McGill still adapting after week of picketing

Talks between University and Non-Academic union resuming today

Correction appended Sept. 8

The McGill administration begins conciliation meetings with the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) today, one week after the union’s members commenced a general strike.

In conciliation, the MUNACA and McGill bargaining teams are joined by a third party, a representative from the Quebec Ministry of Labour, who mediates the negotiations.

MUNACA president Kevin Whittaker said the purpose of conciliation “is basically trying to get [McGill and MUNACA] back at the table and to get us talking.”

He added that MUNACA is willing to continue negotiations, but that the union has been unsure as to McGill’s readiness to discuss issues. “I have many members that are quoting Provost [Anthony] Masi, who’s walking through our [picket] lines saying, ‘Have a Merry Christmas.’ That doesn’t look like McGill is very serious about this conciliation, when their own Provost is saying such things, so we find it very unprofessional and not very encouraging.”

Picketers have marched at three locations over the past week: the Roddick Gates on Sherbrooke, the Milton Gates on University, and the bottom of McTavish. There are also two picket lines at Macdonald campus. According to Whittaker, there are plans to expand the picket lines to more locations, though he could not offer details as to where or when.

Confrontations at picket lines

Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) held a meeting last week with reporters from The Daily, The McGill Tribune, and Le Délit to discuss issues surrounding the strike.

Mendelson called the picket lines “respectful on both sides.” He said that the only incident of disruption was a noise complaint from a resident in the Milton-Parc community that was resolved by moving a drummer from the Milton to the Roddick Gates. A delivery truck was also directed to an alternate entrance due to MUNACA’s picket line.

On Wednesday morning, picketers on McTavish were faced with vehicles that refused to be re-routed.

A delivery truck from Ozawa, Inc., with Ontario license plates, tried to cross until McGill security moved picketers to allow the vehicle to pass. Bertrand Lavoie, Regional Coordinator for PSAC-Québec, took issue with the role that McGill security officers played in the situation, stressing that picketers were not on McGill property.

“If there is a problem here, it is not their jurisdiction. It is the jurisdiction of the police, and that’s it. If the police arrive, we will discuss with them,” Lavoie said.

Whittaker said that the incident on Wednesday was the only one of which he was aware. “There was some disruption with cars coming through. We’ve been asking [vehicles] if they can go around, which – in 99 per cent of the time – they go around. There’s only a few that actually force their way in,” he said.

“We’re not blocking them. If they want to go in, we stop and ask them, ‘Would you please consider not passing our picket line?’ And if they still insist then we let them through,” he continued.

Campus mobilization

Mendelson said that the he had reviewed the list of Frequently Asked Questions released by SSMU concerning the strike, but was “a little disappointed that there was a number of inaccuracies in what they said.” He added that he had informed SSMU of the mistakes.

Joël Pedneault, SSMU VP External, explained that the fact sheet was updated after communicating with the University. “The major change was that we make reference to employees’ benefits being cut, whereas it is only current and future retirees’ benefits that are being cut,” Pedneault wrote in an email to the Daily.

“The nuance is significant, although we are perplexed as to why the University took the time to point out the fact that people who cannot defend their rights (i.e. current retirees, who are not part of a union) are in fact the most affected in the short run,” he continued.

The Mobilization Committee (Mob Squad) at SSMU has also organized around MUNACA’s cause and members reported that more than forty students attended a recent meeting to discuss ideas for demonstrating support.

The Mob Squad organized a rally for this morning around the McGill Board of Governors on campus luncheon.

“People are very excited about this,” said Mob Squad member and SSMU Arts representative Jamie Burnett. “People care a lot about this and people are really wanting to get involved.”

Micha Stettin, another Mob Squad member and SSMU Arts representative, explained one of the group’s goals in mobilizing around the MUNACA strike. “We are trying to show that the McGill administration cannot just take whatever action they want without a response from the rest of the McGill community. We are the largest body in the McGill community and we have the most power, so we can act. And we will act.”

When asked about student response, Mendelson referred to a campaign that encourages students to send emails en masse to administrators stating support for MUNACA workers.

“That is something that happens from time to time depending on issues, you know, many students complaining about one issue or another issue,” he said. “Interestingly, we don’t get those campaigns when people want to say that things are really going well.”

Whittaker said that MUNACA picketers would join the rally, and expressed gratitude for the various forms of support. “We’ve had a number of students that were out here [on picket lines], and we had a teacher bring her class out to picket as well,” he said.

Faculty members have demonstrated their solidarity in a number of ways. “We’re getting a lot of independent professors coming out and marching with us; there were about thirty of them at one point…and we have been contacted by a number of other professors that are apparently forming a group,” said Whittaker.

The group, which is made up of faculty members from nine departments within Arts, is called the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group. Additionally, individual faculty members have published letters of support, which are posted on MUNACA’s website. Some professors have chosen to move the location of their classes in order to avoid crossing union picket lines.

According to Mendelson, the relocation of classes is not an issue unless professors cease teaching altogether. Otherwise, he reassured students that, despite the possibility of delays, “we’re going to try our darndest to keep all the services that are really important going.”

with files from Henry Gass


In an earlier version of this story, Dr. Hang Lau was mistakenly identified as attempting to drive through a MUNACA picket line, and as the owner of a car featured in an accompanying photograph. Dr. Lau was not at the scene, and was not involved in the incident described.

The Daily regrets the error.