CUSSU hoping for new approach to negotiations

Concordia University Support Staff Union (CUSSU) blasted the university’s President for his role in the “increasing difficulties in labour relations” in a statement released last Friday. It also said the union could “only hope that Dr. Lajeunesse’s departure will herald a new approach to labour relations on the part of senior administration.”
The union, representing Concordia’s secretaries, clerks and support staff, has been in negotiations for a collective agreement for five years, and the 450 members are currently working without a contract.
Recently, the university reached an agreement in principle with the Concordia University Union of Support Staff-Technical Sector, although it has yet to be ratified by the union membership.
CUSSU President Andre Legault stated that Claude Lajeunesse, who sits on the collective bargaining committee, “seemed determined to ignore Concordia’s unions, refusing to meet any of their representatives” and accused him of “isolating himself in his office and surrounding himself with layers of security.”
As of press time, Lajeunesse hadn’t responded and Vice-President Services, Michael Di Grappa, said he “doesn’t intend to comment on statements issued by the CUSSU executive or mobilization committee.” Di Grappa noted that CUSSU’s contract had expired two years before Lajeunesse arrived at Concordia.
In an interview on Friday, Legault said he couldn’t tell what impact Lajeunesse’s departure would have on the negotiations and acknowledged that the university’s negotiations strategy had been in place before Lajeunesse arrived. Nevertheless, he said it had been difficult to work with Lajeunesse right from the start of his mandate.
“It would have been nice to have seen him a little more open with us,” said Legault. He compared him to his predecessor, Frederick Lowy: “With Dr. Lowy, we could meet with him anytime. Almost at the drop of a hat. He was the kind of guy that you would see around campus and he was approachable and he wouldn’t ignore anybody,” said Legault last Friday.
The union has been using “pressure tactics,” such as frequent noon-hour demonstrations, holding “dress down days,” disrupting phone and fax service, pasting hearts in Lajeunesse’s office on Valentine’s Day (with “Five years without a contract is too long” and “Let’s sign now” written on them) and voted to strike last spring in order to force the school’s negotiators back to the table.
After an offer was rejected by 87 per cent of the union last February, Di Grappa, who sits on the negotiation committee, tried a new tactic of his own, emailing every member of the union in late June to urge them to accept a new offer.
The email stated: “We are offering stability to CUSSU members while allowing the University to plan and budget more effectively over the longer-term. We believe it to be a “win-win” situation.”
According to the Ministry of Labour code, it is illegal for an employer to attempt to negotiate directly with the members of a union rather than going through the union’s representatives.
Legault said that although June’s global offer was better than the February one – the contract would have expired in 2010 instead of 2007 and the salary increases were closer to what the union was looking for – “it was still something we would not have recommended to the members to adopt,” he said.
After Di Grappa sent out the email, CUSSU filed a complaint against the university that was heard before the Commission des relations du travail (CRT) Sept. 4.
The Ministry of Labour ruled in CUSSU’s favour, decreeing that the university had violated section 12 of the Labour Code, and ordered Di Grappa to send a notice “without delay” to the union’s members acknowledging the decision. Legault said Di Grappa has not yet sent the letter and he was told it was still under legal review.
CUSSU next meets with the negotiation committee on Wednesday. Legault said they will be able to decide from that point what the union’s strategy will be.


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