A plan to scale down McGill’s employee benefit plan went into effect last month, following a Board of Governors decision made in November. The revised plan affects all McGill employees.
The McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) first learned about the University’s intent to implement such a policy at a June 4 meeting.
According to the union, the University’s administration began urging the Staff Benefits Advisory Committee (SBAC) to cut employee benefits costs by $1 million per year. University officials publicly indicated this position during the fall.
Following a November 23 vote by the University’s Board of Governors approving such a measure, MUNACA released a letter stating that employees already financed half the cost of their own benefit package, and noting that the University’s cuts represented a saving of approximately $1.3 million, a greater amount than their original target.
Upon further discussion in December between the administration and several organizations, McGill agreed to cut employee benefits by precisely $1 million.
Groups involved in the discussion included MUNACA and the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT), a non-union organization to which approximately 60 per cent of University faculty belong.
In addition, dental coverage for retirees, which had been removed from employee benefits in November, was once again incorporated into the benefit plan.
“They agreed to make any adjustments due to the bad PR they received,” MUNACA president Robert Whittaker said. “I don’t think that they are ashamed or regretful. I think they are just upset for the bad PR they received for it.”
The cuts still stipulate that “out-of-pocket” maximums – the highest possible fee paid by employees for their benefits – have tripled, increasing from $150 to $400 for individuals and from $300 to $800 for families.
However, Faculty of Law professor Richard Janda, president of the MAUT, was pleased with the discussion process, despite the University’s unilateral decision to modify the employee benefits package.
“We did indeed reopen the issue and come back with an agreed-upon solution,” Janda said. “For me the take home lesson is that a faculty association is still operating within a collegial environment.”
Janda also believes that the University’s administration faces a valid challenge from the Quebec government for fear of losing grant money.
“The University has explained for the past two years that in its arrangement with the Quebec government, it must arrive with a balanced budget,” he said. “Unless the University proceeds to balance this budget, it will have less operating budget,” Janda said.
Whittaker asserted that the SBAC must be restructured so as to better defend employee interests. The SBAC is comprised of representatives from MUAT, MUNACA, the McGill Union of Non-Academic Staff Association, and other organizations.
“The structure of the SBAC will have to be looked at and changed,” Whittaker argued. “We sit on a board that is incapable of making a decision. Even if it does, they don’t support the cuts.”
While groups like MAUT can promote faculty interests, professors have not negotiated a collective agreement with the University. In contrast with many Canadian schools, McGill does not have a faculty union. Yet Janda does not believe this necessarily weakens the community.
“Most universities in Canada have become unionized because faculties have concluded that they are, at least for some purposes, in an adversarial position with the administration,” said Janda. “If you believe that the University is this self-governing community – students are participants, faculty members are participants – then you say this operates more like a polity than an adversarial structure.”
Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources) Lynn Gervais and Secretary General Stephen Strople were unavailable for comment.