Negotiations for a new collective agreement between McGill and the University’s largest non-academic worker’s union – representing over 1,600 employees – broke down this past Thursday before they even began, with both parties blaming miscommunication and the other side for the delays.
Kevin Whittaker, president of the McGill University Non-Certified Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), has attributed the delay to the administration’s refusal to provide financial information. Whittaker maintained that MUNACA was prepared to present its “non-economical” demands, including increased job protection and better vacation leaves. However, the union’s request for financial information from McGill regarding payroll, benefits, and other matters, had not been met. MUNACA was hence unable to present its economic demands.
“McGill has refused to negotiate with us until we provide its bargaining committee with a full set of our demands. To do this, we first need financial information from McGill,” said Whittaker.
He explained that the only information that McGill provided MUNACA was locked in PDF files that could not be modified. Similarly, MUNACA did not receive any of the scheduling and salary-related information it requested.
A statement issued by McGill’s human relations department claims that it did provide the financial information in the same format as in the past.
According to Lynne Gervais, Associate Vice-Principle of McGill Human Resources, negotiations failed when MUNACA failed to present its full set of demands.
“At our meeting, MUNACA was not ready with its demands. It had not prepared them,” Gervais said. “Until negotiations officially begin, there’s not much I can say.”
Gervais explained that, conventionally, negotiations only begin once both parties have set forth their final and complete set of proposals. This was the expectation heading into the meeting, an expectation Gervais said McGill fulfilled.
“MUNACA was given the requested financial information,” said Gervais. “They just didn’t like the format it was given in.”
The delay has left Whittaker frustrated. “We want to continue with negotiations on non-economical concerns, but McGill has insisted on waiting.”
According to Whittaker, during pre-negotiations in December MUNACA clearly expressed a need for specific financial data from McGill. However, on January 13, the University informed MUNACA that it felt the union already had all the necessary information to form its proposals.
“What puzzles me is why McGill did not inform us of this in December rather than refusing to bargain in January,” said Whittaker.
According to Whittaker, one of MUNACA’s main demands is fairer staffing processes. “We want better selection of personnel that respects the seniority of MUNACA workers,” he said. “Currently, McGill overrides our contract by hiring less-experienced non-union workers because it is cheaper to do so.”
Whittaker feels that it is important for senior personnel to have their seniority respected rather than act as a hiring obstacle. “We want a staffing process that will encourage our members to grow rather than remain in the same place,” he said.
MUNACA is also seeking a more transparent scheduling process. The union wants to receive specific work schedules from McGill. It also wants to be notified when the schedules are changed, which McGill has failed to do before.
Once negotiations begin, Whittaker will most likely start with non-economical demands. “Why not start now when both parties have prepared their non-economical demands?” he asked. “Perhaps after seeing McGill’s demands, we can decide how to arrange our priorities and continue accordingly.”
Whittaker speculates that salaries will be the point of greatest contention.
Regarding the timeline of negotiations, Whittaker had little to say. “We had hoped to reach a resolution within a year,” said Whittaker. “But since negotiations are being dragged out from the beginning, it could take awhile.”
“When MUNACA is ready with all its proposals, we will be ready to negotiate,” said Gervais.
Both parties are scheduled to meet again on January 26.