Talks end in success

by Daniel McCabe

The administration and the McGill University Non-Academic Staff Association have ended their latest series of talks, this time on a decidedly positive note. "Both sides believe that they came away from these discussions with what they wanted. That's almost impossible," says MUNASA president Trevor Garland.

The result will be changes to some key policies governing the University's relationship with its managers and other "M" level non-unionized employees.

The important gain from MUNASA's standpoint concerns the University's dispute resolution policy. Introduced last year, the new policy quickly became a sore point for the staff association, which felt it diluted some of the measures previous policies put in place to protect employees experiencing difficulties at work.

The administration disagreed, arguing that the old grievance policy, while well-intentioned, led to dozens of unresolved grievances making their way into the court system-an expensive and time-consuming outcome. McGill also wanted to reinforce the notion that while it is committed to discussing policy matters with MUNASA, its relationship as an employer is with each of its employees and not with the representative staff association per se.

"We started these talks from diametrically opposite positions," said MUNASA lawyer Michael Cohen at a meeting of the association last month. "We tried to get back as many items that could be arbitrable under the new dispute resolution policy as possible."

As a result of discussions, the dispute resolution policy now covers more areas. Arbitrators can help to settle a range of disputes, but they must be guided by policies already in place-they cannot create new policies or alter existing ones.

According to Garland, MUNASA representatives will also be allowed to play a more active role in supporting "M" level employees who lodge a complaint concerning their job conditions.

From McGill's standpoint, the critical matter resolved by the successful talks relates to the University's new temporary employment policy-replacing the casual policy and term appointments policy which were previously applied to non-unionized, non-academic staff.

"It will allow greater flexibility in the area of temporary employment," says Jacques Sztuke, associate director of staff relations. Sztuke says the old casual and term appointments policies "were very restrictive" and that departments should have an easier time of hiring "M" level employees on a temporary basis.

"We will be putting measures in place to ensure that people on job relocation aren't passed over when positions open up," says Sztuke. He also cautions against treating the new policy as "a way to get around the hiring freeze."

The University and MUNASA resolved another issue related to MUNASA's membership. McGill originally wanted to prevent certain managers with sensitive job responsibilities from being a part of MUNASA. Such employees will now be able to be represented by the association, but they won't be able to hold positions of authority within MUNASA.

The successful talks were completed with the assistance of mediator Alan Gold, one of Quebec's top authorities on resolving labour disputes.

"Judge Gold is a marvellous man," says Garland. "I don't believe we would have reached an agreement without him. He was blunt and sometimes a little rude, but he was there to help us reach a deal and that's what he did."

As of last year, discussions between MUNASA and McGill take place under a new format. Talks now occur on a year-by-year basis. If either side wants to make changes to staff policies, it can put these forward and they will become the focus for talks that year. The talks themselves are limited to a three-month period. If the discussions prove to be difficult, a mediator can be appointed.

"In this instance Judge Gold was quite helpful. Next time we'll see if a mediator is necessary or not," says Sztuke. Garland endorses the current framework for talks. "I've seen discussions over a single policy go on for five years. Under this arrangement, we settled more than one difficult issue in a matter of months. I'd say that's quite an improvement."