On Sept. 3, part-time faculty and staff took to the streets to protest Concordia’s refusal to renew contracts with its staff. Members from 14 different unions joined together to make a statement to returning students and the administration at Concordia. Many part-time employees are tired of years of insecurity, due to a lack of contracts and feel that the university is not being reasonable in its offers.
More than 150 employees, from their respective unions, took to the streets during their lunch break to emphasize the need for the university to settle the ongoing dispute over the contracts. The banners and shouting were all part of an effort to send a message that it’s up to the university. The “ball is in their court,” so to speak, a message repeatedly echoed throughout the negotiating. Several of the 14 unions have been working for years without contracts.
In particular, one union, represented by a local branch of the SGW United Steel Workers, has been working without a contract for five years. Despite tireless negotiations, neither side is willing to come to an agreement.
One member of the unions negotiation team, David Douglas, stated that they haven’t made much progress in the years of negotiation.
For Douglas, former council member of Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, the blame can be placed on the current administration. Many members of the union feel that the university isn’t pulling its weight in terms of negotiations. The union states that they are seeking modest concessions to account for the increased cost of living and renewal of their contract. However, faced with budget cuts and reduced funding, the university doesn’t want to budge.
The announcement for the planned demonstration outside Concordia included an invitation for students or anyone wishing to join. Though on Tuesday, there did not appear to be any students who had accepted this invitation. It was not so long ago that it was the students who could be seen outside Concordia’s downtown campus yelling and waving signs. Ironically, the 2012 student demonstrations could be partly to blame for the unions woes.
Following the Parti Quebecois victory in the 2012 provincial election, Pauline Marois fulfilled her campaign promise and froze tuition. The freeze blocked the Liberals’ plan to raise tuition by $325 per year. However, the PQ’s budget eliminated the annual increase in university funding provided by the province, a major source of funding for Concordia. This cost-cutting measure meant universities would have to seek other sources of financing or risk losing cash in the long run.
The union says that they will continue to strike until the university compromises and they come to an agreement. For the 14 unions, it has been a long and hard struggle without contracts these past years. Unfortunately, due to the tight budgets and the administrations tough stance, it may be even longer. For many members of Concordia’s part-time staff “so close to a deal…so close the deal” may actually be a lot further than they would like.