I hope all of you survived the end of term, such as it was, and more importantly, that you and yours continue in health. (It’s a bit weird, that archaic formulation, suitable for a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, is so acutely of the moment.)
I wanted to bring you up to date on COVID-crisis matters affecting QUFA Members. The past two weeks have been extremely busy ones for me and for other members of the QUFA leadership. Last week, several of us met with Provost Mark Green and AVP Teaching and Learning John Pierce to initiate a conversation about a comprehensive Letter of Understanding (LOU) with the University on variances from the Collective Agreement that may be necessary in view of the current emergency. Such an LOU would comprise issues such as the tenure clock, sabbatical deferral, extra burdens on Term Adjuncts, and provisions for remote teaching possibly through to January 2021.
However, this bargaining conversation is taking place in the context of another one—the completion of the 2019-2022 Collective Agreement. In late 2018, you will recall, QUFA and the University speed-negotiated a new CA so that we could meet the timetable requirements of a consent vote for transition to the University Pension Plan. QUFA was concerned to make sure that we bargained the new CA with the leverage that the pending consent vote gave us, particularly to secure offsets for that consent. To do that we agreed to limit the negotiation of normative (i.e. non-monetary issues) to a handful of concerns that the Parties had already agreed required sorting out and we signed Memoranda of Agreement (an MOA is a relative of an LOU) about those matters, with a commitment to hammer out the actual language later. At the same time, we negotiated a separate LOU which secured QUFA’s commitment to seek the mandate of our Members for consent to convert the Queen’s Pension Plan to the University Pension Plan.
While the consent process and the building of the UPP continued in good order, we have had difficulty getting attention from the necessary players to finish the already ratified 2019-2022 CA. This situation has been the source of growing frustration for QUFA. Under the pressure of the current crisis we finally got the attention we needed and have finished all but one of the items on the to-do list. The outstanding item is of sufficient moment that the Executive directed the individuals who will negotiate the Covid-19 LOU (me and QUFA Executive Director Leslie Jermyn will be co-Chief Negotiators) that we cannot start until we have a satisfactory conclusion to the 2019-2022 after-negotiations. I continue to speak every few days with the Principal, and I have expressed QUFA’s concerns to him. I hope that at the beginning of next week we will be in a position to start nailing down the details of a Covid-19 LOU. In the meantime, please keep your queries about your particular circumstances coming, as they help us keep track of all the issues that have to be addressed.
On another front, in case this fire has not yet been extinguished: contrary to the impression created by an ill-phrased missive sent April 6 by HR, you are not going to get laid off at the end of April. I think HR was trying to reassure Queen’s staff who are effectively idled for the month of April because so much of the University is closed, that they would be paid anyway. However, for some reason they used the designation from our CA for adjunct categories — “term” and “continuing” – to designate Queen’s staff generally, sowing consternation among our members. Rest assured, Continuing Adjuncts will continue in their appointments, and Term Adjuncts’ contracts will continue till they were due to expire.
If you really want to know the conditions for layoff for academic staff, I invite you to read Collective Agreement Article 38 (Financial Exigency), bearing in mind that the reputational consequence to Queen’s of declaring a state of financial exigency makes such a situation extremely unlikely.
For pre-tenure colleagues, remember that your appointments ensure that you will be considered for renewal and tenure and the criteria for those decision are solely academic; they do not include the financial health of the University. The same is true for Term Adjuncts about to convert to Continuing. As for Term Adjuncts hoping to be reappointed, that will, as always, depend on what courses your Units are offering. QUFA has no control over what courses will be offered but rest assured that we will address with the University interruptions to years of service that are produced by any disruptions to normal staffing practices in the coming year.
The fact that I can assure you that the HR memo didn’t mean what it seemed to, reminds me of what many QUFA members are also likely reminding ourselves of: our comparative good fortune in what is an increasingly horrendous global situation. There are 53 diagnosed cases of Covid 19 in Kingston as I write, a number that has held steady for a week. I think this means that most of you are healthy at this moment even as Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, revealed estimates today projecting a Canadian death toll from Covid 19 of between 11,000 and 22,000. Meanwhile, the characteristics of the dead (especially in the US) reveal what any reasonable person could have predicted: the consequences of the pandemic will be far worse for poorer people in rich countries and will likely be horrendous as the disease spreads in the poorest countries and in refugee camps. Job losses in Canada for March were 1 million, and 16.6. million in the US. I am worried for Term Adjuncts, and for Continuing Adjuncts who supplement their income with other work and like most of you I am going insane from confinement and Zoom-meeting, concerned about my students and disrupted research plans. But I am able to earn my secure paycheque while obeying the instructions of the local health authority to stay home so I don’t get sick and sicken others. I wish confinement and uncertainty about how to get work done was the worst of it for all people everywhere.
Take care over the long weekend