Queen's unions explore unifying for negotiations

Unions at Queen's are considering coming together for future bargaining in an attempt to secure better deals across the board with the university.

Leaders of several of the unions at Queen's held a joint public assembly on April 4 on Queen's campus for members to hear about how union leaders intend to approach the upcoming round of bargaining with Queen's.

The unions hope to follow in the footsteps of their peers at U of T in coordinating bargaining to try and secure better wages on a campus wide level.

With about 5,000 members going back to the bargaining table this summer and fall across several unions, leaders say they're committed to members across all unions getting the same, fair cost of living raise on a yearly basis.

Kelly Orser, President of United Steelworkers Locals 2010 & 2010-01, says the current way of negotiating favours their employer, and unifying further can help all the members get a fair wage.

While starting at different baselines, she says everyone should see their wages increase at the same rate, and enough to keep up with rising costs.

"We're trying to shift the power to make it so that the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) is the COLA at Queen's no matter what type of role you hold," Orser said.

"Everyone makes different salaries based on different jobs... but COLA should be equal."

While coordinating negotiations, unions would also coordinate on strike action.

Given the sheer number of members who could be part of a strike, Orser said that could be very impactful, but members will need to be prepared to support a strike if they want this to work the way it's intended.

"What we need to do now is make sure that collectively our 5,000 colleagues understand how a strike works, hat that can mean for them individually," Orser said.

"W want colleagues to understand what we're attempting to do here, why we're attempting to do it, why we think it could work."

Ultimately Orser says the main reason for coming together is that the cost of living raises being equal should be a straightforward issue, and coming together has helped other university unions.

"We think this is what we should be doing, we think all five thousand unionized workers at Queen's should be considering this," Orser said.

"This is what we think we should be doing because U of T has had some success, we think we could have some success too."

While COLA raises are something the unions definitely have in common in negotiation, Orser says they will also look at any other commonalities that could be grouped into negotiations.

In a comment, Queen's did not have much to say about the ideas the unions are discussing.

"The University values the contributions of all its employees, and we share collectively the desire to build and sustain a world-class university," Queen's said in a statement.

"As collective agreements come up for renewal, we engage with the relevant bargaining unit through the established collective bargaining process. We are committed to bargaining in good faith and to reaching agreements that are fair to our employees and capable of being ratified by both parties."

Seven unions are expected to enter bargaining with Queen's before the end of the year.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News