News  Non-unionized workers bear brunt of budget cuts

Widespread opposition to administration’s drastic measures

For non-unionized workers at McGill, the decision to freeze wages and hiring was made unilaterally by the administration, despite employee group representatives arguing that cuts on this scale would necessarily damage working conditions and compromise the quality of the University’s core mission. 

When the McGill University Non-Academic Staff Association (MUNASA) executive, which represents roughly 500 non-unionized workers on campus, met with human resources last Tuesday, they were told point blank that wages and hiring would be frozen, and that workers would be offered early retirement packages.

“It was presented to us as what the University was going to do,” MUNASA President Ron Critchley told The Daily. “We looked at [these measures], and we said, ‘In no way can we support this, this is going to really hurt our membership.’”

The decision to freeze professors’ salaries was made by the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) executive along with a joint MAUT-administration compensation committee, and was never brought to the association’s council or membership.

MUNASA released a bulletin to its members Tuesday saying that the association “strongly [opposes] the approach put forward by the University,” which it believes will “have a profound effect upon all McGill staff and on services to students.”

“It is our conviction that not enough options have been explored to provide for an equitable solution that would have much less impact on staff morale and the operations of the University,” the bulletin continues.

In dealing with provincial cuts, McGill is taking some of the most drastic measures of Quebec universities, reiterating in several messages to the university community that it will have to slash its expenses to match government cuts in full.  In her latest message to the McGill community, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum also added September’s cancelled tuition hike to the administration’s calculus, pushing what the University needs to cut to $43 million, rather than $38 million – the actual amount withheld from McGill for this year and the next, following December’s cuts.

Université Laval, which was dealt a similar blow – $36 million in cuts for this year and the next – is taking a different approach. They will trim $3 million this year, $6 million next year, and deduct the remaining $27 million from the $1.7 billion reinvestment the province has promised in two year’s time.

A recent Montreal Gazette article quoted Laval’s vice-executive rector Éric Bauce saying that cutting $36 million would have been “impossible and unreasonable.”

Administrators say that McGill is unwilling to postpone cuts until they can be nullified by the reinvestment because it is conditional on Quebec’s economic situation.

Concordia is waiting until the end of April to make any decisions, and the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) will be dipping into its capital funds to offset the cuts – something McGill has previously said it cannot do with such high deferred-maintenance costs.

MUNASA also takes issue with the manner in which information about the cuts and the University’s financial situation has been relayed to the community. They are “really troubled,” according to Critchley, by the $1.1 million jump in non-salary savings reported by the University in their latest message to the community.

“The lack of detail in the numbers driving these decisions troubles us greatly,” MUNASA’s statement reads.

In response to MUNASA’s bulletin, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa reiterated in an email to The Daily that these measures were intended to mitigate the need for layoffs in a second round of cuts.

“This is a very difficult situation for everyone, and we understand that these measures will cause distress for some members in our community,” he said.