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Laurentian University staff in first contract talks since insolvency

Union official says staff trying to put feeling of being ‘betrayed’ behind them, says it’s time for Laurentian, which is in a ‘good financial position,’ to give back
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Laurentian University

Trying to put behind them the feeling of what a union official describes as being “betrayed” during the last set of negotiations in 2020, one of Laurentian University’s unions is currently engaged in collective bargaining with the university.

The contract for the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU), which represents 240 front-line, non-faculty employees, expires on June 30.

In the late spring and early summer of 2020, with Laurentian telling the union it was facing financial troubles, LUSU entered negotiations one year early, and offered a number of concessions.

This included a salary cut that allowed the university to save $1.8 million and the union cutting Laurentian a $450,000 cheque to prevent members from having to take furlough days.

However, it was later revealed that Laurentian was already contemplating entering creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA) at that point.

“It was such a slap in the face to our membership to find out that at that same time, they were planning on potentially going to CCAA,” said LUSU president Tom Fenske.

“So that's why our members felt so betrayed at the time. Here we are, quite literally giving back the institution, and then the union itself, in order to make sure that members didn't have to take furlough days, cut a $450,000 cheque to help the institution. That is evidence of how much we care about this institution and its success.” 

Laurentian declared insolvency in February 2021, and only exited the CCAA in November 2022. Among the employees cut as part of the university’s restructuring were 40 LUSU members, although some have since been recalled, with LU now facing recruitment issues.

Sudbury.com reached out to Laurentian University on the current set of negotiations, requesting an interview with administration.

We instead were sent a written statement.  

“We don't have someone available for an interview on the topic,” said the statement. “As the expiry of the current collective agreement on June 30 approaches, the work toward a renewed agreement is underway. Meetings started at the beginning of May and the process is ongoing. Updates on labour relations are being shared on the Laurentian website here.”

The latest update on Laurentian’s labour website was shared May 7, and spoke of the “good progress” made during the first couple of days of negotiations.

“Both parties remain committed to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement prior to the expiry of the current collective agreement - June 30th, 2024,” the statement reads in part.

Fenske said he would not speak about what exactly the union is asking for in its negotiations. However, he did say Laurentian is in a good financial position following its insolvency restructuring, and now it’s time for the university to give back, given the sacrifices made by LUSU members over the past four years.

“It’s time to reinvest in their employees,” Fenske said, adding that a good contract for LUSU members will also help Laurentian with employee recruitment.

He said Laurentian used to be an “employer of choice” in Greater Sudbury, and he’d like to help the university get back to that reputation following the CCAA.

“We have unfilled jobs right now, and so recruitment is a big, big thing that needs to be enhanced at Laurentian,” he said.

“And how do you do that? Well, salaries, benefits, pensions, work-life balance, these are the same things you find at every organization, right? I can't speak about specifics. I can only just say that enhancing the institution will help with recruitment, right. It's a pretty easy tie.”

As for administration, Fenske said he gets the sense they know it’s an “incredibly important round of bargaining.” 

He pointed out that the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) will be bargaining with the university in 2025. 

LUFA signed a contract with Laurentian under what the union described as “duress” in 2021 during the CCAA, with more than 100 members terminated and still having not received severance pay as part of the restructuring.

“I definitely feel from the administration of the board that there's recognition that this is an important round of bargaining,” Fenske said. “We'll have to wait and see, the proof’s in the pudding, right? What we're able to come up with will really set the tone for our future.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.


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