Student and faculty mobilization marked the first day of conciliation meetings between McGill and its largest union last Thursday, whose meetings are now being mediated by a government official.
Students from the SSMU Mobilization Committee (Mob Squad), members of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), and a number of faculty members joined picket lines on Thursday morning in a show of solidarity with the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA).
The group marched from the Roddick Gates to the James Administration building and the Milton Gates, then crossed campus and joined picketers at McTavish and Sherbrooke.
Members of the Board of Governors (BoG) were also scheduled to meet on campus Thursday morning.
According to Maggie Knight, SSMU President and the undergraduate student representative on the BoG, the meeting was an orientation for new board members.
“You could hear [the march] when it came by the building, but there wasn’t really any formal acknowledgement of it,” Knight said.
AGSEM, with help from the Association of McGill Undergraduate Support Employees (AMUSE) and the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), organized a lunch at the picket line to show support for the strike and to increase visibility to their own members. The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), of which AGSEM is a member, has aided the union through both legal advising and funding for the luncheon. CSN also provided a sound system for Thursday, which AGSEM used at each picket line to speak in solidarity.
“We had a lot of volunteers come out to support our efforts,” said Jonathan Mooney, a member of AGSEM’s bargaining team. He estimated that more than fifty members attended to learn about AGSEM positions and issues.
A group of about 15 faculty members from the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group (MFLAG) were also among those in attendance. The group, which formed last week, is still deliberating as to future actions, but has plans to organize another group to march in picket lines for early next week.
Administration updates staff and students
Provost Anthony Masi sent a message to all McGill staff on Thursday outlining the University’s position on negotiations. The email – which MUNACA members did not receive because they are locked out of their McGill emails – included a disclaimer that Masi is “not at the bargaining table and this letter is not addressed, not designed to influence, members of the MUNACA bargaining unit.”
Masi then detailed 19 points that staff “should know” about negotiations. Among the first issues discussed were the fact that McGill has accumulated a deficit of over $100 million on its operating budget, and that a further $6 million will be added to the deficit for the fiscal year 2012 budget.
MUNACA president Kevin Whittaker said the union will be responding to the email, and will prepare a formal letter to address some of the issues raised. The McGill Inter-union Council, comprised of MUNACA, AGSEM, AMUSE and AMURE, are also preparing a separate statement in response to the email.
“There are legal restrictions on how communication [about negotiations] is to transpire,” Whittaker said.
“From what we see Mr. Masi doing, he’s being careful, [but] it may be borderline because he’s not supposed to be negotiating outside of the negotiation table.”
An email from Michael Di Grappa, VP Administration and Finance, was then sent to all staff and students due to “feedback from faculty and students that the McGill community is seeking greater clarity” about disputes.
In a section of the email titled “pension differences,” Di Grappa states that “MUNACA has asked to be able to veto any changes to the [pension] plan,” which covers all employees of the University. Currently, McGill’s offer is that they will agree to consult systematically with MUNACA and other employee groups.
Whittaker took issue with Di Grappa’s wording, explaining that MUNACA is asking for “a committee that has equal say, so that the only way to come to an agreement is with consensus. So that means everybody, if you want to call it veto power, would have that power. [Veto power] would not be unique to us.”
MUNACA suspects scab labour
Di Grappa’s email also reminds students and staff that certain managers are able to complete work normally done by MUNACA workers, and that “McGill is respecting those provisions of the law.”
MUNACA’s website has a form for reporting suspected scab labour; Whittaker said that the union has received “a huge number” of reports. According to the Quebec Labour Code, once reports are received, the Minister of Labour may send an investigator to decide whether provisions to protect strikers’ work have been broken. Government investigations into MUNACA complaints began on Thursday.