Queen’s University faculty and staff members rally for fair compensation for workers

June 25, 2023

Queen’s University staff, faculty members and supporters gathered on campus on June 20 to demand the university reopen negotiations for compensation increases.

The Unity Council sent out a message leading up to the event, entitled the Demanding Fair Compensation for Workers Rally, inviting those interested to participate on behalf of the staff and faculty at Queen’s.

The event took place at Agnes Benidickson Field on Queen’s University main campus, beside Grant Hall. Approximately three hundred to four hundred Unity Council members came to the rally to show their support. The announcement of this rally was accompanied by an open letter addressed to Vice-Principal Donna Janiec and Interim Provost Teri Shearer.

Unity Council represents unionized groups at Queen’s University, including: CUPE 229, CUPE 254, CUPE 1302, ONA 067, OPSEU 452, PSAC 901, QUFA, USW 2010, and USW 2010-01.

The current standing collective agreements between the university and the unions were negotiated before Bill 124 was ruled unconstitutional by the Ontario Superior Court. Bill 124, introduced in 2019, limited wage increases for many workers to one percent each year over a three-year period. The Unity Council demands that compensation increases in line with those of The Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) Collective Agreement with the university, which was not constrained by the stipulations of Bill 124.

The Ontario Government’s anticipated appeal of the court ruling that struck down the bill began on Tuesday, June 20, and the Unity Council demanded in their letter last week the opportunity to “...renegotiate our wages promptly and cease unnecessary delays while awaiting the Doug Ford government’s appeal of this legislation to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice”.

In their open letter, the Unity Council stated, “It is unconscionable that the wages of CUPE 229, CUPE 254, CUPE 1302, OPSEU 452, USW 2010 and 2010-01, as well as PSAC 901 workers at Queen's University remain constrained by the voided Bill 124 in contrast to the recent modest settlement achieved between QUFA and the University. We contribute immensely to the success and smooth functioning of Queen's University, and our efforts deserve to be acknowledged and fairly compensated.”

On Tuesday, the university responded to the open letter from Unity Council via email.

“Consistent with previous communications to our unions, there is enormous complexity associated with Bill 124 and our negotiated wages," the response states. "By way of example, if the declaration of constitutional invalidity is upheld on appeal, there will be a remedy phase where monetary damages may be ordered to the unions.”

The response letter cites both the appeal of Bill 124 in process and the university’s budget for fiscal year 2023-24 projecting a $62.8M operating deficit as reasons to postpone renegotiations.

“We’re absolutely disappointed in the tone of that letter, how hard the employer is digging in. They're just not even allowing for any wiggle room at all. And that's now got us frustrated. We're ready to fight and to continue to push,” stated Kelly Orser, president of United Steelworkers, regarding the response of the university.

Story by Christena Lawrie, CFRC News, for the Local Journalism Initiative