Dear QUFA Members;
I hope that you have had a restful and productive summer. As we approach September our minds turn to preparations for fall term classes. As directed by Membership at our special general meeting in May, QUFA has had discussions with the University about health and safety issues related to the ongoing pandemic, and has lobbied the administration to reimpose the mask mandate for the fall term. Not withstanding that effort, QUFA’s understanding of the University’s policies related to Covid-19 protocols are as follows.
Based on recommendations from Public Health officials, the University will continue the suspension of its policy of requiring all persons attending on campus to be fully vaccinated. This will allow the University to rapidly reimpose this requirement should Public Health officials deem it necessary. The University has not yet announced what it means to be ‘fully vaccinated’, but it is most likely to mean having had at least two doses of a Health Canada approved vaccine plus at least one booster shot. The University also remains ambiguous as to the status of its policy requiring the mandatory disclosure of employee and student vaccination status. The University has assured QUFA that it would clarify both of these matters (what it means to be fully vaccinated and the status of the mandatory vaccination status disclosure policy) prior to the start of classes in the fall.
Furthermore, based on recommendations from Public Health the University, while it has agreed to continue to give serious consideration to requiring masks for all indoor classroom activities, is not prepared to go that far just yet. QUFA’s understanding is that the University will adopt a ‘mask-friendly campus’ approach. Individuals can choose what is best for them in deciding whether or not to mask. This is essentially the same policy that mandated respecting the choices of others that was in place throughout the summer.
We have assurances from the University that they will support all members of the campus community who require others to wear masks if they are unable to maintain safe physical distancing. For example, a student in a lab setting could require their lab partner to wear a mask; a TA or an instructor could require students to wear masks in their office; and an instructor in a lab or seminar setting could require the entire class to wear masks. An instructor in a large lecture hall, separated from the students by several metres, would not likely be supported in their request to require the students to wear masks, but a student in the class could require it of those students in close proximity to them.
QUFA’s position is that the simplest and safest thing to do is to mandate the wearing of masks in all indoor classrooms and laboratories for at least the fall term and we have made that clear to the administration.
QUFA has been assured that the University intends to finalize its pandemic-related policies imminently and that it will communicate them broadly as soon as possible. In the meantime, for anyone who may require accommodations, you are urged to contact QUFA Grievance Officer, Peggy Smith, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Members will be disheartened and alarmed at the prospect of returning to campus without a mandatory mask mandate and may wonder if there is sufficient risk to warrant either a work refusal or a QUFA grievance. Given that no refusals in the education sector succeeded in the early days of the pandemic, when no one was vaccinated, the Ministry of Labour is unlikely to reverse itself at this stage. As well, the KFL&A Public Health agency is ultimately the source of the University policy so, on the face of it, the University is not abandoning its duty to protect the health and safety of its employees. Similar reasoning suggests that a policy grievance would have little chance of success at this time. That said, if any QUFA Members are concerned that they are not being supported in their decision to mask and to ask others to do so in their presence, they should contact QUFA immediately. We may be more effective at the individual level in this context.
Before I end, I want to take a moment and thank the QUFA Bargaining Team members who have been working in earnest on all of our behalf for several months now. Bargaining is sure to run into the fall term, but seems to be progressing well. I would be remiss however if I didn’t point out that because of the imposition of Bill 124 by Premier Ford and the Government of Ontario, a Bill which violates the right of all workers to bargain collectively as enshrined in the freedom of association guarantee of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, we will almost certainly all emerge from the renewed collective agreement considerably less well off financially than we are now. The 1% three-year wage cap that Premier Ford has imposed on public sector workers, including QUFA members, combined with continued high inflation will almost certainly result in a loss of real earnings over the life of our renewed collective agreement that will take each of us many years to recover from, if we ever recover from it. This is a shameful attack on public sector workers and QUFA continues to stand with other unions in the broader public sector fighting against it.
President – Queen’s University Faculty Association