QASL residential counsellors and vocational instructors reach deal

·4 min read

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4963 and their employer, Queens Association for Supported Living (QASL), announced in a press release that a tentative agreement had been reached shortly after members of the union began their first strike activity (rally) in Liverpool on the morning of December 21.

CUPE Local 4963 had filed a 48-hour notice of strike action on the afternoon of December 16.

The move followed a strike vote on December 7, in which the 38 residential counsellor and vocational instructor members of CUPE Local 4963 at QASL voted overwhelmingly — 92 per cent — in favour of strike action.

CUPE National Representative Chris Sutton said in the December 21 release that the deal was reached with the assistance of a conciliation officer, supplied by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education. All union members were scheduled to return to their regular schedule December 22.

QASL offers a variety of residential options for individuals requiring a supportive living environment, such as community homes, and independent living support for individuals living on their own.

Vocational services offer a range of programs for adults with a variety of disabilities.

QASL has a total of 70 employees who look after 15 residents in QASL community homes and there are 40 clients involved in QASL vocational services.

If a strike had carried on, all community homes operated by QASL would have continued under the Nova Scotia Essential Health and Community Services Act.

Since vocational services are not covered under the Act, in the event of a labour disruption QASL’s vocational and life skills training centre – Penny Lane Woodworking and Enterprises — would have closed.

The local union members had been without a contract since 2015 and negotiations had been ongoing, but talks had come to a stalemate over pension equity between the residential counsellors and vocational instructors.

Carrie Mosher, a QASL residential counsellor and a member of the union bargaining team, described the issue as “the only sticking point.”

“We have always had two different pensions with the same contribution. In 2017, the vocational instructors’ pension plan was changed to another one, at which time there was a slight, additional contribution.

“In 2019, that contribution increased significantly and it puts us into two different pension plans, with two different significant changes in contributions,” she explained.

According to an earlier CUPE media release, QASL failed to inform and subsequently negotiate with the union prior to making the changes.

However, Treena Dexter, QASL’s executive director, told LighthouseNOW in an email that, despite the union’s claims, the vocational employees “were fully informed of the transfer from their previous defined benefit pension plan to the current plan. The decision to transfer did not fall on the employer, it was to be determined based on the outcome of a required vote by plan members in which QASL vocational employees participated.”

Dexter advised on social media that QASL’s board of directors acknowledged “the tremendous impact this may have on individuals and families supported by QASL and will continue to work for a reasonable solution to the dispute. The employer is committed to maintaining the quality of care and service required for the residents supported by QASL and to return to providing vocational services should these services be disrupted.”

Dexter added, however, that while the employees are valued, QASL receives its funding from the provincial Department of Community Services and must operate within its funding guidelines and fiscal mandate.

Mark Furey, Nova Scotia’s minister of labour relations, acknowledged in an email to LighthouseNOW that QASL delivers an important service to the local community.

“We value the contributions employees make and we don’t want to see that disrupted. The pension differences between these employee groups are long-standing and have always been recognized and accepted.

“Queens Association for Supportive Living is in line with agreements with employers and other unions in the sector with similar pension plans,” said the minister.

According to Mosher, the union members simply wanted to get equal contributions for all of the union members.

“We are not looking for past lost contributions which are high in numbers, we are looking to move forward from this day on,” she said.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin