Negotiations between TRAC and university hit a snag

The TRAC office was moved from its Bishop Street location to its new space during the reading week. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Concordia offers to negotiate an agreement for 2016-17 and 2017-18, but not next year

There isn’t a handle on the door to the new Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) office, nor a sign indicating the union’s presence in the nondescript PR building on Concordia’s downtown campus.

The TRAC office was moved from its Bishop Street location to this new space during reading week. The room is painted white and furnished with a blue couch and the desk of union president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron, which is littered with boxes full of files. The office is lit in part by a green emergency exit sign and is accessible only by pushing on the door’s emergency push bar.

A TRAC grievance officer and union member recently got trapped in the office because the door locked from the inside. In order to get them out, St-Onge-Perron had to push the emergency bar on the door, thus sounding an alarm.

This, however, is the least of St-Onge-Perron’s worries. The negotiations to sign a new collective agreement between his organization and the university hit a brick wall in March. To the union’s displeasure, the university’s administration did not instruct its negotiators to broker an agreement for the 2018-19 academic year during the current round of negotiations.

In an email to The Concordian, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said “all parties continue to negotiate and explore issues at the negotiating table.”

St-Onge-Perron said the lack of mandate for the university negotiators to discuss an agreement for 2018-19 is neither TRAC nor the university negotiators’ fault, but rather the fault of the negotiators’ “bosses.” That’s why, St-Onge-Perron explained, the union’s message to president Alan Shepard is: “Give your negotiators a good mandate.”

TRAC will protest the lack of progress on an agreement for the upcoming year on April 18 when the university’s board of governors reconvenes. The board is responsible for providing the university negotiators with a mandate, according to St-Onge Perron.

“We have to convince [the negotiators’] bosses by mobilizing,” St-Onge-Perron told The Concordian in January before the two sides began negotiating the monetary aspects of the agreements for 2016-17 and 2017-18.

When the two sides met on March 16, the offer on the table from the university only included the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years, according to St-Onge-Perron. This meant the two parties would have to start meeting again to discuss 2018-19 when the new agreement came to an end about three weeks later.

“They said, ‘No, we’re not allowed to negotiate the future,’” St-Onge-Perron recounted, referring to the university’s negotiators. “Everybody assumes we’re going to negotiate for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years since October.”

“It’s very frustrating. We told [university negotiators] it would not work. There’s no way we sign this,” St-Onge Perron said categorically. There is no set date for the two sides to meet before the April 18 board of governors meeting.

TRAC still works under an agreement that expired two years ago and whose monetary terms need to change, St-Onge-Perron explained. Namely, the union is still held back by the issue of contract splitting, which consists of teaching assistants being paid a certain wage for their time in class and a second, lower wage for marking papers.

Article 15.05 of the 2013-16 collective agreement—the one currently in use—states that “marking duties may be the object of separate marker contracts.” St-Onge-Perron argued to The Concordian that university departments are taking advantage of this clause to save money.

Nonetheless, St-Onge-Perron said the university’s negotiators recognize the departments’ use of the article is not beneficial to teaching assistants, and they are open to solving the issue.

“If we’re only negotiating the past, there’s no solution for split contracts. We at least need to negotiate the past and the future.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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