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James Simpson

The labour dispute at Queen’s represents dire problems in our post-secondary priorities

Soon, one of the largest annual migrations in Canada will begin. Hundreds of thousands of students will leave their homes and return to their university studies. Except, possibly, for the students of Queen’s University.Within the next two weeks, over 1,200 employees at Queen’s may be walking the picket lines. The union representing faculty, librarians and archivists has been bargaining with the university administration for months, and things are not going well.A wide range of important issues are on the bargaining table. The pension system is underwater and drastic changes are needed. There’s not enough money in the budget to offer staff the salary increases they’ve had in the past. The administration is also seeking to hire more teaching fellows—full-time staff that specialize in teaching without the research responsibility of a typical professor—an idea that the union vehemently opposes.Despite relentless budget cuts, Queen’s has been running a deficit for the past several years, and it’s projected to continue in the near future. The recent financial crisis has led to an unfunded liability in the pension fund, a situation the University must legally rectify. However, it doesn’t have enough money to adequately address this liability, and so must reform its pension plan to avoid insolvency.Coupled with this legal obligation to reform the pension plan, the University’s Board of Trustees—which governs the institution—has mandated that Queen’s return to a balanced budget. This appears to be impossible without concessions from some of the unions. Thus, the administration has its hands tied: it must achieve both pension changes and cost savings in any negotiated agreement.However, the scope of the changes that the University has proposed will be almost impossible for the faculty union to accept. These changes include employees contributing up to an additional three percent of their salary to the pension and accepting salary… Read More