The QUFA Executive has authorized holding a strike vote in order to give the Bargaining Team a strong strike mandate to take into conciliation in January. We know that Members have different levels of understanding of labour relations and have had different capacities to follow the progress of bargaining. We have tried to bring together questions and answers related to a Strike Vote and the current round of negotiations here. We will create a more detailed FAQ on the mechanics of striking in the new year but will also try to answer urgent strike-related questions before the close of the vote.
What is a strike mandate?
A strike mandate is a bargaining tool that is used to secure a better deal for members during negotiations and to force the Administration to remove concessionary proposals. The Union seeks a strike mandate when it is clear that the employer is not prepared to move toward the Union’s positions or to remove concessions from the table. A strike mandate is achieved by holding a strike vote. Please refer to the further reading on the “Why does my vote matter?” page for a fuller explanation of the tactical use of strike votes in collective bargaining.
What is a strike vote?
A strike vote is a secret ballot vote to enable the Union to call a strike in the case that all efforts to achieve a reasonable negotiated settlement fail. The logistics of who can vote, how and when are covered on the “How do I vote?” page. The Union must take a strike vote in order to call a strike. The rules of bargaining are explained clearly by the Ministry of Labour here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/collective-bargaining.
What do “yes” and “no” votes mean?
A strong “yes” vote sends a signal to the Bargaining Team and the employer that members support the changes the team has been negotiating for. A “no” vote does the reverse and effectively prevents the Bargaining Team from making further advances at the table.
Why is QUFA leadership calling a strike vote now?
This is covered in much more detail on the page dedicated to this question but the shortest answer is that the Bargaining Team was unable to make further progress at the negotiating table without the help of a provincially appointed conciliator. Once we move into conciliation, there is a possibility of job action (strike, lockout) and the Union must prepare for this. The Union cannot declare a strike without a positive Strike Vote result. Should we need to strike, the Union must have many logistical matters already organized including an off-campus strike headquarters, picket signs, strike pay plans and so on.
Does a positive strike vote mean we will strike?
No, definitely not. The goal is to strengthen the Bargaining Team’s position so that they can negotiate a deal and avoid a strike. That said, a positive Strike Vote empowers the Executive to call a strike once we are in a legal position to do so (see the Ministry of Labour page above for an explanation of when that happens). The Executive does not need a second vote to declare a strike. However, as bargaining continues, there will be more communications and meetings to ensure that members continue to support the bargaining mandate.
What is the earliest possible strike date?
The parties are obligated by law to meet with the Conciliator at least once. No meetings have yet been scheduled but we anticipate the first of those to occur by mid-January. If the University comes to the meeting intent on moving toward job action, they could ask the Conciliator to file a “no-board” report. Once the report is issued, there is a 17-calendar-day countdown to job action known as the cooling off period. That would put the very earliest strike date at roughly January 27. The more likely scenario is that the parties will meet throughout January in an effort to resolve their differences. A more realistic strike timeline is mid to end of February.
What happens during a strike?
A strike means that union members withdraw their labour from the University; that means no teaching, research or service work. To qualify for strike pay, members do a variety of tasks such as physical picketing on campus, virtual “picketing” through email, telephone or social media outreach to University administrators and the public, or other tasks that enable the union to manage the strike. Normally, the employer also withdraws salary and benefits during the strike. These are sometimes restored if the employer expects members to make up the work they missed while on strike.
Can we do other things like work to rule or rotating strikes?
Any alteration in how members provide their labour to the employer is a type of strike, including rotating withdrawals and work to rule campaigns. The question about these alternatives is whether they will do anything to shorten a strike by encouraging the employer to compromise; generally, the less impact an action has on the employer, the less likely it is to be effective. The other challenge with work to rule in our sector is that it’s hard to envision what it means. Faculty have a great deal of autonomy in when they work and what they do (eg. professional service), so it’s not clear that withdrawing this work would get noticed by the employer. The one duty they most rely on and can measure the impact of is teaching so withdrawing that labour usually makes the most sense.
What can I do to prepare for a strike?
At the current rate of strike pay set by the CAUT Defense Fund ($96/day for 4 hours strike duties per day), most members will experience financial hardship while on strike. If you are able to, you should plan to have some extra money to cover expenses should we need to strike. The employer usually cuts benefits during the strike as well but QUFA has arranged a loan with CAUT to cover member benefits if needed. Nonetheless, you are advised to fill any prescriptions or book dental/medical services in January and early February that you can. Finally, the employer may “lock out” employees from their physical and virtual premises and services. You should have a personal email and computing resources and make sure that you have transferred or copied essential information out of the employer’s systems. QUFA will be asking for your personal email in the new year in preparation for a possible e-lockout.
How long do strikes last?
That depends on the parties’ willingness to compromise and the impact of the strike on the employer’s business and reputation. In the industrial sector, they can be protracted. In the university sector, they have tended to be quite short – usually about two weeks – because there is usually growing public pressure to resolve the job action so students can finish their studies on time.
What will happen to my time sensitive research or live plant/animal lab if we strike?
When the Union can call a strike, the employer can similarly “lock out” employees from the physical and virtual workspace. In the case of members with live-animal/plant labs or time sensitive experiments, the Union attempts to negotiate a protocol with the employer to allow continued access. In 2011, Queen’s refused to grant such access so there are no guarantees. These arrangements are made in advance of the strike deadline and members will be encouraged to advise the Union of any exemptions they will need. If there is no lockout, members who have to continue to work in this way should advise the Union in advance.
Is QUFA financially prepared to cover strike and benefit costs?
Yes, QUFA has been building a large reserve for some years to cover a job action. In addition, we have secured CAUT Defense Fund assistance to cover the following:
- Strike pay costs after the first three days;
- A benefits cost loan so that QUFA can pay benefits premiums for members;
- Costs of mediation or arbitration up to $50,000;
- Strike support loan to cover extraordinary costs like securing and outfitting a strike headquarters.
Is there anything else I can do to help get a reasonable settlement now?
Yes, there is a lot you can do.
- You can vote “yes” in the strike vote.
- The Job Action Committee has been working hard to create posters that can be physically and virtually shared to show your support for the Bargaining Team. These resources are here: https://www.qufa.ca/disrespected/.
- You can also take some time to learn about the outstanding matters at the table and write a letter to the Provost or Chair of the Board of Trustees over the break to express your support for the bargaining mandate. The full story of bargaining is captured in a series of short bargaining alerts on this page: https://www.qufa.ca/bargaining-2021-2022/.
- You can write to the Bargaining Team to express your support for them directly at email@example.com.
I have more questions about the finer details of how a strike works (what happens with professional expenses, do I stop professional service too, what if I’m on academic leave), how do I get answers to these questions?
QUFA will prepare a more detailed strike FAQ in the new year – there are literally dozens of details we know members will need to understand. In the meantime, many questions can be resolved by knowing that once we are in a job action position (whether we withdraw our labour or not), the terms of the current collective agreement do not apply so that any right or service conveyed by that document is no longer automatically available to you. The employer may or may not continue to observe those rights and if that moment draws near, we will endeavour to find out what they will do and convey that to you. In the meantime, we can try to answer urgent questions that you need resolved before you cast your strike vote; please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.