After 15 months of tense contract negotiations with Concordia’s administration, Concordia’s full-time teachers’ union, the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA), voted with a resounding 74 per cent in favour of an unlimited strike mandate this weekend. Three-quarters of the union’s members came out to vote.
The strike mandate is not itself a strike, but it allows the union to declare one at any time with 48 hours’ notice.
After CUFA announced in late February it would vote on a strike mandate, the university offered a renewed three-year contract, termed the “global offer.”
The offer itself, as well as the fact that the university posted it online instead of meeting with the union, represent “brazen disrespect” and an attempt to undermine the negotiating process, according to a statement posted to the union’s website on Tuesday.
CUFA President Lucie Lequin said the online posting was a move designed to preemptively influence CUFA membership prior to further meetings later this month.
“It’s a desire to go around the negotiation team and influence [CUFA] membership,” she told The Daily.
The statement also critiques the offer on the grounds that it misrepresents the value of the proposed salary increases, offers steps too small given the grid compression, attempts to divide the membership by offering inequitable steps, and refuses to review parts of the salary model which have not been updated in ten years.
The vote followed 45 meetings between CUFA and the administration, which began prior to the expiration of previous contracts in May 2012. Concordia requested a government-appointed conciliator last December when it became clear that demands on both sides stood too far apart on certain issues.
The conciliator serves as an impartial third-party observer experienced in negotiations processes, with the authority to make recommendations, but not decisions.
The university declined to comment on the strike mandate or the outrage provoked by its posting of the global offer online, reiterating instead the upcoming mediation dates.
“Concordia deposited a global offer of settlement for the renewal of the collective agreement with CUFA,” Christine Mota, Concordia’s media spokesperson, told The Daily. “Our next meeting is March 18. There are two more scheduled after that.”
Lequin, however, described the later date as part of a longstanding tendency toward unavailability on the part of the university.
“For the last two weeks, the university has not been available for conciliation,” she said.
In the statement responding to the global offer on its website, CUFA executives also write that, “Despite being condemned for doing this in the past, the Employer has once again stooped to posting its global offer on the web…thereby undermining the conciliation process. That this comes when the Employer is unavailable to come to the bargaining table until March 18 makes this move all the more deplorable.”
Despite a 13 per cent pay gap between Concordia’s faculty and professors at other Canadian universities, Lequin stressed that contention between the two parties revolve in large part around non-monetary issues, such as workload, hiring procedures, working conditions, and sabbaticals, and thus have little to do with Concordia’s expected $13 million in budget cuts.
“In the collective agreement, there are only two articles that are directly monetary,” she said. “We started to negotiate those in November.”
Professors are currently working under the conditions of the expired contract until a new deal is negotiated.
As for the mandate, Lequin pointed to the university’s role in avoiding a strike.
“We don’t know [if we’ll end up striking],” she said. “It takes two to tango.”