Principal Woolf unilaterally suspends pension reform negotiations with QUFA, CUPE and QUSA (23 June 2010)

As sent to QUFA members 23 June 2010:

To QUFA Members:

The e-Queen’s Bulletin dated 21 June 2010 led with an item from the administration titled “Ensuring the future of Queen’s pensions.” That carefully crafted communiqué glossed over an unfortunate and extremely serious setback for what had been fruitful ongoing negotiations to reform the Queen’s Pension Plan (QPP).

A process for negotiating changes to the pension plan, which was proposed by the employee groups (QUFA, CUPE and QUSA) and formally agreed to by the administration, has been working well. The parties were close to final agreement on a set of changes to the QPP – changes that, as recently as January, 2010, both Mercer (the actuarial firm retained by the administration) and our actuarial advisors believed would put the QPP on a sound financial footing for the future.

Following the recent Board of Trustees meeting, Principal Daniel Woolf unilaterally suspended those negotiations, declaring that “all deals are off.” Furthermore, we learned that the Principal and the Chair of the Board of Trustees have set up a new working group composed of people drawn from the Board and the senior administration which has begun to meet in Toronto to develop new pension proposals for “bargaining.” On learning this, the employee groups sent a joint letter (dated 3 June 2010 – copy attached) to the Principal requesting a face-to-face meeting in order to clarify how he now sees reforms to the QPP proceeding so that we could accurately report to our Members. Principal Woolf, instead of meeting with us, sent a letter (dated 16 June 2010, copy attached) to the Presidents of the employee groups.

The Principal’s letter and the e-Queen’s Bulletin raise more questions than they answer. For example,

  • Why is there no mention of the newly formed Board-administration group tasked with developing “bargaining proposals” and which has already met at least once? What is the role of this group?
  • The administration has been aware of the August 2011 projected pension liability for months since it regularly requests updated estimates from Mercer. Why is this now such an issue?
  • Given the slow but steady recovery in global equity markets and the phasing in of updated mortality tables used to annuitize pensions, shouldn’t the QPP liability, while still large, have decreased “in recent months” and not increased as implied in the Principal’s letter?
  • The QPP is a very complex plan. During the negotiations that have taken place over the last few years, the employee group negotiating team and V-P Morrison have all developed an excellent grasp of the plan and the ability to assess the implications of proposed changes. The administration has now inserted two new faces – Provost Bob Silverman and V-P Caroline Davis. How well do they understand the workings of the plan? Does the Principal himself fully understand the QPP? Why now change the cast of characters when we were so close to an agreement on changes?
  • Why was the respected University Pension Committee under the able and knowledgeable leadership of Professor Bill Cannon seemingly not consulted?

Pension reform is an extremely important issue. As we stated in our 3 June letter, the unilateral decision taken by the Principal to suspend negotiations is not the way to engage in constructive pension reform. Nor does it respect the time-honoured principles associated with negotiating in good faith. Rather it reveals a cavalier and patronizing attitude towards Queen’s employee groups and smacks of bad-faith bargaining.

Notwithstanding the conciliatory phrases used in the e-Bulletin, it threatens to poison not only the pension reform process but also the broader relationships between the employee groups and the administration.

We welcome your comments and opinions.

John Holmes
Chair, QUFA Pension Working Group (On behalf of the QUFA Executive.)

The June 23rd QUFA Bulletin, with the letters can be found here.

This entry was posted in Budget/Crisis, Pension reform, Procedural Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

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