Administration Pulls the Plug: Conciliation Is Now Over

As sent to all members on 25 July 2011 by qufacomm:

Dear QUFA Members:

After a disappointing session on Thursday, QUFA met again on Friday with the Administration’s bargaining team and a provincial conciliator. The discussion focussed entirely on financial matters. QUFA presented its benefits proposal, which is designed to bring a number of our benefits in line with prevailing norms, and which our benefits consultants anticipate can be funded out of existing benefit-plan surpluses. In addition, QUFA would like to reserve the right to conduct an assessment of the existing Long-Term Disability (LTD) income plan within 90 days of a signed agreement. The assessment would determine if the current LTD plan provides the best value compared to other plans and, if needed, propose appropriate changes to the plan.

The Administration has clearly rejected the historical faculty salary model that has been in place since 1984, while attempting to argue that it is not rejecting the model, but just reducing the size of its elements. This is clearly specious. The basic premises of the salary model are twofold: (1) from starting salary to career-end, a Member’s salary will, in constant dollars, rise to a ratio of 1 to 2.15; and (2) a career is predicted to be 35 years. By reducing the annual PTR steps to one-half, for example, either a Member will never reach the career-end goal, or he or she will have to work for 70 years to get there!

On Friday afternoon, a small window seemed to open. For the first time since tabling the pension restructuring proposals on 7 June 2011, the Administration engaged in a substantive discussion. Although nothing concrete was resolved, it was the first sign that something may be negotiable. QUFA still has outstanding questions from our actuaries that need to be answered. Once our actuaries have all the material, we are optimistic that we will be able to develop alternative pension proposals that do a better job of sharing costs and risks.

The conciliator’s next available dates were 11 and 12 August 2011. On Friday afternoon, QUFA and the Administration agreed to meet on those days.

At 10:10 a.m. this morning (Monday 25 July 2011), QUFA was informed by the Administration that they were requesting that the conciliator file a “no board” report. Thus, the Administration has moved to end conciliation and start the clock ticking towards a date in mid-August at which time the parties would be in a  legal lockout or strike situation.

This is a state of affairs that we did not want. We remain willing to meet and to negotiate. However, the Administration seems determined to continue its strategy of forcing us into submission.

Sincerely,

Allan Manson
Chief Negotiator, QUFA

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15 Responses to Administration Pulls the Plug: Conciliation Is Now Over

  1. Larry Widrow says:

    Despite its somber tone and alarmist headline, Allan Manson’s latest update contains the first hopefull sign that a strike/lockout will be avoided. Manson writes that last Friday, the administration “engaged in a substantive discussion” on “pension restructuring”. For many, pension reform is the one, and only, strikable issue. In the run-up to the strike mandate vote, numerous friends and colleagues said that they would settle given the compensation package currently on the table “if the administration left the pension alone”. (For the record, I’m one of the 28% who voted NO to the strike mandate.) The administration is not going to take pension reform off the table, but it seems that if they make any substantive changes to the pension proposal, a majority of QUFA members might be willing to settle.

    I’ve been at Queen’s since 1993 and have seen some very generous compensation packages and some not-so-generous packages. I was also around for Rae days. Compensation packages, like the economy, provincial governments, and university administrations, vary on a serveral-year timescale. The package on the table isn’t great and I hope the final phase of negotiations produces something better. But its something most of us can live with. And given a strike will cost us 2% salary per week (not to mention considerable harm to individual research, the reputation of the University, and the relation between students and faculty), the compensation issue doesn’t seem “strikable”.

    At the last QUFA meeting, members of the QUFA executive and negotiating team made the point, several times over, that a strike is a “dreadful” option. Lets hope that at the August meetings, the administration tables a revised pension reform plan, and lets hope the QUFA leadership see fit to present to the membership for a proper
    hearing and vote.

