Defeating their General Assembly (GA) motion to accept the University’s latest proposed contract Tuesday, employees of McGill University’s Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) surprised their executive, who had recommended they accept the offer.
McGill redrafted its contract proposal following last Thursday’s GA – when a fire alarm prevented MUNACA from voting on a strike motion. The motion would have officially mandated a rotating or full-scale strike if an alternative agreement with the University was not reached by Labour Day.
MUNACA has softened its intentions to apply pressure tactics in light of the revised contract, according to MUNACA President Maria Ruocco, who asserted that MUNACA will not immediately resort to drastic action when negotiating with the University.
“While we might have to go there, for the moment we are asking for meetings and waiting to see what happens,” Ruocco said.
The vote was clear – with 62 per cent of the 800 union-members in attendance voting to reject the contract – but Ruocco thought the University’s revised proposal was fair.
“The top quarter of the pay scale would suffer, but for the benefit of the collective. [The Executive] thought it was a good deal,” Ruocco said
McGill offered employees in the top quarter of the pay scale a $300 signing bonus and the rest of MUNACA’s members a 12 per cent pay increase. Union workers would also be granted weekend and night shift premiums for the first time.
Ruocco said that the union rejected the proposal because of the sharp disparity in the wage increases offered to MUNACA members. She cited the University’s willingness increase teaching assistants’ (TAs’) and professors’ wages by increments that outweigh the 12 per cent on the table for MUNACA workers as another possible explanation for the outcome.
According to SSMU VP External Devin Alfaro, McGill’s precarious financial situation may explain why the Administration offers wage increases in small increments to its unions. The University is severely underfunded and is currently $58-million in debt, he added.
“This is Neo-liberalism on the ground,” Alfaro said. “Here we are seeing the result of 20 years of bad public policy. McGill has calculated to transfer underfunding as low down as possible. They are penny-pinching.”
Negotiations with McGill began last December, after MUNACA’s contract expired at the end of the previous month. The union is the largest at McGill with 1,800 members, representing all non-academic support staff, including nurses, technicians, librarians, and clerical workers.
According to Alfaro, the media coverage of the recent TA strike landed the administration knee-deep in bad press for its union-busting tactics. He suspected McGill would try to avoid a similar situation with MUNACA negotiations.
Alfaro said that SSMU will maintain distance in its support for MUNACA’s struggle with McGill and will continue to do so should they decide to strike.
“This is their struggle, and they need to lead,” he said of MUNACA.