FAQ

This FAQ section answers some frequently asked questions about the process of building our union.

Can all staff take part in the union campaign?  What about QUSA members?

All staff can take part in the campaign.  QUSA membership or lack of QUSA membership does not affect your ability to participate.  There is no barrier, legal or otherwise, to QUSA members supporting our union.  So YES, you can sign a USW membership card if you are a QUSA member.  Similarly, the numerous staff who are not QUSA members can support and sign a membership card with our union.

How long will the campaign take?

An effective campaign at Queen's requires outreach to staff in all areas of the campus, in all units and in all departments. It requires the provision of plenty of information.  There is no pre-set time period for a campaign.  The process can move more quickly as more and more staff take an active role in leading and shaping it.

What law backs our right to form a union?

The Ontario Labour Relations Act (the OLRA), administered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), sets out the rights of employees to form our union and provides the basis for us to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.

Ontario Labour Relations Act

Ontario Labour Relations Board

The OLRA (Sections 5) states that an employee is free to join a trade union of the person’s own choice and to participate in its lawful activities.

Can I be discriminated against or disciplined by the University administration or my manager because of my support for our union?

Such actions by employers are illegal.  The OLRA, in Sections 70, 72 and 76:

 Ø        prohibits employer interference in the formation, selection or administration of a trade union.

 Ø        prohibits an employer from attempting to coerce or intimidate an employee to compel him or her to refrain from becoming a union member, or from penalizing an employee who engages in union activities.

We have every expectation that Queen’s University administration will fully uphold and observe both the letter and the spirit of the OLRA and will not impede staff from making our own decisions. Click here to read our letter to Principal Williams.

How do we actually choose whether or not we will have our union?

Ø        Staff have the opportunity to take part in a secret ballot representation vote.  The vote would be administered by officials of the OLRB. 

Ø        All employees in the proposed bargaining unit would be able to cast a ballot.

 Ø        The vote would be held during work time at multiple locations on Queen’s University premises. 

 Ø        If more than 50% of the ballots counted are in favour of the union, the Ontario Labour Relations Board will certify the United Steelworkers and Queen’s staff will have won collective bargaining rights.

How do we get to the stage of setting up this vote?

Ø        The OLRA requires a threshold in membership support for a representation vote to be held.  At least 40% of the staff in the bargaining unit must have signed union membership cards.

 Ø         These cards are then presented to the OLRB along with the union’s application for certification.

 Ø        Neither the cards nor a list of card signers is ever provided to the Administration.

 Ø        The representation vote would be held five (5) working days after the application for certification is filed. 

What is the ‘bargaining unit’?  Who will be included in this group?

It is the practice of the USW and the policy of the OLRB to favour a larger, more comprehensive group of employees.  This is called the “appropriate bargaining unit”.  Staff who would not be in the bargaining unit would be:

Ø        Queen’s employees who work under the terms of an existing collective agreement with Queen’s (i.e. members of an existing union)

Ø        staff who exercise clearly “managerial” duties (which means a history of “effective economic control” over other staff)

Ø        and staff who are employed in a confidential capacity with respect to labour relations matters (staff employed with respect to other non- labour relations information which might be considered confidential would not be excluded).

Can we engage in discussions about union membership while in our workplace?

Yes. The law in Ontario provides that employees are generally entitled to engage in union organizing efforts on employer property during non-working hours (before and after working hours, or during lunch/meal periods or coffee/rest break times).

This includes discussions amongst employees generally about the merits of unionization, strategic discussions about the planning and progress of a union organizing campaign, and attempts to encourage employees to sign union membership cards.

The law says that if an employer seeks to prohibit such activity on employer property during non-working hours, the employer would have to provide evidence that organization efforts are disrupting or interfering with the legitimate activities of the employer before the Board will limit such activity.

What about what we have now?  How are our current terms and conditions of work affected as the process moves forward?

The OLRA contains provisions which support orderly collective bargaining in a manner that provides staff with the opportunity to enhance our terms and conditions of employment.

Once a trade union files an application for certification with the OLRB and the employer has been notified of that application, the OLRA establishes a "statutory freeze" on the terms and conditions of employment of the employees in the bargaining unit. This means that the employer can no longer make unilateral changes to terms and conditions of employment.

If the subsequent vote is successful and the union is then certified, the union has the right to serve the employer with a notice to bargain toward a collective agreement. That notice to bargain triggers another statutory freeze, effective until an agreement is negotiated or the union is in a strike position.

