Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,
In the past week, there has been much to celebrate. Mrs. Aline Chrétien has been appointed as our first Chancellor, an appointment which the Sudbury Star as qualified as “a home run” and which increased our national recognition. We look forward to her installation as Chancellor on October 30th.
The University turned heads at the Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF) in Toronto over the weekend, with its new multi-media booth and presentation viewed by over 125,000 visitors. A member of the Board of Governors who visited OUF wrote to his colleagues that, “without question it was the most interactive and creative presentation on the floor. (…) I want you to know that this was a home run.” Two other university presidents admitted to me that “Laurentian was the talk of the floor.” I want to thank the close to 100 students, faculty and staff from Sudbury and Barrie who took turns to recruit students. I was extremely proud of the Laurentian team.
Finally, it was a pleasure to celebrate on Saturday the first Franco-Ontarian Day, the 35th anniversary of the raising of the Franco-Ontarian flag at the University of Sudbury, and join close to 300 other guests at the Gala des anniversaires, which celebrated the anniversaries of seven Francophone institutions in Sudbury including the 100th anniversary of the ACFO du Grand Sudbury and the 50th anniversary of Laurentian. Another home run.
Now, as indicated in my last blog posting, I would like to address some of the issues arising from the labour dispute between the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 677.
First, I would like to start by clarifying the relationship between Laurentian University and NOSM.
NOSM is an award-winning school. It serves as the faculty of medicine of Laurentian University and Lakehead University. NOSM’s M.D. graduates receive a joint degree from Laurentian and Lakehead. The Senates of Laurentian and Lakehead jointly provide academic oversight of NOSM. I am very proud of the success of NOSM, its students, faculty and staff.
That said, NOSM is a separate legal entity. NOSM has its own Board of Directors, its own Chief Executive Officer, its own Chief Administrative Officer, its own Director of Human Resources, its own Legal Counsel, its own faculty association, its own student society, its own staff union, etc. Non-academic matters are governed by NOSM’s Board of Directors. NOSM receives its funding directly from the province, not through Laurentian or Lakehead.
The Boards of Governors of Laurentian and Lakehead do not control the Board of Directors of NOSM, just as the Board of Governors of Laurentian doesn’t control the Boards of Governors of the University of Sudbury, Thorneloe University, Huntington University or Université de Hearst, whose students also receive Laurentian degrees. Laurentian is not the employer in this labour dispute; NOSM is, the same way that the four universities federated or affiliated with Laurentian are separate institutions and autonomous employers.
Aside from the institutional context, I am the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of NOSM. What this means is that I am one of 35 members of the Board who, among many other responsibilities, will ratify the terms of an eventual settlement. As is the case at Laurentian and in the two school boards I have worked for, the governance body sets the maximum for compensation cost increases, leaving the management team negotiate the non-monetary items. In other words, contrary to some of the suggestions made, I can’t “fix” or “end” the negotiations on my own.
I can – and have been – an advocate for continued discussions between the parties and creative solutions to outstanding issues, and will continue to be. At the last meeting of the NOSM Board of Directors on September 22nd, I proposed (and the Board agreed) that a group of demonstrators which included Laurentian students be given the opportunity to make a presentation to the full NOSM Board.
Before the strike began, the University – as property owner – contacted OPSEU to suggest developing a strike protocol, as is standard practice when a potential labour disruption arises on campus.
Laurentian also advised that its strong preference was, in the eventuality of a strike, for OPSEU to erect picket lines directly in front of their members’ workplace (in this case the NOSM building), as it has been the case in the past when separate employers located on campus – such as any of the three universities federated with Laurentian, the daycare centre or the staff working for the Ontario Public Service in the Willet Green Miller Centre – had striking employees erect picket lines directly in front of their respective workplace and not at both entrances to campus. In the absence of OPSEU agreeing to erect picket lines only in front of the NOSM building, the University has taken the position that picketing should therefore only occur on public property.
On the third day of the strike, discussions began between OPSEU and Laurentian University, facilitated by the Police Services. In an effort to be as transparent as possible, you can view here all of the documents exchanged between Laurentian and OPSEU, outlining the parameters originally agreed-upon.
One of the questions raised by some of you in the past few weeks was “Why did Laurentian University state on September 3rd that OPSEU had agreed to provide free flowing access to the campus when OPSEU was subsequently reported as stating it never did?”
You will notice in the exchange of letters between Laurentian and OPSEU, Laurentian’s reference to “free-flowing access” having been agreed to verbally in discussions facilitated by the Police Services. When OPSEU replied to the letter, it did not use the expression “free-flowing access”; instead it wrote that it would “continue to ensure the flow of traffic so as not to cause an unreasonable delay, as you acknowledge was the case through the first week of picketing”. In retrospect, in its correspondence of September 3rd, the University could have used the latest wording provided by OPSEU.
Several of the emails I have received have referenced the potential of an injunction. The University has not ruled out this direction, but this would be a direction of last resort. An injunction is a legal intervention where – if successful – it may outline the delays that are acceptable, location of the pickets, among many other things. However, even with a successful application for injunction, the situation “on the ground” may not change much, and it may have negative consequences for the bargaining process.
Aside from the legal options, the University remains committed to working with OPSEU and the Police Services in the revision and implementation of strike protocols. Such protocols can provide OPSEU members a safe picket line location on campus in front of the NOSM building, provided that all picketing is limited to this location.
Therefore, to summarize, in the past six weeks, to address your concerns regarding safety and access to campus, the University has:
- Continued to advocate for both parties to return to the bargaining table;
- Tried to avoid any actions that may push the parties further apart (seeking injunctive relief, commenting publicly on some of the points raised by OPSEU or NOSM, etc.);
- Encouraged a picket line protocol, even before the strike began, ensuring reasonable access to campus;
- Continued to advocate for OPSEU to restrict picketing to the front of the NOSM building;
- Set up a shuttle service to facilitate access to campus.
Since the labour dispute began 44 days ago, I have heard from students of the challenges of getting onto campus, and then trying to rush off-campus to get to their part-time jobs or other appointments on time. I have heard from graduate students conducting research, who need to transport materials in a timely manner between facilities and run the risk of losing significant work if the delays are lengthy. I have also heard from faculty members who aren’t always able to make it into class on time, from users of ancillary services or external service providers who are inconvenienced, from members of the university community and guests who do not want to cross picket lines. I do not take these concerns lightly. We have all been affected by the strike.
I strongly encourage students, faculty, staff and guests to be respectful of OPSEU members on the picket lines. They are exercising their legal right to strike. Drivers should not consider hazardous ways of circumventing the traffic line-ups.
The Police Services provide advice to drivers on its website to mitigate the traffic delays. The University has been contacting the Police Services when traffic needing access to our campus or leaving is unduly or unreasonably delayed, especially when it is beyond what was experienced during the first week of picketing. Users may contact the Police Services at 675-9171.
OPSEU and NOSM have agreed to four more days of bargaining on September 30th-October 3rd. Should a tentative agreement not be reached by October 3rd, parties need to remain engaged at the bargaining table. A settlement can only occur if parties are actively engaged in discussions.
I care deeply about the quality of the student experience on campus, and regret the disruption caused by the strike. As President, I will continue to urge the parties to resolve the matter as soon as possible and will do my best to keep all informed as new developments occur. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience and understanding.
As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: email@example.com.