Laurier is pursing a vision it can’t afford

What is it, truly, that adds to a university’s “global reputation?”

Custodial workers at Wilfrid Laurier University have gone on strike, and the university administration has done its best to construct itself as the epitome of a reasonable employer. Thus, they point out, no current employees will lose their jobs. That’s true, but then that’s what employers always propose when they put in place problematic workplace policies, and what it really means is that the union, and current employees, care more about future employees than the administration.

Most importantly, the administration says that contracting out will get things done more cheaply — which of course is also true, and will always be true, when people are paid less and get fewer if any benefits.

Still, Laurier is facing a structural deficit, so aren’t job-destroying “efficiencies” justified? In the end, your answer here, I suggest, will depend on how you come down on the issue of why a structural deficit exists, and this, in turn, requires us to consider something that is just never part of the discussion.

About 10 years ago, Laurier decided to move from being a “Primarily Undergraduate” university to a “Comprehensive” university (the formal change in the Maclean’s Survey occurred in 2011). And what did this shift mean? Partly, it meant a proliferation of graduate programs. Why? Because graduate programs are key to “building Laurier’s global reputation” (that’s a quote from the report on Graduate Student Enrolment presented to Laurier’s board governors last month).

Did the province really need to pay for another Comprehensive University, especially one just down the street from a Comprehensive University (the University of Waterloo) with an outstanding reputation? Not sure that the public — and in particular the taxpaying public — ever got to weigh in on that.

Some of the increased costs were capital expenses associated with some graduate programs, but a lot of the increase was associated with the salaries needed to attract the professors who staff these programs. And even a quick look at the 2016 Sunshine list will give you a good idea of just how high some of those faculty salaries are.

The drive to sail in the same waters as the University of Waterloo has also been accompanied by an increase in highly paid administrators. An example: We used to have a single Dean of Students. That one position has now become three: a Dean of Students at each campus (Waterloo and Brantford) and a vice-president of Student Affairs — whose combined salaries on the 2016 list is over $450K. I know all three people currently in those positions, and I have no hesitation in saying that all three are talented and dedicated. The point is simply that “one” became “three” and that the salary costs alone are high (especially given what the administration says it will save through its contracting out proposals).

The complicating factor in the case of professorial salaries is, of course, tenure. Yes, I know, tenure protects academic freedom, the right to seek the truth without fear of losing your job. And yes, this can be a valuable resource in promoting collegial governance. Certainly, I’ve relied on it myself a number of times over my career. But this does not negate other truths. First, a lot of professors will never make use of academic freedom, and I’ve always thought (OK, this is whimsical) that for some, if a truly controversial idea popped into their head, they’d faint.

Mainly, though, although everyone denies it, the reality is that tenure is de facto job security. True, universities across North American can and have found ways to dismiss troublesome professors, but this is rare — and a reason not to be troublesome. The bottom line, though, is that addressing budgetary issues by going after the tenured faculty salary mass is difficult if not impossible.

And so what do universities do? What many employers do: Go after the employees with the least power to resist.

It might be nice to live in a world where letting notions of social justice guide employment policies would add as much to a university’s “global reputation” as graduate programs, but we’re not there yet. Still, this is not to say we couldn’t get there, or at least try.

For example, two years ago exactly, McMaster University made a similar attempt to contract out custodial services. It almost happened, but a strong and principled faculty counteroffensive caused them to rethink that plan. A letter circulated to faculty by Don Wells, in McMaster’s Department of Labour Studies, pointed out that custodial workers were “especially vulnerable in our increasingly precarious labour markets (being) recent immigrants, women, single parents, racialized workers, etc.” and went on to say that notwithstanding McMaster’s financial problems “Those who are at the lowest end of Mac’s pay scale should have the highest priority in meeting their needs and those of their families.” Good points, and, as I say, the university relented.

There’s been some resistance offered by faculty here at Laurier, but it seems limited, and I fear that the erosion of reasonably-paid custodial jobs for vulnerable people will be another cost that will have to be chalked up to Laurier’s decision to pursue a vision it cannot afford.

Michael Carroll is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University. He recently completed a five-year year term as Laurier’s Dean of Arts.

What’s Left This Week


CUPE goes on strike at Wilfrid Laurier University

CUPE Local 926 at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) has gone on strike to oppose the imposition of terms giving the university freedom to contract out unionized work to poverty wage contractors.

Through negotiations it was discovered that WLU has already signed a multi-year contract with GDI Integrated Facility Services for the new Lazaridis building. GDI is one of North America’s largest corporations that provides facility services. GDI specializes in commercial janitorial, installation, maintenance and repair of HVAC-R, mechanical, electrical systems, damage restoration, as well as janitorial products manufacturing and distribution.

