CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Blog
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Important Information About Unit 1 “Final Offer” Vote

Dear fellow unit 1 members,

This Sunday evening at 4pm we will convene to discuss and vote on the employer’s current offer. We have called this vote in order to send a strong message to McMaster that they must address the key issues in bargaining, issues that we, as a union, have voted time and again to insist are pivotal. Until we vote down this offer, we will see no movement on class-sizes and overwork, work for upper-year students, maintenance of our benefits, and protection from tuition increases.

We began this bargaining process by tabling a modest but comprehensive set of proposals that included no new increase in graduate TA wages. We took into consideration the general economic situation. You gave us your trust and ideas. Time and again we revised and reformed our proposals. You have been with us through the entire bargaining process. We had hoped that our local’s rejection of a ratification vote on November 1st would be enough to convince the McMaster administration they need to take our proposals seriously. We had hoped that three days of strong picket lines would be enough. Now it is clear only a decisive and formal rejection of this insulting offer will succeed in winning the contract we deserve.

There are our main issues:

1. We are seeking protection from overwork due to ballooning tutorial and lab sizes. Large tutorial and labs undermine the quality of education and our personal relationship with our students.
2. We are seeking job security for upper-year graduate students so that they have access to TA or RA work as they finish their degrees.
3. We are seeking to protect benefits. Without an increase in funding that is proportional to member usage, benefits will be cut.
4. We need some protection of our take-home income from yearly tuition increases.

For more information on all of these issues, please check out the information “annex” to this document, to be posted this evening.

If we fail to reject this offer, we will not simply be settling for the “status quo.” The university’s offer means substantial cuts in take-home pay and total compensation for almost all members of Unit 1. We cannot be intimidated by the administration’s threats to that sabotage the hard-fought agreement reached on many items if we reject this contract. This is a typical, if mean-spirited, bargaining tactic. When we reject their contract and send a clear message we cannot be bullied, we have every reason to expect that they will willing to move enough our our key issues to settle this deal and get everyone back to work.

We have kept this message short in order to be clear and concise. Please check our blog regularly for updates.

Please contact the strike office with any questions: 905-528-CUPE

Voting will commence following our meeting at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Sunday night. All members should inform themselves and participate in the discussion.

We look forward to an informed and spirited discussion on Sunday night. Se you there!

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86 Responses to “Important Information About Unit 1 “Final Offer” Vote”

    • Charles,

      As it says clearly on http://www.cupe3906.org, this wiki article says that there are three units in our local. What would make you think that there might be four?

    • In fact, the question was 3 or 2. The CUPE local 3906 website lists three units. However the 2006 bylaws only state 2. That’s why I listed on the Wiki page 3 units and added “[citation needed]” next to it.

      • Mustafa,

        I believe the reason for this discrepancy might be that unit three is fairly recent. If I remember correctly it was established only in the last two or three years. The by-laws probably have not been updated to reflect this change. That is an oversight that probably needs to be corrected at some point.

      • The bylaws were just amended in October to add Unit 3. The bylaws then have to be approved by the national union before they can go into effect. Unit 3 only got their first collective agreement ratified this summer.

    • Berniejt, that’s a very interesting document. And dare I say a misleading one? Let me explain to you why I think it is misleading.

      I don’t see anywhere where you have costed giving TAs to students who are past 2 or 4 years.

      I don’t see where you have put a dollar number on giving TAs more money depending on the number of students they deal with.

      The university’s proposal offers you the same money for benefits that you had last year. They are not proposing to take any money away.

      I have nowhere seen any document on the university website that says that tuition has gone up 8% per year for every enrolled student, which is what your -441 appears to based on. Hasn’t tuition been raised more for students first entering a program and than at a lower rate (something like 4 or 4.5% – half of what you are claiming) in their subsequent years? (If you’re not in a program, how is the tuition you pay when you start it an increase?) I’m not sure how it works for graduate students, exactly, what that is how it works for my daughter (who is a second year student).

      I hate to say this, but it is very hard not to come away with the impression that you think you have to lie to sell your position.

      • We do cost the increase in TA positions. The estimated cost is $350,000 in year 2 of the contract. This increase in TAs reduces the requirement for the administration to pay out the class size stipend, as these positions are to be created by decreasing the tutorials sizes where they are currently too large.

        Tuition has increased by 8% for domestic graduate students who are not paying discounted fees. You can verify this information using the internet archive here:
        http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.mcmaster.ca/graduate/fees.html

        We lose benefits under the university proposal because the number of members has increased over the last few years. This year we already have 2350 TAs for the fall semester and expect an additional 500-600 are expected (based on previous experience). The administration claims there are 2500 TAs last year but our membership lists (which we get from them) show there were 2700 TAs this year.

      • Derek,

        Could you comment on how much of our benefits fund is actually be used each year by the members? Is it maxed out every year? Or is there a surplus or overdraft? I’m not convinced that everyone is using all of their benefits. For example, I have perfect vision, so I don’t use any of my allotted vision benefits (Correct me if I am wrong but I think that is a CUPE funded benefit, and not GSA? I’m not 100% on this, but you get what I’m asking in any case). I assume there are people who hate going to the dentist and don’t go either. Obviously this is just my thought, and I’m not sure how the benefits fund is administered, so some clarification would be nice on this issue.

        Thanks in advance.

      • The benefits fund is currently in overdraft or what we refer to as a deficit. The money to cover this deficit has been coming out of the dues paid to the union. The typical amount of deficit has ranged from $30,000-$70,000 over the last 4 years.

        Vision, childcare, UHIP rebate and hardship are CUPE funded through the flat fund. The $150k we get from the administration gets sent to an insurance company (Prosure) that handles writing the cheques and verifying eligibility. We receive the forms in our office for reimbursement and then forward them to prosure.

        Even if you have perfect vision, you can use the benefit to get yearly eye exams (which are a good idea to spot diseases or degeneration early and cost $85.00 / year).

        Dental benefits are a proper insurance plan so its just a joint employer, employee contribution. There are no deficits here, the big issue is trying to get a contribution towards family coverage. Currently coverage for single costs employees ~$11.47 / month but coverage for a family costs ~$66 / month, which is quite a big jump.

      • Derek,

        From the McMaster University Dailynews 3 years ago today: “Graduate degree tuition fees will increase by eight per cent for level-one students and by four per cent for subsequent years.”

        Check it out at:

        http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/story.cfm?id=3996

        Is this document inaccurate? Read the whole thing, please, because it talks about the legal limitations imposed on the university as a whole in raising tuition rates.

        If this document is inaccurate, can you point me to something (not from the union) that supports your assertion?

        OK, I can understand how the extra $57/student might mostly be covered by the additional TAs. But…

        I do not see anything in the document entitled “CUPE 3906 Unit #1 Bargaining Current Package Comparison
        as of Nov. 3, 2009” and linked to by BernieJt below that addresses the $350,000 you are talking about. This is money you are asking the university to pay, and it doesn’t appear in the document you’ve provided for quick comparison of the two offers.

        But beyond that, are you saying that you think there are only 35-50 members who would qualify for a TA after their 2 or 4 years were up? Are you actually asking your members to prolong a strike for 35-50 of them?

        You have not addressed the point I made that the table implies falsely that the university’s offers will reduce its benefits payment to the union.

      • One more question, if you don’t mind, Derek. What are “discounted fees”?

  1. Dear CUPE,

    The university doesn’t care if we have one, four or twenty priorities. It only cares about the final cost per student of any proposed package. I do know how much the university is offering in terms of additional cash. BUT I don’t know how much the union is asking for or if the two sided are even close.

    If want the membership to give you a blank cheque, you should do more than simply list the priorities in these relatively vague terms. You should give a ball park figure of how much each one will end up costing McMaster.

    I think you guys are doing a great disservice in muddying the waters like this. Instead of focusing on only one parameter (money), you have four different ones. That makes it so much harder for both the university and the membership to actually know where you stand or if what you are asking for is reasonable.

    That is why I think McMaster just gave up on this bargaining process and put everything into wages. “Per hour take home pay” is something everyone can appreciate. And you know what? I would have done the same.

    COST YOUR FOUR PRIORITIES!

    • Karl K,

      Actually, the union has calculated the cost of the four priorities. This material has been published on the strike and bargaining blogs, and available for quite some time. Here is a link to just one of the forms in which the information is available:

      https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com/proposals/unions-proposals-explained-in-simple-terms/

      Anyways, it is standard in labour negotiations to discuss more than just wages. Benefits are very often a larger issue than wages, in fact. In labour negotiations involving TAs, tuition often becomes a major issue. The union is asking for nothing extraordinary, nor anything particularly cost-inhibitive to the university, especially given that it currently has a surplus.

    • berniejt, that link is pretty dated since grant-in-aid has already been taken off the table.

      The following report indicates that the university was only in a surplus because of a ONE TIME payment from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and University.

      http://www.workingatmcmaster.ca/link_doc.php?link=/med/document/CUPE-Open-Letter—Setting-the-Record-Straight-1-42.pdf

      Also, the Consolidated Budget here indicates that the University is expected to have a sizable structural deficit over the next year.

      http://www.mcmaster.ca/univsec/mtgdocs/upc/UPC_MTG_20May09.pdf

      For the record, I’m not an accountant, but those numbers seem pretty clear.

    • berniejt,

      You had me all excited there for a second. I read your reply and thought to myself, “Did I really miss it?”. So I go to the website and of course the information presented there is exactly in the form that I’ve been rallying against. How about this: I’ll give you four sentences and you fill in the blanks (simple right?). Here we go:

      The union has four key priorities. The cost breakdown is as follows:
      1. Adding money to the benefit fund will cost McMaster $______ per student per year.
      2. Increasing the undergraduate TA wage rate will cost McMaster $______ per student per year.
      3. Decreasing overwork and allowing 5th and 6th year Ph.D. student to be hired as TAs will cost McMaster $______ per student per year.
      4. Limiting the tuition increase will cost McMaster $______ per student per year.
      The total cost of the union proposal is $______ per student per year.

      Please fill in these blanks; THAT IS ALL I AM ASKING FOR!

      • Karl,

        You are right; that was not the best link. I could not find the one to which I really wanted to refer you, and give you that in its stead; mea culpa. I just did find the link, though, and here it is:

        https://unit1bargaining.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/unit_1_package_summary_nov03.pdf

        This is current as Wednesday, and provides exactly what you are asking for.

      • berniejt,

        Thank you for the link. But your answer has spawned more questions:

        1. You seem to have costed priorities 1 and 2 but not 3 and 4. On the other hand, I have noticed a very big item in the union’s package -> the $500 stipend. I am assuming that this money would go towards paying for priorities 3 and 4.

        2. It would be instructive to have a side-by-side comparison of the tuition increases that an undergraduate and a graduate student will be facing. And I am saying that because it seems that the union’s position is this: “Even though the university is welcome to raise money by increasing the tuition of undergraduate students, we are fundamentally against them doing this (on a NET basis) for graduate students.” It seems to me that you guys are implying that going forward, the undergrads will always face the brunt of the pain.

        3. For students who don’t make use of benefits, who are not overworked and who finish on time, THE UNIVERSITY’S OFFER IS ACTUALLY THE BETTER ONE! It is in the interest of many students (including myself) to vote for the university’s package.

