A rally outside Richardson Hall, held last Thursday by the United Steelworkers Union (USW), called for a return to job evaluation system negotiations that address transparency and pay equity, which have been stalled for months.
The USW Local 2010 and 2010-01 represents over 1,100 Queen’s employees, primarily administrative support staff. Roughly 75 per cent of USW members are women.
Job evaluation systems assess the job description of each employee based on skills and other criteria, and allow that job’s pay grade to be determined.
Over the last two years, the local has been working with the University to find a new job evaluation system to replace the current system, which both parties agree needs to be modernized.
During collective bargaining in 2011-12, the parties struck a letter of understanding that set up a joint evaluation committee intended to find a new computerized system. The letter of understanding will expire in December, along with the current collective agreement.
Kelly Orser, president of Local 2010 and 2010-01, said one of the problems with the current system is that it isn’t transparent — which could mean the system isn’t evaluating employees properly or that it’s masking pay inequities.
“The University has been unable to provide documentation to the union that would prove that the current system, even though it may be old, is doing that. That’s where the lack of transparency comes in,” she said.
“We don’t know if it is working or not, and the University’s been unable to prove that.”
Issues with committee composition have halted any evaluative work, Orser said. She added that the University would rather purchase a new system than create one from scratch, which the union doesn’t support.
“Our experts essentially say that there isn’t a program out there on the shelves that you can purchase that will be able to properly evaluate university administrative workers,” she said. “Our concern is that the University wants to purchase a program or tool that we don’t believe will service our members appropriately.”
She said the concerns come from systems being used at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, where USW colleagues found in similar processes that there are no off-the-shelf programs that fulfill their needs.
Orser said the union is hoping to return to the bargaining table, which is why it held the rally last week.
“The purpose of the rally was to create awareness on campus, create awareness with our members and just remind everyone how important that letter of understanding is and that it is going to be expiring soon,” she said.
“As a union we’re anxious to get back to the table, move past these barriers and actually begin the work of creating a new job evaluation system for our members.”
Associate Vice-Principal of Human Resources Al Orth said part of why negotiations have stalled is due to procedural issues resulting from the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act. The act includes standards for service procurement with which the University must comply when trying to purchase a new job evaluation system.
“I do believe this is a temporary hold, if you will, and that we’ll be able to work our way back to find a solution and find ourselves back at the table, so to speak, and continue on to fulfill our mandate,” Orth said.
He said the University and the union are in talks about the issue, and the two parties met last week to discuss it.
“It’s a very live issue for us, for both parties,” he said.
“I think we both share a level of frustration in that we’re dealing with some obstacles, but I don’t believe any of them are insurmountable and it’s in the best interest of both parties to get back to that project.”
Even if an agreement isn’t reached before the collective agreement expires, Orth said the letter of understanding could be extended in the next set of bargaining talks.
“As far as the University’s concerned, we want to continue this process to reach the ultimate goal that both parties originally identified, so I would see no reason why we wouldn’t want to continue the process,” he said.
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