McGill and MUNACA exchanging demands

Both parties hope to conclude negotiations by the end of the calendar year

McGill officially begins  negotiations with its largest union of non-academic workers today after several months of informal discussions. The contract between the University and the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) – representing over 1,800 library workers, technicians, nurses, and clerical workers – expired November 30, 2010.

Kevin Whittaker, MUNACA’s president, identified salary and benefits as likely points of contention between the two parties, particularly the rate at which non-academic employees move up the pay scale.

“At McGill, at the current rate that we have for [salary] progression, it’ll take you thirty years to reach the top of your scale,” said Whittaker. “In other institutions, it’s half that, if not less. So, that’s something that our membership are very upset about, and they do want something done to adjust that,” he added.

In January 2010, McGill cut employee benefits by $1 million, prompting outrage among MUNACA members, who questioned the motivation behind the cuts.

“The rationale for cutting [benefits] was to save the University money. It had nothing to do with the actual benefits plan,” said Whittaker.

“It would be nice to have everything restored to the way it was. We understand that there are economic problems with that, but we would like to see our benefits at least brought up to level with what our members want, not necessarily cutting it just so the University can save money.”

Whittaker and Robert Comeau, Director of Labour and Employee Relations for McGill, both predicted that the first meeting would be a simple exchange of contract demands.

Comeau described the process as “the normal way to negotiate.”

Both sides were hesitant to identify their specific demands since they did not want to compromise negotiations, but a survey recently distributed to MUNACA members, and obtained by The Daily, outlines key issues in the eyes of MUNACA membership.

Besides asking members how important the wage scale issue is to them, the survey also raised grievances over University staffing. According to the survey, McGill gives “positions to new hires over current unionized employees. There have also been problems regarding management not filling vacant positions.”

The survey also alleges that, “McGill has been using loopholes in our collective agreement to take away union work and give it to managers and threatening our job security by moving positions out of the union.”

Comeau felt most of MUNACA’s grievances would be unsurprising to the administration.

“We’ve been discussing with MUNACA for a long time,” said Comeau. “We were able to get a sense of their approach with [Human Resources] within the last year and a half, so it wouldn’t be surprising if for the negotiations they come up with the same preoccupations.”

But before major concerns could be discussed, Comeau said both sides would likely seek to clarify language in the collective agreement.

Comeau also did not anticipate any major changes in the negotiating process though both parties have expanded their teams. The MUNACA negotiation committee has hired Morgan Gay as chief negotiator, from the Ottawa-based Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)  – one of Canada’s largest unions  – representing over 172,000 workers and with which MUNACA is affiliated.

McGill’s new Vice Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa will oversee all negotiations between McGill and its unions, and report to the Board of Governors, but he will not engage directly in the process.

The next meeting between MUNACA and McGill is scheduled for January 26, with seven additional dates set through February and March. Whittaker said he hopes to conclude negotiations by December, while Comeau identified June as his target date for finalizing a new collective agreement.

In the past, McGill and MUNACA have had a tense relationship. Last year MUNACA protested their benefit cuts during McGill’s open house, and in September 2008 a mysterious fire alarm pull prevented a MUNACA strike vote. However, this time around the University seems determined to reach an agreement quickly.

“It seems that at this point the University is very eager to come to a resolution on the issues,” said Whittaker. “It’s good to see that they are very serious about this and that the process looks like it’s going to be quite quick.”