  2. Anon. says:

    I’m posting this anonymously because I am untenured. I disagree with Larry Widrow. As a junior faculty member, I find the salary proposals to be completely unacceptable. The university can afford pay raises in line with those at other universities that have recently negotiated new agreements. A net decrease in salary after inflation over three years is worth striking over. I believe the administration is hoping to scare QUFA into accepting a great deal that is unacceptable simply because of how many hostile proposals they have made. So they start off with disasterous pension proposals, revise those to merely unpleasant, and hope enough QUFA members will take what they can get. For me the proposed changes to tenure procedures and the creation of the teaching-only positions are also strikeworthy.

    I would go so far as to suggest that at every stage of the negotiations the administration has been unduly hostile. They have acted in a ways, and made proposals that suggest they have little respect for faculty and little confidence in us. In return, I would like to see some senior faculty member in a relatively safe position take up the cause of organizing a vote of non-confidence in Principal Woolf.

  3. Also anon. says:

    I agree with Anon. above that it does not seem that the university was ever really serious about having a constructive dialogue. Moreover, as a grad student about to enter the job market, I feel that the end of continuing appointments for sessional faculty and the teaching only positions are very important issues. It would be unethical to continue accepting these numbers of graduate students and at the same time continuing to break down their job prospects.
    I know that some will argue that much of this is already reality, but that does not mean that we should institutionalise it. Yes, many sessional faculty find it very hard if not impossible to eventually get tenure, but it is still possible.
    Not to mention the bad effects teaching-only faculty would have on the quality of education. Does the university really think that there is no cross-pollination between teaching and research? Then, why does it market itself as a research university to students?

  4. udo schuklenk says:

    @ Larry, seeing that you belong to the minority of QUFA voters who voted against the strike mandate, it’s a bit odd that you busily predict what ‘most of us’ would or would not do. Being an academic yourself, I trust you understand the concept of ‘evidence’. You have none to back up your various claims about where the QUFA membership does or does not stand on these substantive issues. Perhaps for future posts you might want to reconsider how you package your views.

  5. Student says:

    As a student, I am disappointed by the anonymous commenter above. Like or dislike the administration’s current offer or its way of conducting negotiations, the professor seems to care little for the detrimental effect a strike will have on this university, its reputation, and its students.

    Simply put, a faculty strike puts an incredible hardship on the students. If a strike is drawn out, it could mean the loss of an entire semester. This would delay graduation for many students, and mean a large group of students have to remain in Kingston to make up the lost classes – a considerable expense, especially given that most leases in this city are 12 months. It will also put extra pressure on next year, as there will effectively be two graduating classes.

    I sincerely hope that QUFA takes the students into consideration before deciding to strike. It’s us – not the administration – that suffers when faculty strike.

    • Student #2 says:

      I am undergraduate student here at Queen’s as well and I agree that a strike would be very hard on the students. I am very worried about the possibility of a strike and that is the last thing that I want. That being said I feel that it is unfair and selfish to ask the QUFA to act only in the best interest of the students. QUFA members have lives, kids, and financial issues just like everybody else. To ask the faculty to just give in to the administration’s demands simply because it would be best for the students currently attending Queen’s seems short sighted.

  6. Further Anon says:

    I’m a PhD student for the record. Udo, Larry didn’t claim to have done a rigorous survey! He just said that he thought the majority of faculty “might” settle on the monetary issues, based on talking with friends and colleagues. I’d be very interested to know what other QUFA people think about Larry’s post, which I think was intended to get discussion going. Hearing more views would be very useful. So you don’t need to play high and mighty about evidence, and I suggest that you reconsider your tone.

    As a Graduate Teaching Fellow next year, half of my funding is for teaching. I don’t know what will happen to me if a strike occurs, because I wouldn’t be able to teach my course sections (the other course sections are taught by QUFA members)- will I still receive funding? Every time I talk to somebody at the university, new implications of a strike emerge. Clearly, a strike would be devastating for everybody here, and all of us (staff, faculty, graduate students, and administration) must do whatever we can to stop it happening. I do put most of the onus on the administration, because I think they have not bargained in good faith (for several years now), and are misleading (wrong?) on the pension issue among other things. They have also been the ones to file no-board reports for both CUPE and QUFA, even though two further days of conciliation with QUFA were available in August.

