Our General Meeting was held on May 13, 2020 via Blue Jeans
CUPE4879 held our regular General Meeting on-line Wednesday afternoon, May 13th. Thank you to everyone who participated. It was good to see and hear from you.
Our primary agenda was to update you on COVID-19 Pandemic and our apologies for the length of the information here but we wanted to provide you with as much information as possible.
The Government’s response to Public Sector Employers
In March, the Government had issued direction to all public sector employers regarding employment continuity. The directive is for employers to maintain employment and compensation continuity until the end of April 2020. This was to help ensure the stability for the delivery of public services and the workforce during the initial weeks of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The Provincial government has since created some guidelines for the employer to use in their decision making process going forward as they navigate the unknowns related to the Pandemic. They recognize that different employers will have to have some flexibility when making decisions.
We are still in a rapidly ever changing environment as restrictions and recommendations begin to ease up, however, there are a lot of questions regarding economic recovery and our ability to return to “normal operations”.
The government has provided all public sector employers with the following guiding principles approved by the Minister of Finance, including consideration of key factors in their decision making regarding staffing, including service delivery, fiscal stability and business continuity with the goal to contemplate the full resumption of services with the Provincial Health Officer’s guidelines.
The principles include
- Goal to protect public services – where possible maintain business continuity and maximise the productive use of workers and resources
- Operate within existing short and long-term financial parameters in consultation with funding ministries
- Ensure workplaces are compliant with the Provincial Health Officers guidance and WorkSafe BC requirements so that employees can safely be at their place of work to support resumption of services
- Work with unions, bargaining agents and other employers to identify opportunities including job sharing and redeployment opportunities. Encourage employees to access leave provisions and/or federal income support initiatives.
- If business continuity cannot be maintained and reducing staffing levels are temporarily required employers should consider staffing plans that allow for a continued relationship with employees and a resumption of safe operations when the Provincial Health Officer guidelines allow.
- The employer will work with the PSEC Secretariat and Ministry to ensure staffing level changes and initiatives put forward are coordinated.
There is no end date provided with these principles and will be guided by the Emergency Pandemic Response. There are still many unknowns regarding both immediate and long term economic affects and the solutions that will result from this.
What we know so far
Many of our CUPE members are still extremely busy in departments around campus. Workloads are likely heightened by the fact that Auxiliary employees who would normally be appointed or post into temporary assignments to assist with this work are no longer being hired. Those Auxiliary employees should qualify for the Federal Financial Assistance programs as the reduction in work is COVID related. We have asked the employer to flag the last date that auxiliaries have worked or when the hiring freeze came into effect in order to protect the Auxiliaries seniority until they are able to work again at TRU or choose to sever.
Postings have been put on hold for now and any vacancies or new positions will not be filled for the time being.
There are also many members that have had a large reduction in workload without the on campus face to face activities, classes, events and other support normally required. There are currently some members who do not have any work at all as a result. Where possible, the employer has tried to find additional work for those individuals affected.
So far, all employees have continued to receive regular compensation and benefits. To help compensate for financial shortfalls, it has been communicated to our members that any remaining vacation and OT banks for 2019/20 must be used up prior to the June 1st (in particular those employees who currently have no workload).
We do not have the stats yet but we do know that a large majority of our members, who are able to work from home are currently doing so. Some employees need to continue to remain on campus if their work requires it and for others it has been optional. We expect the employer to update us on the continuity of working from home in or around May 22nd. Decisions made by the University will depend on recommendations from Dr Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer.
We have noted that it has been challenging for several people to work from home for reasons due to child care issues, home schooling and work spaces not being ideal. As a result, productivity does not always meet the employers’ normal standards, or often our own standards, but for the most part the employer has been accommodating regarding these matters. The employer has recognized that everyone is doing the best they can under these difficult circumstances. We also recognize that some members are doing very well and thriving working from home.
The union continues to deal with issues and grievances as they arise or as we are made aware of them. We again encourage you to contact us if you have issues or just need to talk. We will provide our contact information at the end of this message.
As mentioned, the primary problem that exists for our membership going forward is that there are several positions on campus currently that do not have enough work or no work at all. President Fairbarn announced Wednesday that TRU has been in talks with CUPE, TRUFA and the APA to discuss this situation.
CUPE Executive members have met with the employer several times to discuss options and how we may prevent permanent or temporary layoffs. The goal for the University and the Union is to maintain a relationship with those affected employees.
Our collective agreement gives the Union the ability to try to minimize or prevent layoffs via our Article 10: Menu of labour adjustment strategies. The Employer is proposing, if the Union agrees, that employees who are identified with no current work or limited work will need to opt to take a furlough ( a temporary leave). The Union would agree if certain conditions can be negotiated for the members.
If the majority of the members affected, agree to the employers proposal, a furlough of between 30 and 120 days, there will be additional incentives above and beyond the employees being able to access the Federal CERB benefits of $2000/month and the one time Provincial Government benefit of $1000. Benefits, accrual of vacation, pension buy back opportunities and any other incentive the Union can negotiate would be offered to the employee till the end of the proposed furlough timeline. At the end of the furlough members would return to their previous position. The affected members would have an option to use their vacation, CTO banks and OT banks at the beginning of their furlough if they chose to get the full wages and then would be eligible to get the CERB benefits as well. If the Employer wishes to extend the furlough it would have to be agreed to by the Union. If the employer determined that the position would need to be laid off permanently after the furlough was completed, the affected employees would then have all of the layoff provisions as per the collective agreement including the layoff notice period, bumping, recall, change status or severance from the University.
We understand that all of the Universities in the Province will be offering similar packages to their employees but we do not know the details as of yet.
Circumventing layoffs at this point with the hopes that we return to a normal or as close to previous normal operations as possible, may mean that many or all of those who were furloughed may return to their positions eventually and continue their employment at TRU.
We have asked the employer to identify the departments, positions and members that may be affected as soon as possible. Once we are provided with the information we will be discussing this proposal with the affected members directly. If the majority of those affected are not in favour of the proposal then we will need to look at layoff options for members as per Article 10 for positions as determined by the employer.
Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that our members are treated fairly regardless of employment status. We will continue to work with our National rep, Harry Nott and will be in touch with our CUPE Locals in the University sector to share information. Harry will also ensure that we follow the proper procedures when making these decisions.
We hope that we have covered the most important information here and answered your questions. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org , Lois Rugg at email@example.com cell at 250.318.9919.
We will get through this and understand the stress that all members are experiencing during difficult time. We will continue to be there to support you. Please stay safe and be well.
Lois Rugg, President
on behalf of the CUPE 4879 Executive