Update on strike pay from the Treasurer

The CUPE 3903 red-star logo

The CUPE 3903 red-star logo

The following update was shared by the Treasurer at the Special General Membership Meeting on strike issues on April 14:

Thank you for your patience and support over the last few weeks as we have continued to process strike pay for members. I am writing you now to provide another strike pay update and to answer some common questions that I have received from you. I hope you will find this helpful.

First, I would like to commend and thank all the members of the 8th Line Committee for their tireless work on a critically important part of the strike. Your contributions have been, without a doubt, a crucial component to the strike’s success.

Second, I would like to report that we are now in the final stages of sifting through any outstanding strike-related expenses. I am also happy to report that most strike pay-related issues have largely been resolved. I expect that the last of the cheques will be issued very soon.

Over the past few weeks, members have expressed concerns about whether we have fully documented all our expenses during the 2015 strike. Many of these concerns refer to the financial problems that the local faced during the 2008-09 strike, and that contributed to a large debt that the local had to manage afterwards.

I am confident that we have avoided those errors during this strike, and despite some bumps along the way, we have fully documented all our expenses. However, the process of maintaining proper documentation has made the process much more time-consuming – causing delays in issuing strike pay. For this, I offer a full and unreserved apology. I am aware of the hardship that these delays have caused for members, and my priority is to issue any remaining strike pay as quickly as possible.

Picket line pay issues

There were a number of issues related to the picket line pay process. One of our biggest challenges was the task of data entry for literally thousands of pieces of information. The process was time-consuming and tedious, and required careful attention to detail. There was a steep learning curve, and all of us who worked on data entry did the best we could with the resources we had. We learned many lessons in the process, which we need to remember for next time.

Once we discovered the errors in strike pay, we had to develop a process to rapidly correct them and issue another round of cheques. Again, this involved the hard work of countless volunteers after the strike was over. Since then, hundreds of discrepancies have been fully processed. I am confident that any remaining discrepancies will be fully processed in the next few days.

Another big issue was our slowness in communicating to the membership. Everyone involved in this process, especially those members who managed email accounts that had been set up to answer specific questions, received a large volume of email messages. This made a timely response to individual members very difficult. Delays became unavoidable. Nevertheless, we continue to work through any remaining backlogs in order to address members’ questions or concerns. In the wake of the strike, we have begun to identify how the process could have unfolded more smoothly, and commit to a fuller analysis that will help us prevent these problems in the future.

8th Line pay issues

The bulk of members’ concerns over strike pay has been about the pace (or lack) of payment for 8th Line members. In response, I have accelerated the payment of members in the most urgent cases by issuing hand-cut cheques instead of waiting for another round of payroll cheques. By now, many 8th Line members have been paid, although many remain unpaid or partially paid.

It is important to note that I am not personally involved in the process of adjudication of 8th Line duties. As with all other committees (such as the Professional Development Fund, the Extended Health Benefits Fund, and the Ways & Means Fund), I have an arm’s-length relationship to these processes. It is the 8th Line Committee members who deserve credit for doing an amazingly meticulous and well-organized job of processing hundreds of applications. I thank them again for their efforts.

We are now at the point of collecting all the strike pay reports, as we have done for all the other lines, so that we have a full and complete record for the auditors of the total number of hours and type of picket duty performed by all members. Once this data is confirmed, we can quickly calculate the correct amount for 8th Line members who require payment and issue their cheques right away.

As we prepare to issue what we hope will be the last round of cheques, I want to re-affirm my commitment to paying all members who require accommodation. There is total consensus, from both the Executive Committee and the 8th Line Committee, that all members who require accommodation should be given the fullest support of the local. Members of the 8th Line have helped a great deal to make this an accountable and transparent process, and I am extremely grateful for their work on all aspects of this.

When will the last cheques be issued?

Cheques are available now. Almost all the cheques from the first pay period have been collected, as well as most cheques from the second pay period. Many of these cheques include payment for any discrepancies that members have reported. An additional round of discrepancy cheques will be issued at the Special General Membership Meeting on April 14 (and later this week), which should fully cover the majority of members’ strike pay.

Some members have requested that their cheques be mailed, which will be fully processed by the end of this week. Other members have requested that their cheques be set aside, so they can collect them in person. These cheques will be available at the CUPE 3903 office, 143 Atkinson Building, during regular business hours until April 22 at 12:00 p.m. After 12:00 p.m. on April 22, they will be available at the Annual General Meeting (location TBA). After that, all remaining cheques will be mailed to members.

How is strike pay processed?

The process to generate strike pay begins with the daily reports that are completed by picket captains on each picket line. Each member is required to sign in and sign out of picket duty and to indicate the strike-related duties they performed. These reports are then submitted (usually in person, but also by email) to the strike headquarters at the end of each day, to be entered into a spreadsheet the following day. Members’ hours are recorded for each day and sent to the payroll company to generate cheques, based on the number of shifts completed.

All of this information is required to issue cheques, although not all relevant information is always submitted by the time payments are calculated and cheques printed – resulting in discrepancies.

Why were there so many discrepancies?

As mentioned above, the process of data entry was time-consuming and tedious, and required careful attention to detail. Members who worked on data entry for all lines, including 8th Line, didn’t always have the information required from members on their strike pay sheets. Some handwriting was not legible; some members signed in or out using initials, nicknames or shortened versions of their names; some sheets recorded hours, but not names, and vice-versa; some sheets were unreadable because they got wet in the rain or snow; some sheets were submitted after cheques had been issued; and so on.

Throughout the process, there was a massive volume of data to enter and manage. Because of the hard work and commitment of countless volunteers on all the lines, we have ultimately tracked down almost all of the data and processed the majority of cheques for the roughly 1,500 members who have participated in the strike.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, however, in the early stages of this project, there were technical issues with the method of data entry, resulting in some omissions and duplication of effort. This means that not all data that was entered was entered accurately or in the correct spreadsheet. We identified these errors after the first round of cheques were issued. Even as our system became more robust and reliable, we encountered other problems, such as the discovery of missing or late strike pay reports. Nevertheless, we continue to enter and manage all this data, so no member will be short of the strike pay they are owed.

Why does the process take so long?

All these issues interconnect and overlap. As a consequence, we have had to track each payment carefully, coordinating and verifying each cheque as it has been issued. As members reported discrepancies, I hand-cut cheques to accelerate payments in the most urgent cases. This added another layer of verification to ensure that members were paid the correct amount.

In addition, there were many instances where members had been issued the correct amount by the payroll company, but did not receive a payment when the cheques were being issued. Another layer of verification became necessary to prevent duplicate cheques from being issued (which would result in overpayment) and to prevent the cancellation of cheques that had not yet been collected.

Moving forward, we can use this experience to learn and generalize many critical lessons for the future, including the next time we are in a strike position. Our union can draw on the wide range of skills that our members possess, acquired and developed in this process. In addition, I will commit to compiling these experiences, especially any suggestions or contributions that the members would like to make, in a comprehensive report to be shared at a General Meeting in the fall semester.

Once again, I would like to thank the members for their patience and support throughout this challenging process. If you have any further questions or suggestions, please email me at sectreasurer3903@gmail.com.