        4. The university’s offer includes an increase in the dental plan benefits but you guys don’t seem to acknowledge that.

      • Here’s your answer:

        1) Benefits proposals:
        Union:
        Year 1 Cost: $135,000
        Year 2 Cost: $148,000

        Employer:
        Year 1 cost: $55,000 (dental to $26.75)
        Year 2 cost: $0

        2) Undergraduate wage rate:
        Union:
        Year 1 cost: $130,000
        Year 2 cost: $140,000

        Employer:
        Year 1 cost: $55,000
        Year 2 cost: $36,000

        3) Overwork
        Union: (class size stipend / 5th year funding)
        Year 1 cost: $0
        Year 2 cost: $350,000

        Employer: (no proposal)
        Year 1 cost: $0
        Year 2 cost: $0

        4) Tuition increase offset for graduate TAs:
        Union:
        Year 1 cost: $850,000
        Year 2 cost: $900,000 (assuming another 8% increase)

        Employer: (wage rate increase for grad TAs)
        Year 1 cost: $373,000
        Year 2 cost: $241,000

        Those numbers are all absolute. You can then figure out who to get those in whatever form you like.

        Derek

      • Derek, I hate to be such a pest, but about his table you’ve produced. Is the university not going to continue the extra payments for dental in the second year?

      • The tables are all done relative to the previous year. So there is no relative increase in year 2, hence its a zero. This is the standard way for analyzing collective agreement provisions.

      • So your benefit funds shortfall has been about 30-70% you say and you’re asking for an increase that looks like its almost 200% . Or am I misreading the 2 columns again?

      • Using your numbers, Derek, it looks like you are asking for 3.5 times more than the university has offered you. I gotta say, and this is your “greatly reduced” demands?

        If the offer doesn’t get ratified, this is going to be a veeeerrrrrry long strike, is my prediction, I’m sorry to say. Starting positions are usually a lot closer than that. This is really sad.

      • The reason why the sides are so far apart is the tuition increases. Take out the tuition increases and the University has actually proposed enough money to cover off most of the rest of our proposals.

        Starting positions in the academic sector are typically quite far apart. We bargain very differently than industrial sector unions because we typically try to address issues beyond the classic wages, benefits and working conditions. Thus many of these systematic change proposals are very costly and significantly inflate the starting positions.

      • OK, but I’d be surprised if faculty unions started out asking for three and half times what their universities first offered them. Maybe a big part of the problem is that you’re trying to use the labour laws as if you were a student union?

        Did you check into the tuition raises issue, from that Dailynews article? If the article is right and are you wrong, the net effect for most of you is far different than the table that Berniejt poted the link to indicates.

        And I hate to nag, but do you really think that there are so few advanced students without a TA that 35 TAs will cover it? I’m pretty sure I saw someone talking about a chronic, structural problem, but given how many of you there are, it’s hard to see how that can be if that’s all it would take to fix it.

      • Derek, I’d like to pursue this a little more, and try to explain the point I was trying to make yesterday in a little more detail.

        After months bargaining and the breakdown in negotiations with a small number of you now on the picket lines, you are still asking for at least 3.5 times what the university has offered. I say at least because I’m highly skeptical of the $350,000 you say will solve the “large” problem of people not hired after their 2nd or 4th year.

        [Just as a side note, if you’ve underestimated this by a factor of 5 – if it would actually take 175 TAs to hire them – then you’re asking for more than 5 times what you’ve been offered. Maybe that’s why you’re asking for such a big increase in benefits, because you know it will be a lot more additional people than35-50??]

        I have to wonder what you started out asking for (and I’m pretty sure you’re not going to tell me), since this is described as something like “greatly reduced”. I’m guessing, just guessing, mind you, that it probably was more than double what you’ve put on the table now.

        It really does sound like, in terms of reality, that you started out somewhere outside the galaxy and have maybe moved closer to our solar system.

        How are the university folks supposed to deal with that? By transcending planet Earth and ignoring the reality that they have budgets to work within?

      • Karl, since your respectful and carefully worded question remains unanswered, I’m assuming what has seemed to be the case all along – the bargaining team actually has no idea of the actual cost of their proposals, and are using ideology, not logic, to inform their bargaining process. I really am sorry to say this because I have great respect for the amount of work they’ve put in, but I’m confused as to why we voted for a bargaining team that can’t bargain effectively. If I had been in Canada then I don’t think I would have.
        In fairness, maybe no one really stepped up and, like me with the strike mandate vote, everyone was content to sit back lazily and let them do the hard work until we realized that something had gone wrong. I hope we’ll all learn our lesson for the next time the collective agreement is up for renegotiation.
        Pat Savage

      • Sorry, there was some kind of delay in my seeing all of these.
        Derek, I apologise for saying that you were uninformed. It does seem that these numbers are too large to be realistic demands, though.
        Oh well, I think we’re all learning a lot about this whole thing. Let’s try to move forward now.
        Pat Savage

  2. I would like to ask why we are bargaining for student’s who have surpassed the allotted time for their degree to have equal opportunity for a TAship? If you have taken longer than 2 years for your master’s or more than 4 years for your PhD, that is your own problem, and shouldn’t fall as a priority for the union membership. I understand that “s*** happens” in research, it happens to all of us, but if you can’t finish in time then you should be securing your own funding through external scholarships, with your supervisor, or with a job off-campus. Obviously, if there is a gap in TAships that need to be filled in your department, then by all means they should be yours. I don’t think it’s fair that the union is bargaining for this, and I fully understand why the university will not give in on this particular issue.

