Sudbury

What are Laurentian workers impacted by university's money woes owed? Here's why they're still waiting

Laurentian has published a draft framework for claims to be submitted by faculty, staff and employees affected by the Sudbury, Ont., university's restructuring, but one of the parties says the details aren't finalized and negotiations are ongoing.

Draft plan outlining ground rules for staff-faculty claims to be presented in Ontario court

A judge is expected to receive a motion on Aug. 17 outlining Laurentian's plans to compensate faculty and staff who were affected by the Sudbury, Ont., university's insolvency in 2021. (Radio-Canada)

Over six months after Laurentian entered insolvency proceedings, the Sudbury, Ont., university has published a draft framework for claims to be submitted by faculty, staff and employees affected by restructuring — but one of the parties says the details aren't finalized and negotiations are ongoing.

All parties are due before a judge next on Tuesday for a discussion on the compensation methodology.

Fabrice Colin, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), wouldn't comment on the draft framework, saying there could be changes between now and the court date.

The university announced it had entered insolvency proceedings on Feb. 1 under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), which allows it to operate while dealing with its financial situation.

In the weeks following, drastic cuts and changes to programs and staff occurred. 

University has lineup of claimants

The new draft framework, which is attached to a motion that will be presented in court for a judge to consider, outlines the terms and conditions around severance pay, health benefits and compensation for members of the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) and the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) whose jobs were terminated or altered. 

The plan, which doesn't outline actual monetary amounts that may be awarded, sets in place the criteria each claimant will use to calculate what they believe they are owed.

A lot of the faculty feel like they're a soccer ball being kicked around by the university.- Charles Ramcharan

LUSU president Tom Fenske describes the purpose of the methodology.

"This [process] specifically is about what should these individuals that lost their jobs be entitled — through the court — to reclaim," Fenske said.

"This is what they'll base their claims on. They'll submit for a certain amount as outlined in this methodology."

But Fenske said it's merely an equation, and members won't receive the full amount of their claim, but likely a percentage of it as they join the lineup of claimants against the university.

There are still questions about how much money Laurentian will have to draw on as the claims process moves forward.

Fenske said it's a moving target right now, as the university looks at its assets and goes through a real estate review before it can decide how much it has to offer in compensation.

"Our members are in the same pool as banks that are owed substantially more money," Fenske said. "And so they're all going to be treated the same. It's going to be owed collectively."

Laurentian owes tens of millions to banks

According to its list of creditors, RBC has claimed $71 million while the Toronto-Dominion Bank's claims are at $18 million. 

As for the percentage of what staff and faculty would be entitled to, Fenske said he wasn't sure.

"I've asked that question. I've asked that to everybody, and nobody really knows, and if they had a guess, they were reluctant to tell me. So we're really not sure what the end result is going to be." 

Charles Ramcharan, an associate professor in Laurentian's environmental science department, retired before his department was cut. He says he and other academics feel traumatized by the dickering over their claims.  (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

One Laurentian professor who took a gamble on a retirement offer before the university announced job and program cuts said the whole process is traumatizing.

Charles Ramcharan is eligible to file a claim, but doesn't really know how much it will amount to or what he'll end up receiving.

He's glad, however, that he took that step, because he has access to his pension that he might otherwise not have if hadn't retired. His department, environmental science, was cut and he would have lost his job. He's still eligible to apply for compensation for some benefits.

Still, Ramcharan said he and other academics who care deeply about Laurentian's contributions feel traumatized by the dickering over their claims. 

"A lot of the faculty feel like they're a soccer ball being kicked around by the university, and the courts, and the province, and the faculty association is just caught in the middle of this complex negotiation, if you will, or battle, really."

The claims process does not apply to faculty and staff at the former federated universities of Thorneloe, Huntington and the University of Sudbury who negotiated their own severance agreements.

Federated universities negotiated own claims

Laurentian severed ties with them last April as part of the restructuring process, saying it could offer some of their more in-demand programs itself and save some money

Guy Chamberland was a professor of ancient studies at Thorneloe, and is happy with the amount he received, although he can't discuss it under a confidentiality clause.

He said it does cause him pain to watch the struggle of his fellow academics who were affected at Laurentian and continue to try to navigate an uncertain future.

"I see those poor people, who have been working, you know, you start a career and quite often so many of us moved from quite away, came to Sudbury and then, bang, this happens, and then you see them trying to find a new way to support the family and a new purpose in life."

Chamberland said he has some research to keep him in Sudbury for the next year, but then plans to retire and move to southern Ontario to be near his wife's family.

 

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