retention of academics and employees on campus. This could be further exacerbated by the impacts of a loss of collective bargaining. 
 
According to Morelli, Ontario’s per capita funding of post-secondary education is the lowest in Canada, which contributes to the increased burden placed on adjunct professors.
 
“[Queen’s] is precluded from bargaining at a higher amount than one per cent. It might well be in their interest to bargain in the climate of seven per cent inflation, to offer increases,” Morelli said. 
 
Morelli believes if Queen’s offered higher salary increases, there would be increased retention across faculties. In speaking to students and student leaders directly, Morelli emphasized the importance of the legal action being undertaken by QUFA and other unions. 
 
“This impacts student’s collective power—you have the AMS, ASUS, SGPS, and PSAC 901. The Ford government tried to destroy student unions as well when he first got elected. All of his union busting actions are completely unconstitutional,” Morelli said. 
 
The University said they recognizes employees are central to Queen’s position as a leading post-secondary institution in Canada.
 
“Term adjuncts can acquire rights, such as a right to teach the same course on a recurring basis, or the right to be employed continuously,” the University said in a statement to The Journal.
 
The University said Bill 124 has a moderating effect on compensation at Queen’s.
 
“Since the Act came into force, all bargaining agents on campus that have concluded bargaining with the university have entered into renewal agreements that comply with the Act.”
 
“We cannot speculate on the outcome of the legal challenge to the Act that is currently before the courts. We continue to monitor the impact of the Act on hiring and retention.”
 

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