Article updated Dec. 6
MUNACA members voted today to ratify a new five-year contract with McGill after almost 11 months of negotiations and one semester on strike.
After an over four-hour meeting in the Palais de congrès, the union, which represents around 1,700 non-academic support staff, voted with 910 members in favour and 353 against.
MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker said he felt the union’s main demands have been met with the new agreement.
“It’s the best we could have gotten at this point,” he said. “Whether, if we had continued on strike, it would have been better, there’s no way to know. It was a very difficult fight just to get it to where we were today.”
When the strike began on September 1, the union’s main demands focused on a base salary increase for all members consistent with cost of living increases, a wage scale dictating annual salary increases for members on par with wages scales at other Quebec universities, and greater protection for pensions and benefits.
The new contract will include annual across-the-board wage increases. The contract will also implement a new wage scale, an achievement that has been deemed “historic.” On June 1, 2012, all members will move onto a wage scale with 1.5 per cent annual increases, designed so that members can reach their top salaries within 22 years. On June 1, 2015 the wage scale will be converted to 3 per cent annual increases, meaning that members should be able to reach their top salaries within 12 years.
MUNACA’s last contract provided 1 per cent annual salary increases, which, according to the union, would take members 37 years to reach their maximum salary.
David Kalant, MUNACA VP Finance, said McGill didn’t want to give a wage grid at all at first.
“They finally broke down,” he continued. “It will lower their costs a little bit to have it as a 22 step grid at first, but the point is we do reach parity with other universities by the end of the contract.”
McGill VP (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa said in an interview with The Daily Tuesday afternoon, although the grid was provincial conciliator Claire Tremblay’s recommendation, it was “based on what she observed taking place between the parties.”
“I think it’s the result of discussions between the parties,” he said. “Given that the union was prepared to talk about five years we had a little bit more room in the later years to address some of their concerns.”
Whittaker said salaries were a major issue for members during the meeting.
“People at their [wage] ceiling will not benefit as greatly as they had hoped, and as we had hoped,” he said. “Other than that, I think the rest of the package was very solid.”
Roughly 25 per cent of MUNACA members are currently at the top of their wage ceiling.
“I think in the end we achieved the consensus of the majority of our members and that’s really what it was all about,” said Whittaker.
Whittaker also said MUNACA’s bargaining team had to give in on demands over premiums.
“They should have been a lot higher than they were for evening and weekend [hours], but we pushed as hard as we could,” he said. “In the end everything balanced out, so it was a worthy cost.”
Kalant said there was also disagreement among MUNACA’s 11-person bargaining team over whether to recommend the agreement to the union’s members.
“There was a lot of discussion amongst the bargaining team, as there was today at the meeting,” he said.
“It’s not perfect. Some people would’ve liked to see more on the economic increases, and there’s definitely still work to be done at this University in terms of being treated fairly, but I think this is a very good start,” he continued.
In order to oversee benefits, the Staff Benefits Advisory Committee (SBAC) will assume new powers. The University will not be able to reduce benefits provided under benefits plans without the consent of employee associations representing a minimum of 70 per cent of the members of the plan, unless costs associated with the plan increase by 3 per cent per year, in which case it must engage in meaningful consultation with the SBAC before making any changes.
Under the new agreement, the University will no longer be able to unilaterally reduce their contribution to MUNACA’s benefits plan. In January 2010, McGill reduced its contribution to MUNACA’s benefits plan by $1 million.
For pensions, a new Staff Pensions Committee (SPC) will be created, comprised of representatives from McGill and each employee group covered by the Pension Plan. Any proposed change to the Plan must be submitted to the SPC for review and consultation.
The SPC must provide recommendations within 60 days of receiving the amendment, at which point it must submit its recommendations to the Pension Administration Committee (PAC) who will also analyze, comment, and make recommendations to the University.
The new agreement also lists essential services that will be maintained in various University units in the event of another MUNACA strike. These units are: research animals and farm animals, phytotron facilities and the MacDonald Campus greenhouse, the mental health clinic, gross anatomy, and the pathology laboratories.
A new “tuition policy” will also be in place once the new contract is signed. According to Kalant, for privately funded programs like McGill’s MBA, tuition waivers will not be available to MUNACA members or their dependents, meaning they will have to pay the full costs for the program.
Di Grappa said negotiations “moved considerably in the past couple of weeks.”
“We said from the beginning that we were looking for an agreement that was fair, reasonable and sustainable, and I believe we have that,” he continued.
The return to work protocol was the most recent sticking point between the two sides, taking two days to negotiate after the announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached.
The protocol resolved that “The parties agree to cooperate in the establishment of a healthy climate of work which is respectful of the people and the institution and work in a professional manner” and that “no disciplinary or administrative measures will be taken against an employee for any event or action that occurred during the strike.”
The strike was punctuated by a number of these incidents, including two separate injunctions McGill brought against the union.
The first injunction, secured September 23, was extended to January 21, 2012 by the Quebec Superior Court in mid-October, which was around the time that McGill secured its second injunction, which restricted picketing around senior administrator’s homes.
The rulings led the union to expand their picketing activities off campus. At one such picket of a McGill Homecoming event at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure Hotel, MUNACA strike organizer Joan O’Malley was arrested by Montreal police.
McGill was accused of using illegal scab labour after an inspection by Quebec Ministry of Labour official Thomas Hayden found 15 cases of illegal replacement work in late September. Upon review by the Commission des relations du travail several weeks later, the University was cleared of all charges.
In an October 18 email to McGill staff and students, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum accused MUNACA picketers of defacing a McGill building, hurling insults, swearing, throwing objects at senior administrators, and behaving aggressively toward alumni during Homecoming events.
Around the same time, MUNACA picketed at the MUHC Glen Yards construction site, an action that halted work for one day when construction workers refused to cross picket lines. Di Grappa deemed it an “unnecessary, provocative action” at the time.
As late as mid-November, negotiations were suspended between the two sides, both claiming they were too far apart on wage demands.
MUNACA workers can return to work tomorrow, but have a grace period until December 9. Whittaker said returning to work would be a “huge transition” for the workers.
“I know a lot of people are happy, but I also know there’s a lot of anxiety about returning to a workplace where, quite frankly, they were not welcomed in the past, and I think that’s going to put a lot of stress on members,” he said.
Whittaker said both the union and the University have agreed to make counseling services available to returning employees should they need it.
“It’s not a welcoming feeling when you know you’ve been struggling for three months with this administration, and that they truly don’t care or don’t respect what work you do,” said Whittaker.