Dear QUFA Member
Since the spring QUFA has worked hard advocating for all our Members, negotiating Memoranda of Understanding, and holding the University’s feet to the fire to prepare for a safe return to in-person classes; something we jointly agreed was a shared goal for the fall term. It will have to suffice for me to say that we have done as much as we can at the bargaining table, and now we must turn our attention to getting a resolution at the arbitration (of our grievance) scheduled for this Wednesday. As I reflect on where we are at in terms of our current level of preparedness, I can’t help but acknowledge how privileged we in the post-secondary education sector have been over the past year and a half. For the most part we have been able to work remotely while teachers in the primary and secondary education systems have had to work mostly in-person in often over-crowded classrooms (not to forget essential front-line workers across all sectors from health care to grocery stores). I also want to pause to consider the mental health toll that remote instruction has taken both on our Members and on our students. It is definitely time that we get back to in-person classes, provided of course, that it is safe for us to do so.
Personally, I have reviewed my situation and believe that my classroom will be a safe work environment. For those of you who have outstanding health, creed or family status issues that require accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the University has posted forms to be completed to initiate that request. In the interim, you should speak directly with your Dean about a temporary accommodation. For all other faculty, if when you report to work on Tuesday you feel that your classroom is not safe and that in person teaching would jeopardize your health and safety, each of you individually has the right to refuse unsafe work.
QUFA has been assured by the University that local public health officials have indicated that our campus is an incredibly safe environment. The University has also provided assurances that the ventilation systems across campus have been upgraded to meet health and safety standards. You can access the University’s Safe Return website to find up to date information about all the policies and procedures, and other information that we require in order to be able to safely return to the classroom on Tuesday. For example, if you are teaching in a room in Kingston Hall, the University’s Ventilation Management at Queen’s website likely indicates that a supplemental HEPA air purifier will be installed by September 7th. Of course, should this not be the case when you arrive at your first class on Tuesday morning you should seek advice from your Unit Head or Dean as to how to proceed. You may also contact the University’s Environmental Health and Safety office, for example if you are unsure what a supplemental HEPA air purifier even looks like or are concerned as to whether or not the ventilation and filtration in your assigned classrooms is operating as per the manufacturer’s specifications. It has also been suggested by the University that you could also ask your department to purchase a filtration unit for your assigned space if you are concerned for your general health and safety. Finally as mentioned before, if you are concerned that you are being asked to attend an unsafe workplace, you could, on an individual, case-by-case basis, invoke your right to refuse or to stop work where health and safety is in danger; I refer you to the Government of Ontario website for information on how to take this step of last resort.
With all the recent announcements relating to our return to in-person classes, most notably the Provincial Government exempting post-secondary educational institutions from indoor occupancy limits and the accompanying requirement to demonstrate being fully vaccinated in order to participate in in-person activities, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. These newly announced policies come with procedures and processes that will take time to be fully implemented by the University. Perhaps, the best thing we can do right now is focus on what we can control, which fortunately is the thing we do best, providing our students with excellent and engaging classes.
This is my final update before classes fully resume across campus on Tuesday, September 7th. I would like to acknowledge that this message comes to you on the Labour Day long weekend. It is only fitting therefore that we take a moment to contemplate the gains that organized labour have made for society as a whole (including the weekend itself) and what QUFA and the other employee unions at Queen’s have achieved across campus. Consider, for example, the very recent creation of the University Pension Plan, and the improved benefits coverage obtained through the transition to another provider. We can also look to the rights of Adjuncts and various leave provisions especially for new parents. While there is certainly still room for improvement, there is no doubt that we are all stronger and better off as a result of our collective power that comes with belonging to a union. Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is a federal election underway (you may have missed it with all the back to class preparations), and while the timing of this election, or even the need for it, is questionable, I encourage you to get informed and to vote.
Before concluding, I remind you that if you require an accommodation related to your ability to return to campus, please contact QUFA’s grievance officer Peggy Smith (email@example.com) for assistance. The Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities “Postsecondary Education Health Measures Framework for Fall 2021” is attached; this document also contains a link to Public Health Ontario’s “Focus On Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems in Buildings and COVID-19” document which is very informative.
Please try to enjoy what I’m sure is to be a relaxing long weekend.
Jordan Morelli – President
Queen’s University Faculty Association