    • Average PhD completion times range from about 5.5-6.5y at McMaster, depending on dept. This average increases for those who have any non-academic obligations in their lives: parents, those who must provide care for family, those with disabilities, etc. The result is that, in many departments, students must either drop out or find non-academic employment in their final years. Sessional teaching has been cut across the sector this year, meaning that freelance or part-time academic work is not an option for most of us trying to finish our degrees. The result is that many students fail to complete their degrees when they enter this “home stretch.” It is critical that those completing their PhDs and seeking academic work (which is most often the reason for completing doctoral studies) remain in the academic workforce in order to maintain a cohesive CV and “keep their stride” in terms of scholarly research and publications. Otherwise, in an increasingly competitive academic job market, one’s chances of success narrow substantially. Arguments that one should find a job “off campus” are extremely ill-informed. Especially for those pursuing knowledge outside the professional faculties, finding temporary, part-time work that pays enough to raise a family or even the rent is extremely difficult. Further, job hunting and training, etc. takes critical time away from trying to complete a degree. It is also largely impossible for those, as I mentioned above, who have broader obligations in their lives.

      The reason McMaster does not wish to extend 5th year funding is that, even though it would likely improve degree completion rates, federal and provincial funding, as well as the ranking system for graduate schools, is based on how many students compete within a 4-year window and average completion times and only secondarily consider drop-out rates. They do not, of course, measure existential or financial hardship. The result is, effectively, that McMaster would rather see PhD candidates drop out than take 5 years.

      We have been working on this issue for many years and while some supervisors (who have ample funding) and departments have seen the light and empathize with this problem, many others do not or simply cannot for fear of crossing the administration. Focusing on this issue through collective bargaining is one of the only options left at this point. As laid-off 5th year worker myself, it seems to me that my ample teaching experience should be put to work in the classroom, rather than educating customers about their options at McDonald’s while my dissertation and research atrophy.

      • In our department there is no problem with a supervisor funding or hiring 5th or 6th year graduate students they deem to be on track academically. No one ever has a “fear of crossing the administration” so I find that assessment a bit misleading (like Peter George will hunt you down and tell you to fire someone…)

        We can’t have guaranteed 5th and 6th year TA-ships. Currently 5th and 6th TA ships can be applied for and frankly, may the best candidate win (like in the real work force). By allowing for the guarantee, departments where TAships are already hard to come by would make a stressful situation worse. Furthermore, the University has to have mechanisms to get its senior graduate students out the door…I’m sorry that this means hardship for those who have families but no one ever said that being a student was a way to make money…

        This is one of the major reasons why I can’t support CUPE on its current proposal. They are trying to regulate conditions that differ from department to department, and course to course. If they go back to the table with a more simple set of proposals (set mainly around wages and benefits) then I will absolutely vote to not ratify this contract. As for now, I continue to be baffled by our union leaders charging forward with a set of proposals that are impossible to implement and reflect only a set number of courses and departments at McMaster. I filled out the survey this summer and I don’t see my viewpoints reflected at all in the unions proposals…

      • Hi,

        Your department sounds like a model department and that sort of model is exactly what we’re looking for. While we’ve asked for a 5th year guarantee extension upon request, we’ve also made it quite clear to the administration that just having a model where members could apply for jobs would be more than sufficient. The problem has only occurred in the last 3 years as the employer removed language that gave 5th and 6th year Ph.D’s priority in positions they were qualified for (after the guaranteed pool was filled). What’s happening at the moment is departments are posting “Class B only” positions that only undergraduates can apply to. Some of these Class B only positions are for 2nd and 3rd year courses that absolutely SHOULD be taught by graduate students.

      • What’s the difference between a 4th year student teaching a 3rd year course, and a 1st year Master’s student teaching a 4th year course?

      • Answer: it depends on the situation. In some cases the difference may be minimal, however, in other cases the 4th year student may not have had the chance to obtain the breadth of knowledge that the graduate student has. Certainly nothing is hard and fast and that’s why a hiring system that prioritizes qualifications is absolutely the way to go. The problem is that, at the moment, the hiring system actually doesn’t allow qualifications to be taken into account because an large group of people is excluded from applying (5th and 6th year Ph.D’s)

      • Is a 5th year PhD student who hasn’t written chapter 1 more qualified than a 4th year PhD student who is nearly done? That wouldn’t seem to me to be the case. They certainly wouldn’t be considered more qualified for a full-time job, would they?

      • Qualifications aren’t based on how many years in the program, they’re based on experience in the area. So it depends, a 5th year PhD may be more qualified than a 4th year PhD, or they may be more qualified. That’s why an open posting and hiring process is important; it ensures the best candidates are able to apply for the positions.

      • Yes, but I gave particular circumstances, and that was what I was asking you to address.

      • If its a large group, why do your cost projections assume that $350,000 (the equivalent of about 10 positions) will cover it?

        And didn’t your proposal want seniority to count above anything else? Elsewhere you say that a 5th year student who is nowhere near finished may or may not be more qualified than a 4th year student who is nearly finished. I find this very confusing.

    • Max H,

      I understand that people have broader obligations outside of their studies, but as I stated above, that is a personal issue, not a union issue. And as an employer, it’s not McMaster’s obligation to make sure you are financially stable enough to complete your degree in whatever amount of time you want. If that were the case, how many students do you think would even try to finish on time? If the employer guaranteed TAships for lets say 6 years (the high end of the average completion time), then would the average not start creeping up to that limit and even surpass it if everyone knew they could take that long and still have a TAship? And in 5 or 6 years, will the bargaining team then ask to have positions for 7th year PhD students? And so on. The university cannot keep making it easier for students to complete their degree.

      If at this point whatever is going on outside school in your life is preventing you from finishing on time, then I would think you (or anyone else) would have to re-evaluate your choices, ie. maybe post-pone your studies until you can afford it, or find some way to make it work (loan, spousal support). I know it’s not easy, but neither is a PhD. And yes, I know taking time away from research is not looked upon favorably, but neither is taking your sweet time to finish your degree either? Do you not think an employer will question that also? Because they will. And they will take it as a sign that you are not efficient. And if you answer is “broader obligations”, they’re not going to care, because what they will care about is your productivity, and if you’re not productive and efficient, they will find someone who is.

