A fire alarm in Leacock Thursday afternoon postponed a special General Assembly called by McGill’s union of non-academic workers, preventing the vote to approve a strike that was expected to begin today.
The McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) executive asked its members to evaluate the University’s most recent contract proposal. If rejected, the staff were then prepared to vote to give the executive the authority to strike or to use other pressure tactics if an alternative agreement with the University was not reached before September 1.
MUNACA, or McGill’s largest non-academic staff union and represents about 1,800 library workers, technicians, nurses, and clerical workers, has been negotiating a new contract with the University since December.
McGill security guards barred at least 100 MUNACA members from entering Leacock 132 – filled to its 682 person capacity – in accordance with fire codes.
The meeting began late after an overwhelming vote to proceed with the agenda, despite the absence of those denied access to the room, most of whom were from Macdonald Campus, and had arrived late on a shuttle.
Members inside the meeting said that the executive had hardly introduced the University’s proposal before the fire alarm sounded, forcing an evacuation.
Huddled in the Leacock lobby, many blocked from entering resented that they would not be able to vote. Others members assured them that the executive was planning to integrate all members’ ballots into the strike vote.
According to Jamie Troini, a MUNACA member who sits on the union’s Mac-Council, a group of McGill security officers were waiting outside Leacock 132 “from the get-go.” Many speculated that the security guards’ presence was an administrative tactic meant to delay the meeting and prevent the union from reaching a strike vote.
The loss of ballots from shutout members was not expected to impact the outcome of the vote on the University’s proposal. MUNACA needed 500 votes to reach quorum on the proposal largely assumed to be rejected.
“It’s not exactly a generous offer to say the least,” Troini said of the contract proposal.
In public bulletins, the MUNACA executive said they compromised with the University on most non-monetary issues, but were still dissatisfied with the University’s offers on salary, summer Fridays, shift premiums, and employment security. Prior to the assembly, they had urged members to reject it.
Troini, who had climbed one of the benches lining the Leacock lobby, was trying to appease the group of denied workers as the alarm sounded, converting their complaints into cheers and laughs.
Security members pushed people outdoors. MUNACA members speculated that the fire alarm was “a big joke,” calling the situation hilarious.
“It makes sense that someone pulled the fire alarm,” one said.
“It was triggered on purpose, before the voting occurred,” said another, who suggested someone affiliated with the administration was responsible for the interruption. “[The administration] has done everything in their power to prevent this vote,” she added.
Outside, MUNACA president Maria Ruocco officially postponed the meeting, assuring members that the executive would search for a larger room when they rescheduled. She cited orientation activities for first-year students as one of the reasons preventing the union from booking adequate space.
“We will regroup and do what we have to do,” Ruocco announced, promising to send an email that afternoon with a rescheduled meeting date.
The crowd responded with an applause, but many remained suspicious, concerned that MUNACA would still be unable to find space large enough to accommodate all its members.
Others were disappointed and thought that the impact of their strike would be weakened by postponing it.