GDI would be able to contract all work currently provided by Local 926, not just cleaning services. From all indications, GDI employees make half of Local 926 members’ wages, and without benefits or pension.

Quick Facts:

  • The entire cost to WLU Local 926 members (including wages, benefits, pensions) is less than 2% of WLU total yearly revenues.
  • In 2015-16, WLU had a 21% increase in first-year student enrolment, whose fees make-up the majority of WLU revenues.
  • WLU Faculty Association’s accountants have shown that the university has had budget surpluses for 10 years.
  • The new Lazaridis Building is made up entirely of contract custodians from GDI Integrated Facility Services who are paid approx $13/hr, no benefits or pension.
  • The 9 contracted cleaners at Lazaridis building only save WLU $15,134.50 a year each.
  • Goal of WLU Administration is to outsource the lowest paid workers on campus to contract workers making poverty wages (without benefits) to save pennies on the dollar.
  • WLU Administration has used aggressive private sector negotiation tactics and fear to drive division between different job classification of members of Local 926.

To find out more, please visit:


Benefits Update

Attention all members: It has been agreed that CUPE will pay for employee’s extended health, dental and life insurance premiums while on the picket line. If you have any questions, please ask a picket captain, or a member of the executive.

Deloitte and Contracting Out at Laurier University

Anne-Marie Ethier
Audit Partner
Deloitte Canada

Dear Ms. Ethier,

Re: Deloitte and Contracting Out at Laurier University

I am writing to you as CUPE National is a long time client of Deloitte. CUPE is concerned that recent decisions at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) will have repercussions for Deloitte and other partners of the WLU’s Lazaridis Institute.

As you might know, Deloitte has many direct and indirect associations with WLU and the Lazaridis Institute. The new chair of WLU board, John Bowey, was previously a Deloitte executive and in 2011 Deloitte prepared the Enterprise Risk Management report that set in motion the budgeting priorities that have lead to the current employment issues at WLU.

In addition, WLU has an MBA program that has students who work at and with Deloitte and have associate professors and instructors who work at Deloitte. Recently, WLU had a scholarship paid for by Deloitte and WLU has developed programs in business economics/professional programs geared to providing professional services organizations like Deloitte, a stream of ready graduates. There was also recent announcement of a partnership between Deloitte and the Lazaridis Institute to support growth of Canadian tech firms in the Waterloo area.

CUPE does not see how it makes good business sense for a leading WLU technology institute to be promoting high paying technology jobs with Deloitte’s support, but at the same time paying their own cleaners poverty wages.

During negotiations, CUPE Local 926 who represents skilled trades, grounds and custodial workers at WLU discovered WLU’s medium-term plan is to replace as many Local 9261 s members’ jobs as possible with low-paid contractors. Throughout negotiations, WLU has refused to discuss any terms that would stop the contracting-out.

Even an attempt by the union to protect minimum numbers covered by the Collective Agreement were rejected without reason.

According to numbers provided by WLU, the nine contracted cleaners at Lazaridis building only save WLU $15,000 a year each for a total of approximately $136,000. WLU revenues in 2014 were $333,149,000 meaning the university is saving only 0.04% of its budget by driving cleaners into poverty. WLU Faculty Association’s accountants have shown the university has had budget surpluses for ten years and the salary of the president of WLU is over $370,000 a year.

It would be unfortunate if Deloitte was impacted by the public campaign against WLU’s employment practices.

I would ask that Deloitte do everything within it’s power to encourage WLU to come to a fair resolution of these issues before a labour disruption occurs.


National Secretary-Treasurer

OCUFA Letter of Support

Max Blouw
President and Vice-Chancellor
Wilfrid Laurier University
202 Regina Street
Waterloo, ON N2J 3B6

Dear Max,

On behalf of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and the 17,000 full-time and contract university professors and academic librarians we represent at 28 member associations across the province of Ontario, I am writing to urge you to return to the bargaining table with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 926, negotiate in good faith, and reach a fair deal.

The custodians, groundskeepers, and tradespeople who are members of CUPE Local 926 do important work that keeps Wilfrid Laurier University running. Threatening to impose a contract, while publicly discussing contracting out the jobs of the workers you are ostensibly negotiating with, is an excessively aggressive approach to bargaining.

If continued, this bullying tactic will place Wilfrid Laurier University in a small group of rogue employers in the university sector. Terms and conditions have been imposed on academic workers only twice at Ontario universities. In both cases, the imposition of a contract did irreparable damage to labour relations at the institution, and harmed the reputation of the universities among their peers. Faculty at universities across Ontario have condemned this approach to bargaining wherever it has occurred.