Under the provisions of the OLRA, this freeze is broadly worded and applies to wages and any other term or condition of employment or any right, privilege or duty of the employer, or the employees.

The Act requires "business as usual" during the freeze, so an employer would have to follow its normal practices (e.g., implement all annual evaluations and wage increases) and implement any planned improvements or increases in working conditions in order to avoid violating the statutory freeze.

These provisions of the OLRA are designed to provide the basis for rational and practical collective bargaining. 

During an organizing campaign (that is, before the application for certification is filed and the freeze takes effect), any reduction or threat to reduce a term of employment such as benefits, vacation or pay because employees are engaged in union organizing efforts would be an unfair labour practice.

Employer interference in the formation or selection of a trade union and employer interference with employees' right to join a union and participate in its activities are outlawed by sections 70, 72 and 76 of the OLRA.

 What happens once we win our vote?

Queen’s staff will then have the ability and the responsibility to work together to build a collective agreement that reflects our needs and interests.  The OLRA requires the Administration and the union to bargain in good faith toward an agreement.

Right away, with the help of the USW, we’ll arrange for democratic nominations and elections of our bargaining committee - a committee of Queen’s staff that is diverse and as representative as possible of staff. 

Our bargaining committee, with the constant support and expertise of the USW, will represent staff in first contract bargaining with the Administration. 

This committee will have extensive USW backup and support.  The union will devote two experienced USW staff representatives to our bargaining: the Kingston-based USW Area Coordinator and a USW rep who has led bargaining in the university sector. As well, the USW Research Department will provide an analysis of our current compensation, pension, and provide other financial analysis.

Our elected bargaining committee and the USW will arrange for a detailed survey of the staff’s priorities and needs. This may take the form of a secure, web-based survey of all staff in the bargaining unit.  The survey will be supplemented by membership meetings and other forms of membership input.

The USW reps will then work with our elected committee to draft our proposals for bargaining, using our survey results and other staff input, analysis from the USW Research Department, as well as other staff collective agreements at other universities. 

During the subsequent bargaining with the Administration, the bargaining committee will keep staff up-to-date with regular communication.

When a tentative contact is reached and agreed to by our bargaining committee and the Administration, it will be brought back to the entire staff membership in the union for detailed explanation and then a democratic ratification vote.

Upon the successful ratification of our first collective agreement, the new contract will take immediate effect.  All staff will be provided with a copy as quickly as is possible (and it will be available on our new local union website, of course). 

At that point, the USW will allocate another staff representative to the USW’s Kingston office. The added staff rep will provide for the new USW local union for Queen’s University staff to have the focus of a full-time staff rep.

We will then follow the USW’s elections procedures to arrange nominations and elections of Queen’s staff to our new USW local union executive positions, stewards and other union representation on committees.

 How much are union dues?

USW dues are 1.55 percent of total monthly earnings, plus 2 cents per hour worked. (Each local union can democratically decide to establish a dues cap so that in no event shall monthly dues be more than 3 times the member's average hourly earnings.) The ‘cents per hour’ portion is a flat rate and is therefore unaffected by increases in salary. Dues are tax deductible and no dues are paid until after the members have ratified their first collective agreement.

The 1.55 percent portion includes .1 percent as a special amount in the USW’s District 6 (Ontario and the Atlantic provinces) to fund enhanced strike benefits in the District.

No dues are paid by members off work because of a leave of absence, layoff, injury or sickness. Dues are deducted pursuant to the terms of a collective agreement or by agreement with the employer, not by virtue of certification.

Accordingly, dues are not paid until after the ratification of a first USW collective agreement by the new membership.  And there are no initiation fees for new members joining the union.

Forty four percent (44%) of dues are set aside for our new local union to administer our own affairs on behalf of our members. The remainder of USW dues provide for the many resources that will back up our efforts: USW lawyers, economists and researchers, USW pension experts, health and safety professionals, communications experts, and a wide range of other resources that we will be able to draw upon.

I like the flexibility that comes with working at Queen’s University.  Will that change? 

Here is a quote on this general topic from Allison Dubarry, Information Technology Specialist, University of Toronto and President of USW Local 1998: “We’ve made solid gains in each of our contracts since we voted to join. And we’ve kept the flexibility in our workplace that we’ve always had. Our union fits very well with the culture, values and working environment at the University.”

