McGill and MUNACA reach tentative agreement

Ratification from membership needed to end strike, back to work protocol yet to be negotiated

Article updated Dec. 2

After almost eleven months of negotiations and a semester on strike, McGill announced Wednesday night that they have reached a tentative agreement with McGill’s non-academic workers’ negotiating team.

According to an email sent out to all staff and students Wednesday night by Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa, the provincial conciliator overseeing negotiation for the past several months set out terms for a comprehensive five-year contract.

In a post on the MUNACA strike blog Wednesday night, the union said it has “agreed to bring the conciliator’s recommendation for a settlement to its membership with a recommendation for acceptance” after spending “countless hours in negotiations since last Friday.”

The ratification meeting is expected to take place in the coming days.

“At the Ratification Meeting all details of the proposed settlement will be presented and discussed, and everyone will be given ample opportunity to ask questions. This will be followed by a Ratification Vote by secret ballot,” the post stated.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette Wednesday night, MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker said the agreement is “well over” the six per cent wage increase first offered by McGill for a five-year contract with the union.

“The agreement does contain a number of the main objectives we wanted,” he said.

However, Whittaker told the Gazette that the back to work protocol, which defines how MUNACA members will come back to work, was his priority.

“There have been injunctions and legal action, and this will define how members come back to work,” said Whittaker. “We need to know there will be no disciplinary actions against our members, so we are negotiating to get that done, and then we can call a vote [on the contract].”

In an interview with The Daily Thursday afternoon, MUNACA VP Finance David Kalant also confirmed the agreement will include a new wage grid to determine scheduled worker salary increases.

“That’s a significant change over past McGill policy,” said Kalant.

Kalant said the agreement would also provide the union more say in the future over changes to their benefits plan, which the University slashed by $1 million almost two years ago.

Friday afternoon the union posted highlights of the agreement on their website. The highlights include annual across-the-board wage increases and a new wage scale that will reduce the amount of time it takes members to reach their salary maximum to 12 years. According to the union it currently takes over 37 years.

McGill would also no longer be allowed to unilaterally reduce its contributions to MUNACA’s benefits plan. The Staff Benefits Advisory Committee would assume new powers such that the University cannot reduce benefits provided under benefits plans without the consent of employee associations representing a minimum of seventy per cent of the members of the plan, unless University costs increase by 3 per cent per year, in which case it must engage in “meaningful consultation” with the committee before making any changes.

A new Staff Pension Committee would also be created, to which the University would have to submit any proposed changes to the McGill Pension Plan for review and consultation. The new committee, comprised of representatives from the University and from each employee group covered by the Plan, would also have the prerogative to make joint recommendations concerning any proposed changes to the plan.

The agreement would expire November 30, 2015.

In his email, Di Grappa said McGill has agreed to keep details of the tentative agreement confidential until MUNACA members are briefed on its contents.

“I wish to congratulate members of the bargaining teams for their hard work in achieving this agreement and to thank the conciliator,” wrote Di Grappa.

“I would also like to extend my thanks to the McGill community for their patience, dedication, and understanding during the past three months, especially to students, researchers and employees who shouldered a heavier workload,” he continued.

According to a post on the @MUNACAStrike twitter feed Wednesday night, Di Grappa’s statement “went out before our negotiators were even out of negotiations.”

“Di Grappa seems to like to ‘get the jump,’” the post continues.

According to Kalant, “The announcement put out by McGill was, in tone at least, somewhat premature.”

“It makes it sound like it’s all settled, and it’s not,” he said. “I didn’t really think that was the right way to do things.”

“They gave us the proposal for the back to work agreement and I think expected us to say, ‘Okay’ and sign,” he continued, “but we read it and saw things we didn’t like.”

Kalant said a date for the ratification meeting would not be set until the back to work protocol was finalized. The protocol was still being negotiated Friday evening, according to the union.

In his email, Di Grappa said, “This has been a long and challenging period for all of us, and the University naturally hopes for a positive vote. We look forward to welcoming our employees who are MUNACA members back to their positions and beginning the process of reintegration and reconciliation.”

MUNACA members at picket lines outside Roddick Gates said Thursday morning they had not yet received details on when the ratification meeting would take place. They said they had received an email Wednesday night informing them of the agreement and promising to keep them up to date on any developments.

One MUNACA member, who works in admissions in the Faculty of Medicine and asked to be kept anonymous, said she was happy to learn of the tentative agreement.

“I love my job, I love working for McGill, so I was hoping [the strike] would come to a conclusion, and we are at the brink of that right now,” she said.

“When we started off we didn’t think it would be that long, at least I didn’t think it would be that long, and it was getting to be a little long, because it was getting cold. Also bills, people have bills to pay, mortgages to pay,” she continued.

“Yesterday, when I was speaking with some of my colleagues, I thought…we just couldn’t take it anymore,” she added. “I’m glad that McGill has decided to, or both sides have decided to, come to an agreement.”

The MUNACA strike blog post maintained that, “Until an agreement is ratified and the back to work protocol has been agreed upon, the strike continues.”

Another MUNACA member picketing by Roddick Gates Thursday morning, an account administrator in McGill Financial Services, said she was “here for the long haul.”

“Personally I have seen a lot of injustices in McGill,” she said. “[The agreement] better be good, because I have been through too much suffering at McGill for many different injustices that go on in there, so I’m hoping this is going to be worth our while.”

“I don’t care how long it lasts,” she added.

This is the second major development in campus labour relations over the past two weeks, as last week saw the University reach an agreement with Teaching Assistants on a new contract.