The provincial conciliator assigned to oversee negotiations between McGill and its striking non-academic workers has suspended talks as both sides continue to struggle to reach an agreement.
The conciliator suspended negotiations at the end of a meeting last Friday. The meeting was the 17th between the two sides since the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) went on strike September 1.
MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker said talks stalled at discussions over the implementation of a graduated wage increase grid.
“It became clear to both the conciliator and the parties that we are very far apart,” said Whittaker. “The University appears to have no desire to implement a grid. They claim that it would be far too costly for them in the future, and that they simply don’t have money.”
Whittaker referenced recent negotiations at the University of Sherbrooke, where 85 per cent of striking non-academic workers voted against a deal that would have seen a 2 per cent per year increase to their existing wage grid.
“We haven’t got close to anything like that with what McGill was willing to put on the table,” said Whittaker. “We made it clear that this was not going to end the strike, and for them to end the strike they would have to find more money.”
Although a November 12 statement from the union added that they have had “serious discussions” on other key issues, Whittaker said that all talks up to this point had been exploratory, with no concrete solutions agreed upon.
“Nothing was put down in writing and saying, ‘This is what we’re willing to do,’” he stated, “but I will not say that there wasn’t some movement, and I think that we could probably come to some clear agreement if we can resolve these other issues, mainly the salaries.”
In a statement released on November 14, McGill Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa said the University “will not rest in our effort to find a settlement as quickly as possible,” confirming that the two sides remain “far apart on wages.”
MUNACA has been asking for a base salary increase of 3 per cent to account for inflation. The last McGill counter offer was for a 1.2 per cent base increase. The union is further asking for an increase within the pay scale per year for members, so that they can reach the top of their pay scale faster.
“We have stated from the outset of these negotiations that we are committed to winning a fair agreement,” stated the MUNACA press release. “Unfortunately, McGill to date has not demonstrated that it is prepared to agree to this.”
Additionally, the union has been asking for the restoration of their benefits package, which was cut by $1 million last year.
In his statement, Di Grappa said, “The administration wants an end to this strike as much as anyone at McGill.”
“To that end, the University made significant changes in its positions on a number of issues during the course of the negotiations – as has the union,” he said.
“We have always known that these would be challenging negotiations,” continued Di Grappa.
Although no date has been scheduled for the resumption of talks, MUNACA met last Monday morning “to prepare next steps,” according to their press release. Di Grappa also said the University is “exploring a number of options open to us in terms of resolving the issues.”
According to Whittaker, the conciliator will not call the two parties back to the table until she has reported to her superior, the Associate Deputy Minister of Labour.
“It’s up to [the conciliator] to call us back when she thinks that we can talk about this and get some resolution,” said Whittaker.
Medical residents jeopardized
A letter obtained by the Montreal Gazette, from Associate Dean of Postgraduate Medical Education Sarkis Meterissian and addressed to Interim Dean of Medicine Samuel Benaroya, details how the strike endangers both the academic year for McGill medical residents and McGill’s academic reputation.
The letter, dated October 17, states that the consequences of the strike lasting beyond November 15 – two days ago – would be “catastrophic” for McGill teaching hospitals.
At the time of the letter, there was concern that, without MUNACA, it would be impossible to meet the deadlines of the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) process, which begins December 1. CaRMS brings together applicants and hospitals for postgraduate medical training in Canada.
“The ongoing strike places McGill at a significant competitive disadvantage,” reads the letter. “[It] has a clear and measurable impact on our ability to attract and train top-quality candidates.”
Furthermore, the strike could “compromise the graduation of our residents,” as a lack of administrative assistants could affect exams and evaluations, and “disrupt our ability to trace the academic programs of our trainees.”
In a statement released last Friday, Benaroya said, “In the context of the MUNACA strike, certain priorities in the Faculty of Medicine were identified mid-October and an exercise has since been conducted in order to deploy resources to those areas to help mitigate disruptions.”
“Clearly, the strike presents challenges, and we are doing our utmost to maintain all activities, with the hope that a reasonable resolution will be arrived at very soon,” continues Benaroya.