A group of Université de Montréal (UdeM) lecturers are moving to end the strike that has frozen the university in its tracks for the past three weeks. The strike for better working conditions is being waged by over 2,000 of the lecturers colleagues.
Le Devoir reported Tuesday that a vote to renew the Syndicat des chargées et des chargés de cours de l’Université de Montréal (SCCCUM) mandate to strike will take place at its general assembly tomorrow. The meeting was called in the wake of a 200-signature petition requesting a vote to reconsider the current strike, which began on February 24.
Francis Legacé, president of SCCCUM, was dismissive of reports of a petition. He said he wasn’t sure how many people really supported ending the strike. “We didn’t receive any signatures,” he said in French. “We received a list of names. It has no legal value.”
Legacé said he was confident the general assembly would vote to continue the strike.
The same day that news of the union’s internal friction came to light, the UdeM’s administration publicly released its “final offer” in the negotiations.
The bargaining offer includes a wage increase of 3.8 per cent, less than half of the 7.7 per cent increase the union is demanding. A UdeM press release from Tuesday points out that the salary for teaching a 45-hour, three-credit course will now be $7,789.95, up nearly $300 from the previous wage. The new deal would also put UdeM lecturers’ pay on par with their counterparts at Université du Québec à Montréal, according to the press release – a claim corroborated by statistics published in Le Journal de Montréal on Monday.
SCCCUM denounced the plan officially at their “conseil syndicale” yesterday. The union objected to what they saw as the university’s refusal to address key bargaining issues. In a strongly worded address to its members that was posted online Tuesday, the union wrote in French that, “the university continues, with its ‘offer,’ to ignore lecturers’ priorities and persists in attempting to weaken their professional standing.”
The union memo does not refer to wage issues until its seventh paragraph. The authors focused on the “employer’s” refusal to acknowledge “vocal coaches and accompanists” as full-fledged lecturers, a point on which SCCCUM has insisted in negotiations. The union is also objecting to the university reserving the right to cancel classes up to two weeks before they begin, “without any penalty to the university.” Class size reductions have also been a point of contention since the negotiation’s early stages.
The lecturers’ wage demands centre on pay parity with the professors at their own university, in contrast with the administration’s position of granting the lecturers the same pay as lecturers at other Quebec schools. Legacé told The Daily that although 7.7 per cent was the current demand, he was open to changes during negotiation. “We are not dogmatic,” he said in French. “In a negotiation things can always change if something interesting is offered by the other side.”
Legacé also speculated that the university’s offer would not be as “final” as advertised. He said that in the past, the university has tabled “final” offers, only to revoke or change them. “I don’t think this is the end for the university,” Legacé said.
The strike has already affected some 30,000 students, with classes cancelled and an extension of the winter semester looming. Maclean’s reported that about 20 per cent of classes have been completely cancelled. Science and education faculties have been hit especially hard.
UdeM student Christine Thibeault, whose lecturers are on strike, commented that she is not worried about the semester being extended, having already participated in “lots of student strikes at CEGEP and UQAM.” Thibeault thought that students should strike in solidarity with the lecturers.
“The aim of the strike is to diminish the number of students per class, so it’s in the interest of the students,” she said in French, adding, “The more the administration is perturbed the sooner the strike will finish.”
Legacé called on students to write to the administration to demand a solution. He insisted that responsibility for the strike lies with the university. “It’s hard for students. But the university has put us in this position. It’s hard to advance in negotiations with someone who has nothing to say,” he said.