Front-line university workers at Queen’s University not only averted a lock-out or strike that would have impacted campus operations, they also gained crucial new pension rights and significantly reduced pension plan changes that the employer had tried to impose.
This was the first time all three CUPE locals at Queen’s bargained together. The employer surprised the bargaining team by including pensions for the first time in Queen’s bargaining history. Formerly, discussions on pensions for workers at the University involved all seven unions, including the three CUPE locals.
The University was seeking changes to pensions that included a number of benefit reductions and an increase in member contribution rates in a package that was described by the employer as “indivisible.”
The CUPE bargaining team questioned the employer’s numbers and with actuarial help was able to develop a detailed counter-proposal that brought significant savings while avoiding the deepest cuts.
The settlement also achieved breakthrough security language, entrenching rights in the collective agreement requiring that any further changes to pension benefits must be negotiated. This language was modelled on a clause negotiated by CUPE Local 1334 at the University of Guelph earlier in the year.
“Without question, the process established CUPE as a significant voice in defense of the pension plan,” said Kevin Skerrett, CUPE pension specialist.
While this agreement involved some difficult compromises, they were minimized and balanced by improvements to language. For example, the original proposal called for an increased penalty for early retirement from two per cent to six per cent, which was wrestled down to three per cent.
“Perseverance and strong solidarity in our three locals was a big part of this achievement,” said Donna Carlaw, CUPE national representative. “Support from our members, the university community, and fellow staff all played a role.”
CUPE represents Queen’s trades and maintenance staff, custodial and athletics staff, residence and recreation staff (CUPE Local 229), technicians providing services at the university’s teaching and research labs (CUPE Local 254), and library technicians (CUPE Local 1302).