By McGill Reporter Staff
After a strike that lasted three months, McGill and MUNACA, the union representing 1,700 support staff, reached a tentative agreement Wednesday afternoon on a new five-year contract when both sides accepted a conciliator’s report that recommended the deal.
Details will remain confidential until the union meets for a ratification vote. Before that can happen, a back-to-work protocol must be negotiated. Talks were continuing on that yesterday.
“This has been a long and challenging period for all of us, and the University naturally hopes for a positive vote,” said Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance), in a statement to the community. “We look forward to welcoming our employees who are MUNACA members back to their positions and beginning the process of reintegration and reconciliation.”
In the closing days, negotiations often continued around the clock as both sides worked to overcome a large gap on the issue of salaries and pay scales. Initially, the union was seeking a package of salary and progression improvements that would total more than 28 per cent over three years, while the University, citing the Quebec government’s current public-sector wage policy, was offering 1.2 per cent per year in salary increases over a three-year contract.
Kevin Whittaker, MUNACA’s president, wasn’t available to comment yesterday. But he told The Gazette Wednesday night that he will recommend that members ratify the accord once a return-to-work protocol is in place. The agreement contains “a number of the main objectives we wanted,” he said.
The strike, which turned bitter at times, provoked strong feelings on campus, as many students and some professors supported the union and sharply criticized the administration. Some services for students were reduced or even eliminated, although the University worked hard to deploy resources to deal with different needs as the school year progressed. While the union complained that the University had employed managers who were ineligible to perform work normally done by MUNACA employees, those complaints were dismissed at the Quebec Labour Board.
“I think everybody is really excited by the prospect of having MUNACA back at work,” said Maggie Knight, president of the Students’ Society of McGill University. “We’ve sorely missed them. (The strike) has had a major effect on students, both academically and regarding services on campus.” While details of the agreement haven’t been disclosed yet, she noted, “We all hope it’s a fair deal that really respects the work that MUNACA does.”
One flashpoint during the strike stemmed from two injunctions McGill obtained, the first to prevent picketers from blocking access to the University, to reduce noise on the picket line and to make sure sidewalks weren’t blocked by large numbers of picketers.
A second injunction established limits on the number of pickets at the homes of senior administrators as well as where and how many picketers could assemble when they picketed at McGill events off campus and at the offices of some of the members of the University’s Board of Governors.
Many saw the injunctions as an attempt to curtail free speech on campus, although a number of demonstrations were held in support of the union on the downtown campus without interference after the injunctions were obtained.
The 1,700 employees are members of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association that represents lab technicians, IT technicians, clerical staff and library assistants.
The strike began on Sept. 1, coinciding with the first day of classes. The same day, the union asked the Quebec government for the assistance of a conciliator, and McGill agreed. More than 100 issues were outstanding at the time the strike began.
The union and University had been negotiating without success since last November, and renewed talks with the help of the conciliator on Sept. 8. Talks continued sporadically through September and October, with both sides reporting little progress.
After a negotiating session on Nov. 11, the conciliator suggested that both sides take a break.
Back to the table
She called the parties back to the bargaining table on Friday, Nov. 25.
The striking support staff had been without a contract since Nov. 30, 2010. Signed in April 2009, the previous collective bargaining agreement covered a period beginning Dec. 1, 2007. Reached with the assistance of a government-appointed conciliator, that contract included nine per cent wage increase over three years and financial compensation for night and weekend work. More than 80 per cent of MUNACA members voted to accept it during a special general assembly.