Union deal struck

DANIEL McCABE | After three-and-a-half years of negotiations, MUNACA and the University have come to terms on the union's first collective agreement. MUNACA members voted on the deal earlier this month, supporting it by an overwhelming margin.

"I felt like we were finally handing in our class assignment to get marked and we received an A+," says MUNACA president Allan Youster. More than 90 per cent of the MUNACA members who voted on the deal gave it a thumbs-up. MUNACA represents about 1,350 library assistants, clerical staff, technicians, nurses and staff working in the residences or at the Gault Estate.

The deal still has to pass through one more stage before it goes into effect. In order to become legally binding in Quebec, the contract must be translated into French. The deal should become official sometime in mid-March.

The agreement will result in several major changes for MUNACA members. Their pay cheques will soon sport an increase, for one thing.

All MUNACA members will receive a 3.5 per cent raise retroactive to December. Members who aren't at the salary ceilings for their job classifications, will receive an additional one per cent increase. Members whose salaries are within .5 per cent of the salary ceilings for their jobs, will receive a .5 per cent increase instead of the one per cent raise.

Come this December, MUNACA members will earn another raise to the tune of 1.5 per cent. An additional 1.5 per cent will go to members who are not at the salary ceilings for their job classifications.

As a result of the deal, discretionary merit increases for MUNACA members will be a thing of the past.

"We conceded on that point," says Jacques Sztuke, the associate director of staff relations, "in order to maintain other things we wanted to keep in place. Supervisors were able to use merit in the past as a way to motivate staff. That's something that supervisors have lost."

"We protected employment security for MUNACA members on hard funds. That was a key point for us," says Youster.

Still, the University was able to negotiate for "some flexibility" in the area of job security, says Sztuke.

Under the new deal, the University can hire some staff in MUNACA-type jobs on contract without offering employment security. The contracts can last as long as four years and McGill can hire up to 10% of its staff in non-academic, non-managerial positions in this fashion.

Technicians or clerical staff hired on soft funds won't be eligible for employment security either. "Researchers can't make life-long commitments to people hired on [grant money]," says Sztuke.

Youster says that seniority will now play a greater role in determining who gets what position. "All things being equal, the person with greater seniority will get the job," says Youster.

"We'll have to demonstrate that the person we choose for a position is the person who best meets the defined job criteria," comments Sztuke.

The University was only willing to budge so far on that issue, says Sztuke. "It was essential for us that we could still be able to choose the most competent candidates for jobs." Seniority is now given more weight, but ability is the final arbiter in who gets hired, he adds.

Temporary vacancies in jobs will now often be posted on the Web so that MUNACA members will have more opportunities to take on temporary assignments in higher-level jobs. "That's important because that's how people get experience," says Youster.

"The most important thing we've achieved is that working conditions cannot be arbitrarily changed anymore. That's why we unionized in the first place," says Youster.

He says he has few regrets about the deal. He would have preferred that even more weight be given to seniority in deciding who gets hired for a job. He also would have liked the pay increases to have been more retroactive.

"At some point, you realize you can't go on fighting forever and that the contract that's in front of you is a pretty good one."

On the subject of retroactive pay increases, Youster says realism prevailed. "Everybody recognizes that universities in Quebec, especially McGill, are in rough shape. It just wasn't in the cards."

Sztuke says the deal will alter the nature of work at McGill.

"Supervisors will have to justify their decisions more. There will be a bit of a loss to the informality of relationships -- that's just a consequence of unionization."

Supervisors will receive training in how to manage their MUNACA staff in the wake of the agreement, Sztuke adds.

Still, he says the deal won't result in any earth-shattering changes at McGill.

"A lot of what is in [the agreement] shouldn't surprise anyone. It's generally in line with existing policies. There are no terrific changes to working conditions. People will still come to work, do their jobs and go home at the end of the day."

Youster says all MUNACA members will receive a copy of the contract. "Everybody will have it in their hands. They'll know what their rights are. The days of having a single copy of the administrative handbook, sitting on a shelf behind the boss's desk, are over."

MUNACA members aren't the only ones soon to see bigger pay cheques. The Department of Human Resources recently announced that managers, as well as clerical staff, technicians and library assistants excluded from the MUNACA bargaining unit, will receive 3.5 per cent raises, retroactive to December.