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Laurentian staff union pres says his members stretched thin, stressed out after cuts

Revealing LU had planned for 30% student loss as worst-case CCAA fallout, Tom Fenske wonders what will happen if there’s an unexpected enrolment jump

The president of the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) said his members are “stretched thin right now, they are stressed out, and they are not doing well mentally.”

This after the union, which represents Laurentian employees such as clerical and computer staff, technologists and security personnel, lost 41 of its members (27 permanent and 14 temporary) earlier this spring as part of Laurentian’s insolvency restructuring.

The COVID-19 pandemic also continues to exacerbate the situation as Laurentian deals with the outcome of its filing under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

Speaking at the June 18 Laurentian board of governors meeting, LUSU president Tom Fenske said many of his members used to work through minor illnesses to service students.

But anyone displaying symptoms that might be COVID is asked to stay home right now.

“What board members may or may not be aware of is that for many positions on campus, many areas on campus, if simply one employee goes off sick, it throws everything into chaos,” he said.

Fenske asked LU president Robert Haché about the university’s staffing contingency plans.

He said the university had budgeted for a 30-per-cent loss of students as a worst-case scenario, and this is reflected in staffing levels.

Fenske has some concerns about what stronger-than-expected enrolment could mean for his members.

“If we have an influx of students that we are hoping we get, it’s my opinion we don’t have enough staff to handle that, and I would like to know what the contingency plans are going to be if we actually have a bigger influx of students than we expected,” Fenske said.

“Because in LUSU’s opinion, we are already stretched too thin. We were already thin before CCAA, and I would like to know what the plan is so that we don’t have more people that end up going off sick.”

At the June 16 LU Senate meeting, Haché said it wouldn’t have been realistic to expect the CCAA process wouldn’t have an impact on enrolment, but Laurentian has been actively recruiting students this spring.

The Laurentian president said “it’s impossible to make an accurate prediction on fall enrolment at this point, but it does look like we have a realistic chance of meeting our budgetary expectations on enrolment at the very least.”

Haché also revealed at the Senate meeting earlier this week Laurentian is drawing less on its $35 million insolvency bridge loan than expected. Fenske wanted to know what is happening to that “surplus of funds.”

Speaking at the June 18 meeting, Haché told Fenske it’s simply too early to answer his questions regarding staffing levels and student enrolment.

“We’re at the confirmation stage for students,” he said. “Registration doesn’t begin until about July 15. We’re considering all alternatives if there is any additional funds that come in.

“As you know, we won’t really know that until October, at the earliest, in terms of where the final numbers (will be).

“But we will be absolutely tracking this extremely carefully, and not only from a perspective of aligning with budget, but also from a perspective of ensuring the students have the best possible experience, which means that the support staff, faculty are there to provide for their needs.

“We’ll also appreciate as we’re in the CCAA process, all expenses of the university must be approved through the court-appointed monitor.

“So it will be a collaboration with the court in terms of what, if anything additional we can do until we emerge from the process, hopefully by the end of the year.”