  7. Ralph Callebert says:

    To the above PhD student. PSAC 901 posted an FAQ: http://psac901.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/labour-action-at-queen%E2%80%99s-information-for-901-members/
    To Student, above. You seem to be choosing the wrong target. QUFA was perfectly willing to continue negotiating and was caught by surpise by the administration’s no board application. It seems to me that the university is the party intent on steering towards conflict, not QUFA.

    • Further Anon says:

      thanks Ralph for pointing out the PSAC post– that answers a lot of my questions, and I recommend all graduate students read it. And I agree with you completely about which party is intent on conflict– there’s no doubt in my mind. The administration seems more concerned about being tough on unions and settling its deficit than it is on negotiating fairly with staff and faculty, or about what is best for the university.

  8. student says:

    @student.

    The comment from the student above, re: hardships for undergraduates in the case of a strike, is informed by short-sighted self-interest that refuses to see the issues at hand in a wider trajectory that has the long-term quality of education at Queen’s in mind. If it is indicative of the broader undergraduate culture, the comment shows just how difficult (yet necessary) it may be to convey the positive interest that undergraduates have in supporting the faculty against the admin’s austerity measures.

  9. Concerned staff member says:

    As a staff member not represented by any union (and, therefore, effectively without a voice at Queen’s), I want to express my sincere appreciation to both QUFA and CUPE for the positions they’ve taken in striving to protect our Queen’s pension. I am an employee with a relatively short service (<9 years) and the salary I command does not allow me to self-fund a rich investment portfolio (quite unlike that of most of senior administrators, whose salaries read like lottery prizes). Much of my retirement security will depend on the health of the Queen’s pension. While I accept that changes are needed to ensure the pension plan becomes healthy again and is sustainable, I completely disagree with the administration’s one-sided suite of demanded changes. In the 9 years since I’ve become part of the “Queen’s family”, I’ve never once been asked about my views on any aspect of the Queen’s pension, yet it forms such an extraordinary and vital component of my future security and that of my family. I am grateful for the guts and determination demonstrated by QUFA and CUPE as they strive to prevent the University from railroading our pension while silencing Queen’s employees in the bargain. Thank you.

  10. student says:

    As the above student said, a strike or lockout would be very damaging to the school’s reputation and to students. This, in turn, would hurt the members of QUFA. In the event that QUFA and the administration can’t reach an agreement by the time the parties are in legal strike/lockout position, why not submit to binding arbitration?

  11. James Miller says:

    I agree that the university seems to be spoiling for a strike. In a leaked letter to the board of trustees, the principal seems to regard a strike as preferable to a bad settlement:

    “I appreciate the Board’s understanding that these disruptions, should they occur, will be unpleasant and potentially reputational-damaging in the short term, but they may be a necessary step in order to achieve success in salary restraint and pension reform.”

    Really, he is putting the university’s reputation on the line, not the faculty.

  12. M A Pappano says:

    I had the opportunity to read the infamous letter now. I am convinced by it that Woolf never intended to try to reach a negotiated settlement. All of the administration’s actions have proven this: the too quick-movement towards initiating the conciliation process, then the abrupt “no board”. There is also the failure, as reported by the qufa bargaining team, to educate themselves properly and enter into serious negotiations on any number of issues. I am worried that the Board of Trustees accepted this state of affairs as necessary and justified: what board would allow its principal to pursue such a reckless course?Although we have seen the willingness to compromise undergraduate and graduate education at every level, isn’t rushing into a course where the university is shut down just a bit too audacious? As a professor, I feel that losing even a few class meetings seriously erodes students’ learning experience in a course. All I can say is that I am glad the Woolf has become an expert on campus mental health, because I for one feel extremely stressed out by his reckless disregard for the Queen’s students and faculty and staff.

  13. Another untenured Anon. says:

    M. A. Pappano: See the last sentence of the post by Anon. (2011/07/26 at 10:01) above.