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Job Action – Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to the questions most frequently asked by members about a strike mandate or a strike action.
JOB ACTION RELATED ISSUES
Who can decide on calling for strike action?
According to CUFA’s Constitution (Article 12.7) “Council shall be responsible for motions calling for strike action (strike action includes any form of job action, including a strike mandate, withdrawal of services or respect for picket lines established by other certified bargaining units). Any such motion shall require approval in a secret ballot by two-thirds of those voting in Council before submission to the membership for ratification by secret ballot voting preceded whenever possible by a special General Meeting on each campus called for the purpose of providing information and an opportunity for discussion.”
What constitutes a strike?
According to the Quebec Labour Code, a ‘strike’ is defined as ‘the concerted cessation of work by a group of employees.’
After Council passes a strike mandate motion, does this necessarily mean that we would go on strike and if so, would we go immediately?
No – after the Council passes a strike mandate motion, it must be ratified by the membership before any job action can be declared by the Executive. The Executive in conjunction with the Negotiation team would decide on the best strategy moving forward. However, given the current state of negotiations, it is critically important to prepare and be ready for any job action that may become necessary.
How many votes are required for the strike mandate to be ratified?
Sixty percent of those voting, as per the CUFA Constitution.
Does the strike mandate have an expiry date?
The strike mandate would remain in effect until an agreement with the Employer or until we terminate it.
Would negotiations continue after securing a strike mandate from the membership?
We sincerely hope to reach a fair settlement without resorting to severe job action strategies. But this depends in large part on the willingness of the Employer to continue to negotiate in good faith and work towards an agreement that is fair to our members.
What about “working to rule” first? Why go straight to a strike?
We are exploring the possibility of working to rule with both our lawyers and CAUT. A clearer answer will be provided soon. In the meanwhile, all members must continue to perform their job tasks as normal.
If a strike is called, what type of a strike would it be?
The Executive in conjunction with the Negotiation team would decide on the best strategy of a strike call.
What right do we have to picket the university?
Picketing is protected by the Charter. It can be understood both as freedom of association and freedom of expression. Picketing is a way of communicating the union’s decision to strike, showing solidarity and encouraging others to lend support. This can be done by walking outside the place of employment, or by handing out flyers.
Would we have any access to campus during a strike?
Access to campus would only be for the specific purposes covered in Article 47 (https://cufa.net/agreement/collective-agreement-for-2018-2021/#article-1838). A strike pass would be required for this access. Crossing a picket line without a strike pass would be in contravention of the law. As per Article 47, strike passes would be issued to members who require access to the University facilities in order to prevent irreparable damage to their research and/or to provide proper care to all live research plants/animals. If any of these possibilities apply to you, please identify yourself to the CUFA Office as soon as possible after the strike mandate is ratified. (Note that the case for crossing the picket line to supervise graduate students involved in such research would also have to be demonstrated.)
What about my office/lab?
Other than under specific and special circumstances, you would not have access to your office and/or lab during a job action. Move copies of crucial working documents, files, print, and other portable material off-campus. Alert colleagues from other universities or agencies of the labour situation and inform them of alternative contact information. Check that there are enough lab supplies to last for the duration of a job action, and, if necessary, order supplies ahead of time. You will not be able to order supplies during a strike or lock-out. If a labour disruption seems inevitable, consider leaving recorded messages on office and/or lab telephones that inform callers of an impending job action and provide them with alternative contact information.
If there is a strike, how long will it last?
This depends on how negotiations proceed. As a general guideline, based on previous strikes at comparator universities, it could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to reach a settlement.
What about my research funds–would I still have access to these?
As per Article 47 of the CUFA Collective Agreement, the ‘Employer agrees that members would continue to have access to any research funds it administers on behalf of external agencies.’ However, it is unlikely that any expenses incurred during a strike would be reimbursed; similarly, reimbursements submitted before the strike likely would not be paid until we are back to work. Any violation of Article 47 by the Employer should be reported to CUFA so that action may be taken on your behalf.
Can there be discipline or reprisals for my participation in a strike?
You cannot be disciplined for participating in a legal strike. In fact, the Labour Code prohibits members of a bargaining unit from doing work for the employer during a strike.
Should I contact the media?
The answer is a resounding NO!
It is important to follow the Association’s directions on matters regarding conduct and communications. During a strike there is a need to speak with one voice and act in ways that reflect well on the union. The general principle here is that the stronger and more unified the union, the more effective the strike.
Should we discuss the possibility of a strike in our classes?