      Please don’t take offense to these comments. Believe me, I do sympathize with how hard it is to complete a PhD (I’m in my final year currently), and how hard it is financially, and to balance life outside of work. It’s just not fair to put our personal issues on the back’s of other union members.

  3. I am so energized from the solidarity rally tonight. It was so uplifting to walk the picket line with undergraduate students (I got to chat with a former student of mine!), instructors, my fellow union members, and members from other unions. Thank you all for coming out to support us tonight. Even though my feet and ankles were sore from my 11:30 picket shift, coming back for the rally to walk with that massive crowd was AMAZING!

  4. I notice that the university’s latest email contains the gem:

    “We are pleased that CUPE 3906, unit 1 has agreed to let members of the bargaining unit vote on the University’s contract offer.”

    Is it possible to agree on something that was never an issue in the first place?

    (Since CUPE considers all dues-paying members to be union members anyway, their voting rights have always been guaranteed).

    • The point is that up until the petition was circulated the bargaining team and exec said they would NOT recommend the offer for ratification. That was made abundantly clear by the exec and bargaining team both at the meeting and numerous times throughout the blog thus far.

      • Let’s be absolutely clear: they still aren’t recommending the offer for ratification.

      • Nick: It is refreshingly liberating to look at your options, and make a decision on your OWN. Let’s stop focusing on what “they” are telling us to do.

        Let’s compare what CUPE is telling us, to what HR is telling us.

        CUPE: “reject this offer”

        HR: “We recognize the choice on whether to accept the offer is yours to make and we trust and respect your judgment. Please vote.”

        These quotes speak for themselves.

      • “scab”?,

        It is the bargaining team’s responsibility to either recommend or not recommend the offer. That’s how these things work. The bargaining team recommends that we reject it. So, yes, that is the official line from the leadership of CUPE local 3906: that this offer is not in the best interests of our members, and thus should be rejected. Personally, I am grateful to the bargaining team for their hard work on our behalf. It’s easy to backseat drive, but takes a lot more effort when you’re actually behind the wheel.

      • berniejt ,

        I don’t know about you, but I’m never satisfied to hear “that’s how these things work”. I’m sorry for having questions, and not being willing to accept something if I don’t agree with it. Your statement shows me that you’ve completely resigned your free will, and are at the mercy of whatever CUPE tells you to do. Maybe they can start telling us what to wear next. I know my mornings would be a lot more efficient if I had a shiny uniform to sport, instead of having to come up with an outfit every day.

        I’m just saying that while it may be the role of the bargaining team to fight for our “best interests” at the bargaining table (even though I didn’t ask them to, but I recognize this as a separate issue all together), when an offer is made perhaps they should let us decide for ourselves? That’s not such a crazy idea. Perhaps opinions have changed since we were last polled, perhaps we are capable of evaluating a situation on our own and don’t need the spin from CUPE. That’s all. I’ll decide what is in my best interest. This is democracy, not communism, correct?

        I’d also like to point out that it is well within my legal rights to NOT support this strike. I don’t know what you mean by “illegitimate”, but I am doing nothing wrong with respect to the law, or my personal moral compass, you may disagree with this, but I will point out (as you are so quick to do), that this is YOUR problem.

      • Fine. That’s what the bargaining team has recommended.

        We are all aware of that. But trumpeting that line as if it is a valid argument for or against ratification is another story.

        At this point the choice is up to us, it is what the membership wants and the bargaining team has no more say in the matter than there one vote each that everyone gets.

    • Never an issue? Were you at the meeting on Sunday? The bargaining team couldn’t have been more against a vote! This was a MAJOR issue, as many members felt that the strike mandate possessed by the bargaining team did not represent the true feelings of the bargaining unit (this has been discussed to death on previous posts).

      The real gem is that CUPE has spun this vote as something they’ve decided to do to show our solidarity. That’s not the case at all, it’s something we forced them to do because they have seen how many of us are against strike action!

      Strong show of support on the picket lines you say? Hmmmm… I’ve never seen more than 20 people at any given time. Let’s be nice and bump that to an average of 25 (which it is NOT), 25 individuals times 3 shifts times 2 entrances equals 150 picketers per day, at BEST. So, that’s 6% of the bargaining unit (rounded UP). Why would CUPE be asking to us to bring out our friends/family to show support? There are 2700 of us!

      • “scab”?,

        The bargaining team was against the vote because a vote was not legally necessary. In the strike mandate vote we, the members of the union, authorized them to call a strike on their behalf. Sure, a lot of people didn’t come out and vote; that’s their problem. They had the chance to speak up. Sure, a lot of people didn’t like the outcome; again, that’s their problem. The way our democracy works is that whoever shows up at the polls gets a chance to have their vote counted, and everyone–whether they came out or not–are legally bound by the results. I might not have voted for the Conservative party–heck, I might not have voted at all–in the last federal election, but I am still bound by the laws they passed. I don’t get to break their laws because I didn’t like the result, and I certainly don’t get to demand endless general elections to second-guess their decisions. The only illegitimate parts of this whole process are those who refuse to abide by the results of a legal strike mandate vote just because they don’t like the results. The grapes might sour, but they’re still the ones on the table.

      • Whether the vote was legally necessary for not, it should have taken place. What about the members who joined AFTER the strike mandate vote? They have had no say in what they want, and as members they have every right to make their vote. And what about the people who voted and have since graduated or moved on? They voted for something that would have no consequence for themselves because they were not going to be here. If the exec and bargaining team really wanted to know how ALL it’s members ACTUALLY felt, they would have had the vote in the same mann they are doing now, still saying to reject the offer. It’s not about legalities anymore, it’s about the will of the membership, which from my understanding, is the point of a union.

