University unions cry blackmail amidst economic downturn

UGuelph denies it threatened closure, says all universities are being hit hard


Unionized university staff say they are being pressured to accept pay and benefit rollbacks as their institutions cope with pension and operating shortfalls, according to this story in the Toronto Sun.

CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan says unionized workers are increasingly becoming the scapegoats for the economic downturn. In a press release issued Monday, he said the University of Guelph, whose pension fund has a shortfall of $260 million, recently told its workers to open up their collective agreements or face the closure of their university.

“The University of Guelph is…blackmailing employees and threatening closure if they don’t open up collective agreements and give concessions,” said Ryan. “Universities can’t just threaten to close if workers don’t bow down to their demands.”

Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph, says there are absolutely no plans to shut down the university and no request has been made to re-open staff collective agreements. However, he did concede that union representatives have been asked to meet with human resources to discuss ways to address the university’s $16 million operating deficit with as little impact on jobs as possible.

“Everybody is in this kind of financial challenge — not just the higher education sector,” he says. “We’ve been working to try to do this without involuntary layoffs, so we’ve had an early resignation and retirement package, and so far we have been successful.”

According to Summerlee, all universities are currently struggling with the effects of the economic downturn on endowment funds and pension plans, which has been combined with the strains of increasing enrolment on operational budgets.

Despite facing a similarly large shortfall in its pension fund, Duncan Watt, Carleton University’s vice-president of finance and administration, told the Ottawa Citizen the school has no plans to ask unions to re-open contracts.


University unions cry blackmail amidst economic downturn

  1. Ontario is running an $18 billion deficit over the next two years. There is clearly no more tax-payer money coming to universities any time soon.

    The University of Guelph, my alma mater, has been deferring maintenance and running a bare-bones operation for years. It’s a good school, but I seem to recall getting soaked in class by leaky roofs. That makes it pretty hard to focus on calculus. CUPE workers would have to be blind to not notice that there are budget problems.

    Professors, administration and CUPE members alike need to take pay cuts. CUPE should be stepping up and doing its part to solve the structural deficit at Guelph.

    If that doesn’t work for them, maybe they should try getting a job outside of the university.

  2. The provincial government knows that Ontario Universities need funding for deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance is not the kind of project that an MPP can use for a photo op. The provincial government prefers to give Universities funds for ‘new’ buildings. Now there’s a photo op. So what Universities are getting is funds for new buildings which will eventually need maintenance for which they are not going to receive financial support. Catch 22!!!

  3. As a current U of G student (BSc & currently MSc), I can attest to many of the “deferred maintenance” problems that I have witnessed here over the last 5 years. Though we do have some phenomenal new buildings, there is very little money for upkeep of some of the older ones. Like at many Ontario universities, tuition is beginning to skyrocket to try to compensate for deficiencies in provincial funding, (tuition is now >$1000 more per year than when I began my undergrad), yet it was the students themselves who stepped up and voted to assume part of the cost of retrofitting our buildings through a new semesterly retrofit fee. Just recently, the school announced that it’s scrapping a number of classes, programs and bursaries, again due to budgetary concerns.

    Something’s gotta give, and I’m worried it will be the quality of an Ontario university education.

  4. Things are so bad at the University of Western Ontario that Paul Davenport, the outgoing president is only taking a .75 million dollar handshake as he leaves, plus a hefty pension. All this while asking staff to take a pay cut.