Volume 29 - Number 15 - Thursday, April 24, 1997

Agreeing to disagree

by Daniel McCabe
Allan Youster


McGill and MUNACA (McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association) might not be able to agree about issues such as employment security, but they do see eye-to-eye on one thing-after months of talks that have failed to result in a first collective agreement, it's time to call in the arbitrator.

McGill officially filed for arbitration with the Quebec government last week. The government-appointed conciliator for McGill/MUNACA negotiations, Suzanne Therrien, informed both parties on April 9 that she believed the conciliation process had reached an impasse. MUNACA tabled its first proposal to the University in August of 1995. The conciliation process began on September 17, 1996.

"I know there has been a large sense of frustration over how long the negotiations have taken. I think everybody feels a sense of relief that we're now in the final phase of the process," says MUNACA president Allan Youster.

Robert Savoie, executive director of the Department of Human Resources, cautions that a collective agreement still isn't in sight. "It's not a quick process. It will take a few months before we even get a response from the government about whether an arbitrator will be appointed."

The government appoints conciliators to act as neutral third parties who then try to encourage two sides in a labour dispute to reach an agreement. Arbitrators have considerably more muscle--they can set the terms of an agreement if they so desire.

"When you allow a third party the power to make decisions, neither side really knows what that person will decide in the end," says Savoie.

If the government agrees to assign an arbitrator to the process, she could ask the two sides to take another crack at negotiating, or she could tell McGill and MUNACA to each make their case before her. The arbitrator could then force an agreement on both sides after considering their positions.

"The elimination of employment security for staff hired on or after June 15, 1996 remains the main outstanding issue," states a recent release from the Department of Human Resources announcing McGill's decision to seek arbitration.

"McGill is taking a very tough stance on employment security. We don't think there is any reason why staff should be divided into two camps--the haves and the have-nots," says Youster.

The MUNACA president claims that salaries are another major stumbling block.

"We're not asking to be the highest paid in Quebec, but if you look at the province's other universities, we've fallen behind. Salaries have been frozen at all the schools, but there have been merit increases at other universities. In some cases we're behind by over three percent. McGill claims that parity with other universities is a major factor in how it sets its positions, but there is nothing in McGill's offer that deals with this."

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