October 10, 1996

Unions united

by Eric Smith

Three of McGill's unions announced last week that they were forming a common front in their negotiations with the University.

The Union des employé-e-s de service, representing McGill's building maintenance staff, AGSEM, representing teaching assistants, and MUNACA, representing many of the University's clerical and technical workers, demonstrated together in front of the Faculty Club as members of Senate and the Board of Governors gathered for a joint meeting last week.

AGSEM spokesperson Michael Temelini said the demonstration was indicative of the "incredible level of frustration among the three unions." Representatives from the unions will continue to meet to discuss strategy as the talks progress.

The expression of solidarity will have little effect on discussions, according to Director of Human Resources Robert Savoie. "As far as we are concerned, we have three separate bargaining tables." He emphasized that the three negotiations are at "very different stages in the process."

In the teaching assistants labour dispute, McGill and AGSEM have been meeting both jointly and separately with a Quebec government-appointed conciliator throughout the summer. According to Temelini, "All non-monetary issues have been settled." But he added, "Negotiations were very slow over the summer. The University is not committed to settling the contract quickly."

Allan Youster of MUNACA claimed his union is "stalled in negotiations. Our salaries are frozen and we have had no job classifications since 1992."

According to Savoie, "A request for conciliation was made by MUNACA in late summer. We have started meeting with the same conciliator (as in AGSEM negotiations). At this point she's getting each party to identify outstanding issues."

But Savoie conceded, "Those issues are extensive. We have a long way to go."

The negotiation process with maintenance employees is at an even earlier stage. "We received demands in early September," said Savoie. "At this point it's difficult to say what the main issue is."

In a statement released by the unions to announce the common front, Youster stated the University had found $2 million for faculty increases while claiming a financial crisis. In fact, in its budget for this year, McGill has set aside an amount of $1 million for faculty salary increases as well as $1 million for merit increases and $500,000 towards the implementation of pay equity. The merit and pay equity amounts are not specific to faculty. The Department of Human Resources is giving its instructions on implementation of the merit pay plan for non-unionized staff this week. Disbursement of the amounts set aside for unionized staff is being addressed in current negotiations.

The question of salary increase set-asides for faculty is a challenge to the unions' common front. "It is a myth until proven that McGill faculty are among the least paid in Canada," argued Youster.

But according to Temelini, "If the University is committed to increasing faculty salaries to the national average, you're not going to get any disagreement from us."

Still, Temelini added, "McGill chooses to compare itself to the best-paid in Canada when it comes to salaries for faculty. With TAs, it chooses to compare itself with the worst-paid."

According to Savoie, the University is competing with the three other Montreal universities, and to a lesser extent with other Quebec universities, for TAs, whereas for faculty McGill is competing with universities across Canada and the United States.