      • Almost no members joined after the strike mandate vote. The last vote was held on Sept 22-23 with tons of notification posted on campus, via email etc.

        Without a strike mandate vote we can’t even get a government conciliator to come to the table, the University would also have no incentive to bargain if it thought members of the bargaining unit didn’t care about the issues . So if we waited too long to take the vote, then we would have completely stalled the process. There’s a whole ton of trade offs involved, we had to weigh all the trade offs to try and find a time that works.

      • Yeah, for once I agree with Derek. You can badmouth the way the leadership has handled this all you want (I sure have!), but those of us (myself included) who didn’t vote at the strike mandate vote can’t really say we weren’t ALLOWED to vote. Sure, it would have been much more strategic for everyone involved to hold a ratification vote BEFORE we went on strike to ensure we actually wanted to, but ultimately we need to take responsibility for the way we voted on the strike mandate vote. The only way to deal with regrets from that vote now is to vote to ratify on Sunday/Monday.
        And, although it might not seem like it at times, I do appreciate all the hard work everyone is putting into this, bargaining team, executive, picketers, conscientious “scabbers”, and everyone else who’s thinking and acting on this. This whole thing may be a complete debacle, but I think we’ll all have learned some valuable lessons when it’s all over.
        Pat Savage

      • I wish for once someone from the bargaining team would discuss the embarrassing lack of picketing occurring. Scab is right, there are very few people at the gates. How many people went to the rally?

        I really do feel the union has made a tactical error here. Withdrawing services would have been enough but picketing has looked pathetic as no-one is out there and all you are doing is holding up traffic. This type of tactic was useful…..20 years ago. It wasn’t long ago being a teacher in the public school system was seen as a respected job but how often do people now just call teachers ‘overpaid’ and a lot of that is due to bitterness over constant threatening to strike. Now the TAs at Mac are not threatening all the time but the perception is there that the TAs are greedy. All this pathetic attempt at picketing has done is infuriate the students and faculty (many of whom have a lot of pull on talking graduate students into voting one way or another) to rally against the strike.

        There are labs going on all over campus and no-one at the picket lines. We have a bargaining team that, I feel, works hard and really is doing what they think is right but it is painfully obvious that the TA population doesn’t agree. What happens after Monday when this vote gets ratified and the union has to make a statement. Are they going to scold us? That sounds silly but I am serious. What happens after the student population ignores a package our representative are ‘strongly against’?

      • Sorry, I thought it was a non-issue (the “letting” people vote) for two reasons: (i) that, even though CUPE is unanimously against the current offer, it is in their best interest to ultimately get the best turnout against it (if popular opinion goes that way) and (ii) that they probably had to anyway, given the second petition circulated by Mr Savage.

        It just seems a semantic oddity to say that I “agree” on something that I am either going to do anyway, or that I have to do regardless, as though CUPE were in fact unwillling to take this to a vote, rather than just strongly recommending against it.

      • In other words: this current offer is kind of a dud, and they know it.

        Compare it to the one we got three years ago (which was ratified, but not by that much). Those were some pretty killer wage increases we were getting each year. Now we’re getting only 2/3rds of those increases (despite the university being in surplus) and our benefits are sinking (among other things).

        (If I recall, one of the main reasons that the previous, much better offer almost didn’t get ratified was because international students were getting the shaft and people in general didn’t like that all too much. This offer isn’t all that different in that regard).

      • Yep that’s totally correct. In the last contract, which was somewhat of a dud compared to the sector we got a $1 / hour wage increase in each year of a three year deal, plus 16% increase in the benefits funds per year and increases of $1/month in dental contributions. In short, we got average total compensation increases of 3% or so per year. At the time, the University also made it clear that they’d made the offer to increase wages in order to OFFSET the tuition increases. The difference this time is that the University is offering a paltry wage increase that is only a small fraction of the tuition increase. At the moment they’re offering about 2.6% in year 1 and 1.6% in year 2 in compensation, which doesn’t even come close to offsetting the tuition increase.

      • You sound like you are completely unaware of the world around you, but I’m sure that itsn’t the case.

        The university has lost millions in endowments. That means 2 things that I can think of that draw heavily on them: (1) less money for scholarships, (2) less money to contribute to half the costs for every professor who holds an endowed chair. I don’t know whether they will try to take the money for scholarships from some other part of their operating costs to maintain previous levels. But they will have to do that for the professors I mentioned because those folks all have tenure.

        The recession has left many people unemployed (or underemployed), and that reduces tax revenues. I for one am skeptical that the recession is over, largely because there is no indication of enduring recovery in the US and our economy is very dependent on theirs.

        People who have managed to hold onto their jobs in the private sector have largely received no pay or benefit improvements, or have been required to take reductions. CUPE settlements in the last few months have not been out of line with what you are being offered. You’ve complained that Mac faculty got more than you’re getting, but when was that decided? I’m betting it was more than a year ago, when things started to go south in a serious way, economically.

      • I believe you mean Mac staff (CAW 555), and their contract was settled about 2 months ago (it was just recently ratified). Similar recession arguments were made to force concessions upon them as well, and the concessions didn’t succeed.
        As for your first two paragraphs, it sounded like you were getting to a point, but I didn’t end up seeing one.

      • Allan,

        No, I was asking about the faculty.

        I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out what some of the messages are referring to (some of mine aren’t landing where I expect them to, so it isn’t always clear what I’m replying to).

        If you’re asking about my question to Derek about tuition, I’ve asked a couple of times where the 8% figure comes from. In another message I linked to a dailynews article from three years ago that said that the increase would be 8% for graduates in the first year of program (over before they began), and 4% in subsequent years. The numbers in the table berniejt linked to assumed 8% to calculate the effect on students of the university’s offer but this seems not to be the case. He hasn’t got back to me on that yet. If the union is using a wrong number if makes a big difference and should be corrected.