OCUFA is aware that bargaining is also underway with our contract faculty colleagues at Wilfrid Laurier University. We expect a respectful and fair approach to bargaining across the university sector and hope that you will commit to upholding this standard when negotiating with all employee groups on your campus.

A recent public opinion poll found that 94 per cent of Ontarians expect universities to be model employers in their communities. Now is a time to support more good jobs for Ontarians, not fewer. Faculty across the province support workers at Wilfrid Laurier University in their effort to defend good jobs. We hope that you will reconsider your approach to this issue and work with them to come to a fair settlement. Sincerely,

Judy Bates
President, OCUFA

Calling All Activists!

July 6, 2016


Allan Savard, President of CUPE 926 is inviting all activists to join him in standing up for collective bargaining rights.

Earlier this week, Wilfrid Laurier University management again tried to force the CUPE Local 926 Bargaining Committee negotiating on behalf of custodians, trades and grounds into accepting a contract that would give them the freedom to contract out unionized work, almost at will.

Laurier is also threatening to impose their own terms and conditions over every CUPE 926 member if we don’t agree. These are unprecedented tactics by a bully employer who thinks the rules don’t apply to them.

We cannot allow the University’s bullying and punitive measures to go unchallenged.

Our best defence is to stand strong, in solidarity.

That is why Brother Savard is encouraging you to join your sisters and brothers for an information picket on campus this Friday, July 8. Starting at 7 am and until at least 10 am, we will raise awareness against threats and bully tactics.

We’ll assemble at 7 a.m., at the corner of Regina and University, Waterloo and then make our way first to the administrative buildings before marching through the campus. This is an opportunity to raise awareness and raise the alarm over Wilfrid Laurier’s threats and bullying.

CUPE Local 926 will be joined by supporters from CUPE Locals across southwestern Ontario, as well as Fred Hahn and others from CUPE Ontario, other unions in the K-W area, along with campus and community allies.

Let’s stand together with our allies and show WLU we are united and prepared to defend our collective agreement rights.

Article in the Waterloo Record

Waterloo Region Record
By Brent Davis

WATERLOO — With a strike or lockout deadline looming next week, Wilfrid Laurier University officials and the union representing the school’s custodial, trades and groundskeeping workers were in mediated talks Monday.
Members of Local 926 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been without a contract for more than a year. There are approximately 100 employees represented, with about two-thirds of them custodial staff.
The key sticking point remains the proposed contracting out of work to third-party, non-union custodial workers.
Union officials see this as a direct threat to job security, setting the stage for the loss of loyal, dedicated university employees.
“It’s one of the most drastic, draconian tactics an employer could ever use,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, who was in Waterloo Monday lending his support to members.
University administrators say no current unionized staff would be laid off as a result of contracting out, a move they say is necessary in an effort to offset “unsustainable” costs.
“The universities are not flush with cash,” said Laurier’s vice-president of finance and administration, Jim Butler. “We’re struggling trying to keep our costs down.”
Butler said the university stands to save about $300,000 a year if its proposal is adopted. The move would allow the university to contract out work to replace unionized employees who retire or leave voluntarily or if new positions open up, Butler said.
Hahn said the move would introduce lower-paid, low-security jobs into the community.
“This is something that actually makes no sense,” he said. “(The university is) trying to destabilize a core group of its employees.”
Last week, the university requested what’s known as a no board report, which would legally allow for a strike or lockout as of next Sunday. Butler said the university does not intend to lock out the workers.
Another day of mediated talks is scheduled for Friday.
“I’m hopeful that a resolution is reached at the bargaining table,” said Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife.
Fife called a trend of publicly-funded post-secondary institutions looking to contract out jobs “worrisome” and “disturbing.
“It would be very unfortunate for our community to lose those good jobs,” she said. Contracted jobs “do not pay as much, they do not have job security, and they are more precarious in nature.”
Another proposed contract change would see union retirees being required to pay 15 per cent of their benefit costs each month.
Butler said that’s a move that’s been agreed to by the other unions at the university.
“Postretirement benefits, first of all, are not common and they are expensive,” he said. “CUPE’s just catching up to what the other unions have agreed to.”
Hahn said he wants to ensure employees “retire in dignity and not retire into poverty.”

Media Release

Waterloo, ONT—With a university-imposed deadline of July 10 for either a lockout or strike looming, negotiators for Local 926 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 926) will return to the bargaining table Monday.

