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Tug of war, Concordia style

by The Concordian January 24, 2012
Tug of war, Concordia style


Springtime is often associated with the notion of new beginnings and at Concordia, this year will be no exception. Collective agreements for some of the university’s largest unions are expiring and the time has come to head back to the negotiating table. Union contracts may seem a little dry at first glance, but if history is anything to go by, collective bargaining season is going to be anything but.

Concordia’s part-time faculty association (CUPFA) president Maria Peluso calls complicated labour disputes “a chronic pattern at Concordia.”

CUPFA will begin negotiating a new contract with the university in August 2012. Last time their agreement expired, it took seven years to finalize a new collective agreement.

“The delays are unreasonable to achieve any closure or conclusion […] and the lengthy nature of negotiations speaks to whether there is good faith in such protracted negotiations,” Peluso said.

She explained in an email that multiple campus unions complained of similar experiences, such as the university cancelling meetings at the last minute and not being properly prepared.

Extended negotiations between CUPFA and the administration began in 2002 and lasted six years, leading to a costly arbitration and rotating strikes. The conflict went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and culminated with judges ruling in CUPFA’s favour in the 2008/2009 academic year.

“What is the point of negotiating a collective agreement that is not sustainable, gets ignored, and then it costs money just to handle all the conflict and grievances?” said Peluso, referring to the extensive legal fees involved in a court case of this level.

Concordia’s full-time faculty association (CUFA) has already begun meeting with administration to develop a new collective agreement. So far things are going smoothly, but union president Lucie Lequin said it hasn’t always been that way. Generally, negotiations last six to eight months—the last time around it took CUFA two-and-a-half years.

“[The negotiator for the administration] showed a lack of organization, lack of good will, and lack of efficiency,” said Lequin. She cited the unpreparedness of the administration’s team as the main reason for the process dragging on for so long.

After two years of waiting, CUFA requested a conciliator to help them come to a solution.

Now facing another round of bargaining, Lequin said she is not hopeful, but would like to see “a real commitment to see negotiations completed in a timely fashion.”

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that CUFA and the administration have already met five times and have a schedule drawn up. “The bottom line is moving forward. The goal is to arrive at a collective agreement as soon as possible,” she said.

Mota did not want to address the past difficulties between the union and administration, calling the discussion “not fruitful.” She said the administrative negotiators are looking to the future.

“Everyone is bargaining in good faith, and fully committed,” said Mota.

Another negotiation worth keeping an eye on is the United Steelworkers local 9538, which has been without a renewed collective agreement for the past five years. Members of the USW walked out Sept.7 to show their dissatisfaction with the administration.

Concordia VP institutional relations Bram Freedman confirmed in a press release that a conciliator has already been appointed by the Quebec Ministry of Labour. Should both parties fail to come to an agreement, USW does have a strike mandate. The USW could not be reached for comment.

Definitions

Collective Agreement: the contract made between an employer and a union on behalf of all the employees.

Good Faith: legal obligation in collective bargaining in which both parties must try to reach an agreement.

Arbitration: a single arbitrator hears presentations by both sides and then issues a final and binding decision that establishes a new collective agreement.

Conciliation: a form of “outside help” which involves the appointment of a government employee known as a conciliation officer who tries to bring the two parties together.

Grievance: a wrong considered as grounds for complaint launched through official channels.

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