You may answer students’ questions about how the course will be handled in the event of a strike. You may not, however, enter into any discussion about the possibility of a strike, nor should you attempt any bargaining advocacy among the students. Any discussion beyond the logistics of your courses could result in sanctions by the Employer. When the Executive deems it appropriate, we will be in contact with the student leadership, and they will in turn communicate with their members. If a back to work protocol is required on reaching a settlement, it will include provisions on the issue of making up for missed class time.
Can we teach our classes off campus?
No. That would be illegal according to Quebec’s Labour Code.
Would we receive our salary during the strike?
Striking employees do not receive their regular salary during a strike. However, members who picket or perform other approved duties will receive strike pay from CUFA.
Do I have to picket?
You are not legally required to picket but the outcome of job action is contingent on a strong showing of solidarity. Solidarity conveys strength. Therefore, a strong picket line often leads to a shorter, more effective strike. Also, as noted above, members must picket or perform other approved strike duties in order to receive strike pay
What if I am sick and unable to join the picket line? If you are sick and unable to join the picket line, you will need to contact the Strike Committee. There may be other jobs you can do.
What if I don’t believe in strikes, or I voted against it?
The Executive will only declare a strike if all other attempts to get a fair deal for our members have failed. If you do not believe in strikes, you have the option of staying home; however, you will not be entitled to strike pay.
What happens if I cross the picket line?
You would be in violation of Quebec law and you would not receive strike pay. Furthermore, both you and the employer would be subject to sanctions under the Labour Code.
What about salaries for sabbaticals and for members on other types of paid leave?
We expect the Employer will continue to pay members on paid leave (parental, maternity, sick leave). We also expect the Employer to continue paying members who are on sabbatical. We are prepared to take all action necessary in the event the University does not respect these obligations.
Members on Long Term Disability would continue to be paid by the insurance company.
Can the Employer withhold my pay if a strike or lockout begins before the end of the normal pay period?
Employees must be paid on their normal pay day for work up to and including the day before the strike or lockout begins.
What about strike pay if the Employer locks us out?
Yes. The only difference between a strike and a lock out is that in a lock out, the work stoppage occurs on the initiative of the employer instead of the union.
How large is our reserve fund? Can we afford to go on strike?
We have a reserve fund of approximately $7 million and this is more than enough to cover strike pay for all of our members for the first three days of a strike. As of the 4th day, the CAUT Defence Fund would assume this cost, until a new collective agreement is signed or the strike is otherwise called off.
How much would strike pay be?
Strike pay is funded through CUFA’s reserve fund and CAUT’s Defence Fund. Recent strikes at universities across the country average $150/calendar-day. The Executive will decide the precise amount as a function of the expected duration of the strike. We may be able to pay out more, but it is too soon to make that decision. Our aim would be to issue strike payments once per week during the strike (an EFT direct debit system will be setup in due course). It is important to note that strike pay is not intended to completely replace one’s salary. Strike pay is intended to provide money for food and other basic necessities.
Who is eligible for strike pay?
Strike pay is the same for everyone and is ONLY to members who actively support the strike through picketing duties or performance of other approved strike-related duties (as in the case of those physically unable to picket).
What if the strike pay limits my ability to pay my rent/mortgage?
If you anticipate financial difficulties, we recommend that you contact your financial institution to arrange for a line of credit and/or a full or partial suspension of mortgage payments. A letter of support would be available from the CUFA Executive as proof of your situation. In cases of particular hardship, no‐interest loans may be available from CUFA. Members finding themselves in financial difficulty should contact the Finance Committee (FC). The committee will determine loan eligibility on a case‐by‐case basis. Disputes with respect to FC decisions may be referred at the member’s request to the Strike Action Committee for a binding decision. Terms of any approved loan would be negotiated between the FC and the member. (Contact information for the FC will be available at a late date.)
Would we receive back pay after the strike?
The matter of back pay for any days we are on strike would be negotiated as part of the back to work protocol.
BENEFIT AND PENSION ISSUES
What about benefits–would we still be covered?
CUFA will make every effort to ensure that current coverage continues under the present terms; however, these arrangements would have to be negotiated. If we are forced to pay to maintain members’ benefits during a strike, the CAUT Defense Fund would loan us the money to cover this cost.
What about contributions to the pension plan?
We expect the Employer to count the period of the strike as uninterrupted service for pension purposes; however, this would have to be negotiated.
What if I have questions that have not been addressed here?
Further questions can be addressed at any time to the CUFA Executive at email@example.com. You may also address questions to your CUFA Councillor – a list of CUFA Council member is available at https://cufa.net/about/council-members/.
*Acknowledgements: Some of the information provided here is from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.