The USW represents close to 7,000 members at the University of Guelph, University of Toronto, Victoria University and the University of St. Michael’s College.  At all of these institutions staff members are able to negotiate “flex hours” with their supervisors under the terms of the collective agreements that apply at that particular institution.

This is an accepted practice that works for our members and their workplaces. It is the staff and their supervisors who know what will work in their particular department.

The applicable provision in the University of Toronto Collective Agreement is Article 24:05:

Provided it does not, in the opinion of the Division or Department head, adversely affect operational efficiency or service effectiveness, Division or Department heads will consider requests by employees for flexibility with respect to the employees’ regular hours of work.  

The applicable provision in the University of Guelph Collective Agreement is Article 19.02:

The regular work schedule contemplated in 19.01 may be varied by mutual agreement of the employing department, the employee, and the Union, to the extent that the total hours do not exceed seventy (70) hours in a pay period. It is understood that these arrangements will not result in additional payments for overtime.

If I have an issue at work which needs resolving, do I resolve it with my supervisor or a union steward?

University staff who are USW members work closely with their supervisors and managers. When a problem arises they are usually in the best position to fix it. The vast majority of ‘problems’ are solved between staff and their supervisors or managers. 

The USW encourages this type of problem solving. In fact, during 2007, at the University of Toronto, with close to 3,500 staff, only 107 grievances were filed.  Of those grievances, all but 5 were resolved before going to arbitration.   Of the 5 grievances that went before an arbitrator, all were resolved by the parties through a mediation process before the arbitrator actually had to issue a decision. 

Hundreds and hundreds of issues are resolved easily and consensually between staff members and their managers/supervisors before they ever rise to the level of formal union involvement. 

Here are examples of provisions in USW collective agreements in the university staff sector which encourage and in fact require such consensual, flexible problem solving:

ARTICLE 9: GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (University of Toronto)

9:01 It is the mutual desire of the parties that complaints with respect to the application, interpretation, administration or alleged violation of this Agreement be addressed as quickly as possible and it is understood that an employee or group of employees shall first give the immediate supervisor an opportunity to adjust a complaint.

 ARTICLE 9.02: GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (University of St. Michaels’s College)

It is generally understood that an employee has no complaint or grievance until she, either directly or through the Union, has first given her immediate supervisor an opportunity to adjust the complaint.

 ARTICLE 9.02: GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (Victoria University)

It is understood and agreed that an employee or group of employees shall first give the immediate supervisor an opportunity to adjust the complaint.

 ARTICLE 9.01: GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (University of Guelph)

It is the mutual desire of the Parties hereto that complaints of employees shall be adjusted as quickly as possible and it is understood that an Employee or the Union on their behalf, has no grievance until the employee’s immediate supervisor has been given an opportunity to adjust the complaint.

What about strikes?

None of our university staff sector bargaining units have ever gone on strike or been locked out.  All USW university staff contracts have been resolved without any sort of stoppage.  In fact, over 95% of USW collective agreements are negotiated without a work stoppage of any kind.

The Union cannot ‘call’ a strike – only the members can make that decision. A strike can only proceed following a vote of the members of the bargaining unit.

The USW ensures that a consistent and effective membership communication system has been established and put into operation prior to any strike vote.  

Membership strike votes are taken in full compliance with the OLRA.

What about a strike of another union on campus?

Under the terms of the OLRA, employees of one bargaining unit are legally entitled to cross the picket line of another bargaining unit and are in fact required to report to work during the term of their own collective agreement.

The USW recognizes that right and requirement and would not contravene it. While the USW would encourage members of a Queen’s staff bargaining unit to support members of another union on campus if those members chose to engage in a legal strike, that support would generally take the form of visiting the picket line and offering multiple other forms of support.

It could not extend to refusals to cross a picket line, unless there was some compelling safety concern involved.

How do I sign up – how do I sign my card?

There are many Queen's staff who are volunteering their time to build our campaign.  You may well know one of us – just reach out and ask us.  If you do not know any campaign volunteer in your unit or building, call our campaign office at 613-542-7331 or drop an email to contact@qusw.ca and we’ll set it up for you.

If you choose to sign a card, it is confidential. And as noted above, the University never sees the cards or a list of card signers. 

On the other hand, the more that staff are open about their support for their union, the better will be our campaign.  So we encourage our colleagues who support our union to make their personal choice and be open about that support.  This will be our union.

Queen’s staff want to face the future with the security of a collective agreement – confident, prepared and engaged.

It is not anti-Queen’s to be pro-union.