CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Blog
~ your issues, your process, your contract ~

Bargaining Bulletin #8 – Your Benefits will be CUT

General Membership Meeting
September 22nd from 4 – 8 PM
Location – Burridge gym and mezzanine

Your bargaining team met with the employer twice this week in the hope that the employer would acknowledge our concerns regarding the erosion of TAs’ benefits and show movement on numerous proposals. Despite the tireless efforts of your bargaining team, the employer’s bargaining team continues its stalling tactics. Two days of negotiations netted no new proposals, no new agreed items, and absolutely nothing of note this week. In fact, their single significant step was a suggestion to suspend the scheduled session for Sept 28th. What this means is that we head into our final strike mandate vote with the employer’s meagre monetary offer that was tabled on August 4th and to which they currently cling.

One critical effect of the University Administration’s proposed offer is that all of our members face an imminent reduction in benefits. Your vision care, UHIP rebate (for international student TAs), hardship and childcare funds are all paid out of one central pool of money. The problem is, based on the current rates of use, these funds have produced a combined deficit of $30,000-$70,000 in each year since our last collective agreement. That amounts to an average deficit of 30% per year. This deficit has been covered by the Union in each of the last three years, but we simply don’t have the funds to continue to cover a deficit caused by the University Administration for another three years.

We’ve told the University Administration time and time again that TAs’ basic needs cannot be met unless more money is allocated to the benefit funds. However, they’ve absolutely refused to put a single additional penny towards these funds, which do not even cover the current usage. In fact, at the bargaining table on 16 Sept, their bargaining team acknowledged that one of our proposals would save McMaster University at least $80,000 over the life of the proposed contract, but this union proposal was not worth considering because it amounts to “peanuts.” Clearly, $80,000 could cover a considerable chunk of the current deficit in our benefits funds such an amount is absolutely not peanuts to our members. Just ask an international student who has to pay an additional $750 / year in UHIP fees, or any student who needs a new pair of glasses, or a parent who has a child who needs to be in daycare while at work whether benefits amount to peanuts.

The University Administration’s refusal to budge has extended to even more preposterous items that are of minimal or no cost, but of absolute critical importance to our members. For example, they’ve refused to commit to cover the costs of desk copies of textbooks for TAs who require these books to do their teaching. For TAs stuck between providing a quality education and their own limited budgets, this may mean spending several hundred dollars just to be able to do the work they have been contracted to do.

The employer also refuses to budge on the supposed cost of administering your dental benefits. Currently, the union benefits officer does 90% of the work of processing and of administering the dental plan (such as enrollment in the family plan, opt-outs, problem resolution, etc). The University Administration is only required to add the appropriate deductions to the payroll system and provide the necessary data to the insurance company, a task completed almost entirely in September. For this “service” the University has proposed that our members continue to pay them over $30,000 per year in administration fees. Yet our benefits officer, who actually maintains the plan, gets a stipend of barely over $3000 per year for administering not only the dental plan, but also all the other benefits the union provides. This $30,000 per year combined with the $80,000 over three years would completely cover the deficit in the TAs’ benefits funds, yet the University has absolutely refused to use the money they already have to fund the benefits our members need.

All of these actions point to a hard-learned fact of negotiation with this University Administration: without the strong support of the members the Administration simply stalls negotiations and then forces a ratification vote over a terrible package of concessionary proposals. We saw this precise process perpetrated this summer to our colleagues in the CAW. Their bargaining team did not get the strong support of their members; the members returned a paltry 58% “YES” vote for their strike mandate. Consequently, the Administration capriciously cut items from their “best package” and basically bullied the CAW members into a forced vote on their “final package,” a gutted package compared to their earlier proposals at the table. While the CAW membership soundly rejected the “final package”, their negotiations are now stalled again as the University Administration continues to hold on to its “final package.”

In a complete contrast to the current CAW negotiations, our Unit 2 bargaining round last year proceeded very differently. The membership gave the bargaining team an extremely strong strike mandate of 74% and, through a process of conciliation and mediation, the University Administration and CUPE 3906 were able to reach the first fair collective agreement for our sessional faculty members, including significant improvements such as maternity leave and language that gives members more job security.

We know some of our members have expressed that they’re financially able to “suck up” the economic hurt imposed by the university in its concessionary proposals. Regardless, none of us should have to do this, and so we ask all of our members to talk to colleagues who might not have an external scholarship, who might be at the minimum guarantee for funding, or who are international students and paying over two-and-a-half times the tuition of domestic students or who are undergraduate students who are often reluctant to upset the administration and just trying to cover bills, what the effect of a loss of $300-$700 this year, $600-$1400 next year, and $900-$2100 in the following year would mean to them. We ask you not just to vote speak for yourselves, but to speak for the present and the future TAs at McMaster who will suffer under the weight of the University Administration’s package.

What we need from our membership should be absolutely crystal clear. We need you to speak in one unified voice, vote “YES” on the strike mandate vote and tell this University Administration that you care about your benefits, that you care about your working conditions, that you will not accept a contract that sees you worse off by hundreds of dollars this year, and potentially worse off by thousands of dollars per year by the end of the contract.

The bargaining team, CUPE 3906 executive and staff are absolutely unanimous in asking for every single Unit 1 member who hasn’t yet voted to come out and vote “YES” to our strike mandate vote on Sept 22nd and 23rd and to give your bargaining team the tools to negotiate a fair collective agreement.

If you have any questions, concerns, or need more information please contact the bargaining team at read up on our blog at: https://unit1bargaining.wordpress.com and feel free to drop by our office located at B108, Wentworth House. Together, we can negotiate a fair collective agreement. Divided, we will suffer the same fate as our CAW colleagues. Here’s the date and times of the next GMM so you can get informed and have your say:

General Membership Meeting
September 22nd from 4 – 8 PM
Location – Burridge gym and mezzanine

Voting following the GMM to 10 P.M. in the lobby of Wentworth House.
Voting will continue on September 23rd from 10:00am-5:00pm in the Mills Library Lobby and Thode Library Lobby.

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