        In the last paragraph I was talking about the $350,000 dollars the union is saying it would cost to give students past year 2 and past 4 in their programs TAs. That only translates into 35 spots, which strikes me as not very many. If it accurately reflects the number of students who need more funding because they haven’t finished, then there aren’t many who aren’t finishing. If it isn’t an accurate reflection of those numbers, then it is an underestimation of the cost of meeting the demand to provide TAs for a longer time.

      • “similar recession arguments”

        ???

      • Your analogy is a bit tortured.

        Here is a big difference, the union is asking us, the membership to do something pretty major, basically quit our job and go walk around in circles blocking traffic for a third less pay.

        I am under absolutely ZERO obligation to either stop working or go play in traffic. I could just sign my back to work form and let the odd 100 union die hards go do as they like.

        However, I looked at the situation and realized that without my support, and the support of people in a similar situation to me you would be playing in traffic for a VERY long time. So I went about laying out a proposal for how you could convince your fellow members that strike action was needed.

        The ratification vote is a chance to convince those of us that are skeptical of the strike that it actually has support. The alternative was a long protracted strike between 6 percent of the union and the university. Something you guys would never have won.

  5. I agree Malissa, the rally last night was great! It’s really uplifting to see people from all the other Hamilton unions and some of our elected politicians come out in support. People that believe in education as a public institution, and don’t want it to be run as a business. Lots of people on the picket lines saying this too, even when they are frustrated or angry at first they understand when we explain it’s exactly that we DON’T want the wage increase Peter George is trying to make us take, we want to talk about the structural problems and they utterly refuse to talk with us. I love meeting with so many other TA’s in different areas and finding out about the kind of work we are all doing.

  6. again, i think people don’t understand the process. no one here invented unions or labour law, we have inherited the system and our place in it this way. it is an adversarial process. in a university bosses don’t always look like bosses and it’s clear workers don’t always think of themselves as workers, but this is the legal process and the way things have to happen. the union is legally bound to represent the interests of its members. that’s what it’s for, it’s not supposed to be “neutral”. it wouldn’t just be silly, it would also be against the law for our bargaining team to recommend a contract that was bad for us.

    our union also happens to be a social justice union, meaning that it doesn’t act only for its members’ pocket books but out of a general interest in the social good, and the belief that we all benefit from good and strong, healthy public institutions like education and health care. it’s also at the forefront of struggles against racism and sexism and all the other “isms”– which i think is pretty important, even though i’m sure that’s a strike against it for some of you reverse-discrimination type chaps.

    human resources is certainly not neutral either, right? they act as peter george (of the golden handshake) tells them: scrape as much money off the workers as you can. this is not a secret. i once asked our dear departed hr director murray lapp, (who was, by the way, at least a decent person and didn’t actively harass our bargaining team) about this. he confirmed that the university is, in fact, following a neoliberal model, wherein they want to reduce and eliminate obligations to all employees, from ta’s to cleaners, who they don’t owe anything but a wage. hence the outsourcing of jobs wherever they can on campus. of course, i was all huffy about this, but he just said “yes”, that’s exactly the case.

    all this is to say, i agree with the other people who said we need a sense of the history here, and the broader social tendencies. we shouldn’t be bought off by a greedy little wage increase.

    and- one more thing– thanks so much, all you folks in the know, who are bothering to answer all the snotty questions. i know it’s not your jobs, and this blog itself was kind of a gift, giving us a space to ask these questions that we sometimes to don’t get to have because people can’t their bums to the meetings. you aren’t anybody’s personal punching bags. i know this can’t be at the top of your priority list, so thanks for responding when you can, with such grace and patience! you have my respect and support.

    • You are obviously right in saying that a union should not be neutral, and this is obviously true, but they need to be open to the students and not pressure us to go along with the bargaining requests that CUPE wants. This is an unfair bias towards their own membership. If we really wanted this agreement that CUPE is suggesting, then there would be no need for them to push a “vote YES on a strike mandate” campaign, and instead the strike mandate vote would win anyways if this really were our demands.

      Instead, CUPE has become unaccountable towards its membership with a lack of transparency in regards to the strike mandate vote. With what I’m sure is a just-legal mandate vote (probably 50-60% from 30-40% of unit1, I can only assume!) and a lackluster turnout at picket lines, the union has absolutely no solid ground to stand on. I dare the union to become accountable and transparent by releasing the mandate vote numbers. How can CUPE fight for social justice when they have none of their own?

      Furthermore, a union only works if there is truly unity. If the unit 1 members are so divided, then the union itself is defunct. We would likely be better off not paying $370/yr towards a holier-than-thou union that ignores its membership, a union that is too deluded to see that they are fighting a losing battle with only a handful of the entire membership to support them.

      I can decide for myself what is best for me. Vote YES to ratify.

      • Quick clarification: union dues are only $247 / year. That money helps to pay for the administration of your benefits, the negotiation of new collective agreements etc etc. Without a union we could not expect to have the current wage rates, benefits or protections we all enjoy.

        We’d said numerous times why we didn’t release the mandate vote numbers. Its policy, determined by members and it completely makes sense. The CAW situation this summer is a perfect example of how releasing the numbers can be extremely damaging.

      • How much of that goes to CUPE national, Derek?

      • Ballpark, about 1/3 of dues goes to CUPE National. For that we get access to the strike and defence fund, a great team of national representatives who work tirelessly to help us and solidarity from other CUPE Locals from across Southern Ontario.

      • Forgive me, but I think this union is damaged enough as it is. Releasing the numbers on the strike mandate vote is not going to make it any worse then someone going out and looking at the picket lines, or looking at the number of labs/tutorials still taking place on campus.

