UPEI cuts 35 jobs

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 22, 2013
UPEI logo

UPEI staff who are losing their jobs will likely know their fate after the university sent notice Wednesday that it was laying off 35 people as part of its plan to balance its budget.

Bill McKinnon, a representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), said any layoffs are difficult for the affected employees and it would be disingenuous to say it wasn't a significant amount.

"It's huge," he said.

UPEI is required by law to bring in a balanced budget and with the school's departments asking for $9-million more than was available that meant the university had to cut somewhere.

This year the financial situation led to UPEI raising its tuition by $21 per course or $210 a year for a full course load.

The provincial government gives UPEI funding but cut how much it gives by three per cent last year.

Its funding level stayed the same this year.

McKinnon said the university sent the union an email Wednesday morning advising that layoff notices were going out.

Most, if not all, of the 35 layoffs will be permanent staff who are CUPE members.

Along with the layoffs, there have been other staffing changes made including some retirements and term positions that won't be filled, along with contract employees who have had their hours reduced.

McKinnon said he doesn't expect the full effect of the cuts to hit until September because the unionized employees have 15 business days to choose one of three options: bump another employee, accept a severance package or be laid off with the possibility of being recalled.

In an email UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz sent to the university community he called it a difficult day for the school and said the people affected were coworkers, neighbours and friends.

"Their contribution to this university has been significant and in some cases long-term, and I sincerely regret that the fiscal challenges we face as an institution necessitate these most painful decisions," Abd-El-Aziz said.

UPEI is encouraging people who were affected to take advantage of assistance available through the university's human resources department and the Employee and Family Assistance Program.

The email said Service Canada approved UPEI's participation in a workforce reduction program that would help people who want to resign to make way for colleagues to keep their job.

Abd-El-Aziz said the days ahead will be challenging and the members of the university community must support their colleagues as the process unfolds.

"I encourage you to do your utmost to demonstrate the level of caring and compassion that we are known for at this university and in this province," he said.

A request was made to speak with someone from the university administration but no one was available Wednesday.

Meanwhile, McKinnon said the union still has questions about how the university's finances got in such bad shape when they weren't as bad last year when the province cut its funding to UPEI.

"Not even close," he said.

CUPE has asked for a meeting with Premier Robert Ghiz, Finance Minister Wes Sheridan and Advanced Learning Minister Al Roach to talk about the issue.

A spokesman for the premier said the meeting is in the process of being scheduled for early June.

Opposition leader Steven Myers said the government has money to spend on UPEI and talks about education being a priority but it doesn't seem to show it.

"It's just a matter of picking your priorities," he said.