An ongoing labour dispute between the union of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) and the University’s administration will go to arbitration after union members unanimously rejected a proposed contract on January 21.
The contract would have seen a 30 per cent pay cut for several union members, while others would have gained a $1 per hour wage increase.
TRAC, which was established in 2006 as part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), has never had a collective agreement with the University.
“The main issue was the hourly rates set,” said TRAC President Bilal Abdul Kader.
The overall severity of the salary cuts undoubtedly came as a shock to many members, hoping that after two years of negotiations with the University the union could have procured improved contracts for its TAs, rather than the contrary.
TAs at Concordia are placed in distinct levels of pay, based on their level of study, faculty, and responsibilities.
“The next step is that we’re going to arbitration,” said Kader, adding that TRAC’s success in court “all depends on how the case is represented.”
TRAC VP external Mohammed Sabr, who sat on the negotiating team, stated that the terms of the proposed contract were so weak because of the administration’s efforts to stymie the union’s progress in gaining a new contract.
“Mainly they were not giving us enough dates to meet with them. Maybe one day a month or every two months. Like any employer, they want to save money,” Sabr said.
He added that the proposal was voted down partly because of the pay cuts involved, but also because the proposal did not guarantee TRAC members a minimum number of hours per week.
The union has also faced increasing tension with PSAC, whose regional executive vice president Jérôme Turcq sat on TRAC’s negotiating team.
“[PSAC] did not run the negotiation to its full capacity. They did not put enough of their energy into gaining better terms,” Sabr said.
On Friday, TRAC announced that negotiations with the administration would freeze until its members meet for another general assembly, which will likely be held next week. But according to Sabr, PSAC has indicated that it may proceed with the negotiations without TRAC’s involvement.
“We’re not happy with the whole status with them,” said Sabr. “The union should operate in the best interests of its members, and I don’t believe that PSAC [will necessarily do that].”
Since both parties wrote the by-laws of TRAC, resolving this struggle has proven difficult. PSAC, according to a press release on TRAC’s web site, has contested the union’s by laws, which were established in 2007.
Following TRAC’s decision to bring the labour dispute to arbitration, the Quebec Labour Relations Board appointed its secretary and general director, Jacques Doré, to oversee the case.
– with files from Niko Block