Queen’s University Lockout or Strike Could Happen Mid-August

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Contract talks between the university and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) entered the next phase of negotiations today, July 25, as the university requested a “No Board” report from the Ministry of Labour.

The request signals an end to the conciliation phase of the negotiations, which began in late June , and is the first step in moving towards a strike/lock-out deadline. Either side must wait until the 17th day from the date of the “No Board” report before beginning a strike or lock-out. A “No Board” report is usually issued within a week of the application.

“The administration wants a prompt resolution to these talks prior to the beginning of a new academic year,” said Dan Bradshaw, Associate Vice-Principal (Faculty Relations). “All of the issues are on the table and it is time for us to move towards resolution.”

The request for a “No Board” does not, in any way, guarantee a strike or a lock-out. The parties are free to continue negotiations until a deal is reached. During the next phase of negotiations, the parties will have access to a provincially-appointed mediator – likely the same individual who helped the two sides during conciliation. The usual practice is for the mediator to request meetings with the parties during the 17-day period in a final effort to work towards an agreement.

As with other negotiations between Queen`s and its various employee groups, the re-shaping of the Queen’s Pension Plan (QPP) has become an important focal point of the talks. Quick action is required to reverse the underfunding problem and to make the most of the solvency relief options that have been put forward by the Ontario government. The plan’s actuaries have confirmed that the university needs to have a remediation plan in place as quickly as possible or else the problem will continue to escalate to unmanageable levels. The law requires the valuation of pension plans every three years.

The Queen’s Plan is due for its next valuation on August 31 of this year. The valuation is a “snapshot” of the financial state of the plan on that date. August 31 is, therefore, critical because the state of the plan on that date will determine what additional contributions the university will be required, by law, to make over the next three years. Those additional contributions are required to bridge the gap between what the plan has in it and what the provincial law says must be in it – and the larger the payments, the greater the impact on the university’s operating budget.

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Should changes be made to the plan sometime after August 31, the university can file what’s called an “interim cost certificate” or “interim valuation report”. While this would reduce the university’s payment requirements on a go-forward basis, the reduction wouldn’t be retroactive, so any reductions that could have been achieved starting August 31 would be lost. The longer it takes to address the plan’s underlying structural problems, the worse off the plan will be at the next valuation in 2014, and the larger the long-term impact on Queen’s operating budget, which is already in deficit.

It’s important to note that meetings with all employee groups about the need for plan changes have been ongoing since 2005 with no agreement, despite the plan’s deteriorating financial position. All employee groups have been aware of the August 31 valuation date and the university’s specific proposals for changes to the plan since a meeting last November. The changes and the urgency were reviewed and reiterated by the university at a multi-employee group meeting in May.

The changes proposed by the administration include increasing employee contributions, which is an approach that has been implemented at other universities. QUFA has publicly agreed there are structural problems with the plan and a resolution will require some increase in contributions.

“These are tough issues,” says Mr. Bradshaw. “But I firmly believe the two sides have the ability to reach a balanced, realistic, negotiated settlement.”

Earlier this month, the administration requested and received a “No Board” report in its negotiations with locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The 17-day period expires at 12:01 am on Friday, July 29, 2011. Mediation between the university and CUPE begins tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26.

Regular updates on all negotiation activity at Queen’s can be found at http://queensu.ca/labournews

CUPE Talks Update: August 7Queen’s University CUPE Strike Averted


Release source: Queen’s University News Centre | Photo source: Wikipedia