Unions at Laurentian University ratify new collective agreements; agree to wage cuts
SUDBURY -- There are two new collective agreements in place at Laurentian University, following a devastating week of staffing and program cuts on campus.
At least 150 positions were terminated this week, and while members voted to ratify, union leaders say they had little choice. Laurentian has gone through insolvency under the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) which allowed them to cut staff and programs quickly to become financially stable.
The court filings revealed the university is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, has run operating deficits for several years, and money donated for bursaries and to support different programs may have been absorbed by the mounting debts.
The new contract for LUFA includes a collective five per cent reduction in salary to be applied on May 1 followed by a freeze for two years. Faculty will take five furlough days for three years and severance for the laid off members will have to be dealt with through the CCAA process.
Fabrice Colin, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), said his members were victims of incompetence and underfunding.
"A lack of transparent and accountable institutional governments, mismanagement and poor decisions compounded the problems of underfunding at Laurentian," Colin said. "The vote was under duress."
LUFA members voted 81 per cent in favour of the five-year deal, which includes several concessions.
While approving the new contract, LUFA is also demanding the resignation of LU president Robert Hache, along with four other senior administrators. They're also calling for the resignation of Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano.
One of the other unions affected -- the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) -- said it also voted to ratify. After the sacrifices they made, they're wondering when administration will do the same.
"It's been faculty, staff and students -- those are the people that make the ultimate sacrifice," said LUSA president Tom Fenske.
"The people who lost their jobs still voted for ratification to make sure their colleagues were able to carry on. There's no bigger sacrifice because you care about the people, the institution and its students. When will the leadership of this institution do their share?"
For its part, Laurentian University said in a news release Wednesday that the new contracts run until June 30, 2025. All staff – including the administration – have agreed to salary reductions.
"Significant one-time and ongoing cost savings had been requested from both LUFA and LUSU to support the university being able to emerge as a restructured and financially viable institution," the release said.
"The agreements reached with Laurentian’s largest labour partners reflect the tremendous commitment and sacrifice of all faculty and staff to the university and its future. Salary and benefit reductions are being implemented for all employees, including non-union, administration, management, and designated executives including the president and vice-chancellor."
At Queen's Park, the NDP have joined calls demanding the Romano's resignation.
'Mr. Romano did not lift a finger'
"Mr. Romano did not lift a finger, did not speak a word and said 'go to the court and see how many pennies to the dollar your creditors can get, through the CCAA process," said Nickel Belt NDP MPP France Gelinas.
"This is not speaking up for northern Ontario, this is not taking your responsibility for equity of access to university education for people of the north. If you're not going to take responsibility, if you're not going to speak up, if you're not going to act, then Mr. Romano, move over."
At Laurentian, those affected by the cuts say it's devastating.
Political Science Prof. Nadia Verelli saw her department closed entirely.
"It means each and every one of us will take our families and move to another city -- and if that's something in my future, that's something my partner and I have to discuss," Verelli said.
LUFA said it will consider any and all legal action once the CCAA proceedings wrap up. Romano's office declined to comment on calls for his resignation. A university senate meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.