Union members within the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) say they’re prepared to strike if collective agreement negotiations with the University continue to stall.
MUNACA President Maria Ruocco explained that the union – which represents over 1,800 non-academic workers at McGill – and the University are still at odds about salary increases.
“The University is not budging, salary is the only outstanding issue,” said Ruocco, adding that shift premiums and job security measures are some of the other issues resolved during negotiation.
During a General Assembly (GA) held December 4, 65 per cent of GA attendees voted to give MUNACA the mandate to use pressure tactics, up to and including a general strike. The union has been in contract negotiations for 13 months, and held a series of demonstrations last semester.
The strike mandate followed a motion where 68 per cent of members rejected McGill’s December 1 salary offer. In October, MUNACA also rejected McGill’s proposed 12 per cent salary increase over four years, saying they would not accept an offer below 13 per cent over the same time frame. Negotiations are now considering shorter time frames. Currently, MUNACA is requesting ten per cent over three years, with scale and progression, while McGill is presently offering a paltry 8.5 per cent.
Ruocco said MUNACA was not being unreasonable in their pay demands.
“I don’t think we’re being outrageously demanding, compared to other universities. Our thing is ‘Why is our work not worth the same as at other universities?’” she said, pointing to a similar union at Concordia which was offered a 20 per cent pay increase over four years. “We’re here to contribute to the University and we want them to recognize what we’re doing.”
In the event of a general strike – which MUNACA hopes to avoid, and publicly explained in full page ads placed in the December 20 editions of The Gazette, Le Devoir, and La Presse – Ruocco was uncertain about what it could mean for life at McGill.
“Students will suffer in the end. I don’t believe management can keep up with the same work at the level they do it now,” she said, highlighting the role MUNACA workers play at the University. “Professors are aided in everything they do: course materials, exams, timetabling for classes, timetables for exams, also technicians who help researchers…. Nurses would not be able to help or substitute doctors when students come in and they’re not healthy.”
SSMU VP External Devin Alfaro predicted that in the case of a general strike, schedules would be shortened and certain services may be limited, although many would keep operating at some level.
“Not everyone who works in a lab or library is MUNACA. Only the technicians would strike, so basic tasks could still be done,” Alfaro said.
In an email sent to The Daily, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources) Lynne Gervais wrote that she could not legally discuss negotiations and played down what effects a strike could have.
“The administration has taken steps to keep the University functioning in the event of a strike or [in the event] other pressure tactics are employed, but we continue to work to arrive at a settlement, as we have all along,” Gervais explained.
Ruocco claimed that MUNACA has not heard from McGill since its members rejected McGill’s offer in early December, and worried that they were being treated with the same attitude McGill commanded in their dispute with AGSEM, the graduate students’ union, during the teaching assistant (TA) strike.
“We are very worried about scab workers,” said Ruocco. “The issue is in the hands of our lawyers, and they’re looking in to it. If it means sending inspectors like the TAs had to, then we must.”
Alfaro added that McGill’s attitude toward unions has led to continual impasses in negotiations.
“In general, McGill has a very heavy handed way of dealing with unions on campus. This has led to reoccurring problems with labour disputes because of the general attitude that the McGill administration takes,” Alfaro said.
He suspected that this attitude stems from a shrinking budget and mistaken priorities.
“McGill is very much underfunded. There is a lack of investment, especially on the public side. McGill wants to keep prominent faculty members, and the public intellectuals on staff, and they do want to take care of them. They treat support staff, like TAs as more expendable. It’s here that McGill tries to save costs. McGill has tried to get unions to back down, rather than have honest discussions.”
Gervais instead pointed to multiple negotiations with unions, and didn’t state that underfunding affected salary shifts.
“We have had two somewhat difficult negotiation processes this year because of the coincidence of contract expirations, but we don’t feel this represents any particular pattern or is out of the ordinary.”
She referenced how McGill was named one of Canada’s Top 100 employers and that recent contract disputes are an anomaly.
“We feel our relationships with the unions that represent McGill workers are good in general,” Gervais said.
Ruocco was hopeful that negotiations would soon end.
“Basically, the McGill population should know that MUNACA, MUNACA executives, and the negotiating committee just want a fair deal for our members and our share of what is owed to us,” she said.