      • I’m really curious about the strike mandate numbers. Our union uses the CAW 555 vote as an example for not releasing the numbers. Here’s the post https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/strike-mandate-results-and-context/
        to quote
        “Using a recent McMaster example, 74% of voting CAW members on the main McMaster campus voted YES to a strike mandate, but when the hospitals were included the number dropped to 58%, and the employer exploited this in the media and saw this low result as an open door to erode the pay scale, pensions and benefits of CAW members”

        So our union’s position is that the University used ALL the votes of ALL the eligible voters (58%). While our union thinks it should have only used the votes from the central campus (74%).
        So is it our union’s position that not all members are created equal. That the votes from the other locations should be excluded. Maybe next time the union should include only all the ‘yes’ votes, that way they would always have 100%. Really it sounds like if anybody is ‘spinning’ numbers, it is our union.

        Also, to further take this CAW 555 example that our union uses as justification for not telling us the numbers. THe CAW 555 also claimed to have a ‘strong strike mandate’ with 58% voting to strike. Even though the CAW constitution says that 2/3 of votes are needed.

        Link: http://www.cawlocal555.ca/doclinks/cawconstitution2003.pdf

        In my world, a union should be listening to the wants of its members not ‘spinning’ the facts and keeping ‘secrets’ from the people it is supposed to represent. If you can’t tell us ALL the facts, why should we believe anything you claim.

      • In the case of CUPE 3906 there is no on/off campus voting issue. All members are “on campus” and all of the votes were counted as one batch.

  7. Are we still able to vote any time Monday at the strike office if we can’t make the meeting?

    • Attn: mac TA

      On Monday you can vote between the hours of 10 am to 5 pm(at the Westdale office across from the Metro). Apparently the school is setting up a shuttle from campus to the Westdale office. Did you not receive that e-mail?? If you didn’t that would be worrisome…

    • 10am-5pm at the strike office. If you can’t make the meeting please make sure you read through the information on the site to get yourself informed.

  8. I don’t understand how the university can frame tuition increases as a “student issue” and wage increases as an “employment issue”, claiming that the two are completely separate. It is made clear by my pay stubs that the amount I’m paying in tuition is deducted directly from the pay I receive as a TA.

    • They don’t make you pay your tuition upfront? My daughter has to shell out before she starts. No interest-free loan for her from the university?

      • You make it sound like we’re getting a loan from the university to not pay all the tuition at once. That’s a pretty awesome spin.

      • It’s not a “spin”. If other people have to pay upfront and you don’t, you are getting the equivalent of an interest-free loan. Or do they charge you interest?

      • They don’t charge interest, its common practise for graduate students at Ontario Universities to sign a “payment agreement” which results in their tuition being deducted right off their paycheques. While you could consider it an interest free-loan, it also provides the University with a nearly 100% rate of payment without having to chase people for tuition and incur the costs of processing all those payments. So I think its a pretty even deal. Students get to pay per month, the university has an easy way to ensure near perfect payment rates with minimal costs.

      • Hi Derek,

        I hate to contradict (and I have to say, I amazed at the work you’re doing on the blog here–incredible!), but we *do* pay interest if we don’t pay it all up front.

        In solidarity,

        Shar

      • Derek IS a work machine. One has to wonder if he has a human limit to how much he can work.

        Anyways, to get back on topic, I think you guys are referring to different payment arrangements.

        If a student selects an installment plan, then is there is an interest, and a pretty steep one at that. However for graduate students there is a payroll deduction option, and that is what I believe Derek is referring to.

        Please see the link:
        http://www.mcmaster.ca/bms/finance/student/info_pa_all.html#plans

      • Thanks for the clarification, Eugene, and sorry for the misunderstanding! I don’t see where it says that there’s no interest for the payroll deduction option (though I do see that every other option does discuss interest). From what it says, though, I would assume that this option exists because the scholarship is guaranteed but cannot be distributed in a lump sum, and so it would not make a lot of sense to demand a lump sum of tuition.

        Thanks again!

        Shar

      • The university demands a lump sum of tuition from undergraduates whether they have a scholarship or not (and most of them don’t).

      • That’s nice, but the fact is that undergraduates pay up front or don’t get registered.

  9. Derek,

    I saw this question earlier (maybe in another post) but haven’t found the answer. Is there any way to have proxy votes for people who for whatever reason cannot make the voting times?

    Thanks

    • Unfortunately not, our bylaws don’t allow proxy voting of any sort due to the challenges in actually maintaining the integrity of that sort of vote. We realize this sucks for people away for research / conferences etc, and apologize for it.

      • Thanks Derek. That’s understandable. May be something to look into for the future (once this is all settled) in the interest of accessibility. Thanks for the information!

  10. People are making comparisons of voter turnout and legitimacy of the situation to that of national elections. I am not a fan of this.

    Can you imagine if only 15 % of eligible voters were responsible for electing the leaders of a nation…and then that government started acting on behalf of, essentially, only those that shared similar views. The rest of the population might start getting quite upset. They will raise their voices and make themselves heard. Protestors may appear and the leaders may wonder why they weren’t greeted as they arrive in different locations. If they look at the numbers, they may see why. They aren’t speaking for the majority. What do they do? Some stick to their guns, try to show the good sides of their policies, others change to try and meet halfway. But I cannot say I’m all that familiar with politicians saying “Well, if you didn’t vote, that’s your fault.”

    True as it may be, many people view this more as an insult rather than a criticism. And anyways, the leaders still make their choice which will then have another influence as to how they are viewed.

    Anyways, everybody do their part and make sure people vote. If they feel uninformed, direct them to the blog, and advertise the meeting Sunday.

    Make sure you have ID and proof of CUPE membership.


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