“Our goal is a negotiated settlement, but Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) is driving this bus to a lockout or strike,” said Allan Savard, president of CUPE 926, which represents custodial, groundskeeping and trades workers at WLU.

“The bargaining team feels very strongly that the University’s proposals would, if accepted, have a profound negative effect—not just on our members, but on the entire campus community,” he added.

Last week, WLU management requested a ‘No Board’ report from the Ministry of Labour, which set in motion a 17-day countdown to a lockout or strike if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. The University and CUPE 926 will be in a legal lockout or strike position on Sunday, July 10, at 12:01 a.m.

While Local 926 has not sought major improvements in this round of negotiations, WLU has demanded that employees accept concessions that would effectively give the university ‘carte blanche’ to contract out custodial work, turning stable, secure work into precarious work that pays poverty wages.

“That isn’t just bad for our members—it’s bad for the community and it’s bad for students, faculty and other staff, who will see the educational experience they and their families have sacrificed for diminished,” said Savard.

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario will meet with CUPE 926 members and their bargaining committee Monday to offer the support and solidarity of the more than 258,000 CUPE members across the province.

“I want every member of Local 926 to know that they have the full support of every single CUPE member in Ontario, and we will marshal the resources at our disposal to stand with them every step of the way,” said Hahn.

Notice to Editors and producers—Fred Hahn will be available to answer media questions from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, July 4, as he meets with CUPE 926 members. Media wishing to speak with Fred Hahn should contact Kevin Wilson, CUPE Communications, to make arrangements.

A Message to CUPE 926 Members

Dear Members of CUPE Local 926 –

Laurier has requested a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour which means that the Ministry has set a lock out and/or strike deadline for 12.01 a.m. on July 10th. In response to this aggressive action by Laurier we must be prepared to strike. The Union Negotiating Committee, Laurier and the Ministry of Labour are meeting on Monday, July 4th and if needed Friday, July 8th in an attempt to resolve outstanding issues.

If no resolution is achieved, all members should be prepared for strike action beginning Sunday morning at 12.01 a.m.   Should members be locked out by Laurier or the Union decides to start strike action you will receive a phone call from one of our strike committee members advising that strike action will begin and what times you are to report to the picket line. All members will be expected to report to the picket line at the WLU main entrance, University Avenue. The Strike Committee will meet on Tuesday, July 5th. More details will be provided via newsletter on Wednesday or Thursday next week.

If Laurier locks out the members but allows the employers’ preferred employees to cross the picket line, CUPE will file a complaint immediately with the Ministry of Labour. It is expected that the Ministry of Labour will direct Laurier to stop allowing bargaining unit members to cross the picket line in a lock out situation.

Wilfrid Laurier has been misleading members in this respect and CUPE Legal Counsel has indicated that the Ministry would stop this type of action.

The outstanding issues relate to Article 20.01 Contracting Out and the post-retirement benefit costs to be co-shared at 85 percent employer paid and 15 percent employee paid.

The Local Negotiating Committee strongly rejects Laurier’s proposed amendments to Article 20.01. In our opinion, if we accept Laurier’s proposed language, it will affect current custodians and that some of your co-workers will lose their jobs to contractors.

We are talking about your co-workers, some who have recently experienced the hardship of being laid off for months because of lost income and benefits. This is the here and now, not a “maybe” affecting members in the future.

The Negotiating Committee is also concerned that payment of benefit costs will cause financial hardship for retired employees. The current pension plan amount will make it difficult for some of our retirees to maintain payments of 15 per cent of benefit costs each month.

The Negotiating Committee wants to caution members that should the bargaining unit members not stand up and fight for rights within the collective agreement, you can be sure that Laurier will come after more negotiated language in the collective agreement next round of bargaining. If members roll over this time, they will likely use these same tactics to amend provisions such as the sick leave plan that they withdrew during this process. These same strategies have been used at University of Queens and Windsor to reduce custodial staff as well as benefits in their collective agreements.

As a member of a Union we must stand for solidarity and unity. Each member should want to stand up for their fellow co-workers and support each other and assist in maintaining job security and benefits. If all members in each classification are prepared to strike, it would send a strong message to Laurier that we will not accept their treatment and downgrading of our skills, hard work and dedication we bring every day to the campus community. By going out on strike, Laurier would have a difficult time finding replacements for Stationary Engineers and other tradesmen and it would create a huge financial burden to cover costs to replace our workers. If Laurier wants to be fiscally responsible, research has shown that the best way to do this is to continue to employ bargaining unit members.

Support your Negotiating Committee by wearing your wristbands and if you haven’t signed the online petition found on the Local 926 website, please do so today.