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

Strike Mandate Results and Context

CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Members Give Bargaining Team a Strike Mandate ~

Last week, CUPE 3906 Unit 1 members gave their bargaining team a strong mandate to continue to bargain toward a fair contract for all of us.   While it is the policy and past practice of the local to not release the breakdown of votes, but simply the result (ie: a majority of “yes” or “no”) of strike mandate votes, the elected scrutineers confirmed last  Wednesday evening that a majority of those who cast ballots voted “Yes” to the question, “do you authorize your elected bargaining team to call a strike if necessary in order to achieve a fair collective agreement?”    This is great news, as it means that we now have additional strength at the bargaining table as we enter conciliation this week.

Background to the local’s policy ~

The strike mandate vote is a legal requirement of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.  While a strong “Yes” vote helps the union’s bargaining team put pressure on the administration and may speed up the bargaining process, it is not a process that primarily benefits union members.  Rather, it primarily benefits employers.   It is a tool used by the state and employers to limit the capacity of workers and their unions to fight concessions and to improve the conditions of their work through taking strike action or undertaking other forms of labour disruption, such as rotating pickets, creative work to rule campaigns, slowdown, etc.   In other words, it is a hoop that we must jump through, and nothing more.

Employers, especially at universities, tend to use the results, whatever they may be, to divide workers (those who voted “yes” or “no” to a strike mandate), to discredit the union’s elected bargaining team, and to take the focus off of the important issues being discussed at the table, such as fair funding, benefits and working conditions.

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.

To provide a CUPE 3906 example, in 2006 members gave an 81% strike mandate, and the detailed results were released, in contravention of the policy of the local.  Overall voter turnout was a little less than 20% of the eligible voters.  This number is very high compared against the number of members who vote for student governments or in a typical university referendum, but the employer focused on how “low” the voter turnout was. They assumed that every member who did not vote was not in support of their bargaining team, which is not a statistically sound assumption.  Again, once the employer had the results of the vote, their messaging was redirected towards attacks on the union intended to divide and weaken the local, so as to avoid negotiating in good faith toward a fair contract.

In the past year, our employer has clawed back a number of existing provisions in our collective agreement.  They are attempting to erode student funding guarantees, they have increased tuition by the maximum allowable by law, they are seeking to find ways to cuts costs, including by making TAs pay for their teaching materials (such as the course textbook), and they have proposed a collective agreement that will result in reduced benefits and less take home pay for every member. Our members have told us that is unacceptable.

As one would expect, our members have given us a strike mandate. Even in the wake of a long strike at York, CUPE strikes in Toronto and Windsor, the threat of a CAW strike at McMaster, and the deep recession that hurt workers across the province, our members have clearly said, “we cannot accept less than we had before.”  They have said, “it is unfair that our contract is one of the worst in Ontario.”  They have said, “the employer has the money to provide fair funding, benefits and working conditions, and we can prove it.”

This is the only message our employer needs to hear. And they have — loud and clear.  Now it’s time to return to the table and bargain toward a fair contract. While we continue to work at the bargaining table, we must also begin to prepare for the possibility of a strike or lock-out. To be unprepared would be irresponsible, as it would jeopardize the relatively strong position in which the local finds itself following the successful strike mandate vote, and would violate our mandate of doing everything within our means to represent members in achieving their priorities in bargaining.

If we stay focused and remain united, we can win a fair contract for present and future workers in our union.


6 Responses to “Strike Mandate Results and Context”

  1. Why does CUPE 3906 Unit 1’s strike mandate policy only include one vote. Wouldn’t it be more informative for your union to vote twice. Once on the premise to give your team the right to call a strike and then once before calling a strike to canvas the interest in actually preforming a strike? It seems like a strong vote towards a strike mandate doesn’t validate holding a strike. As a former member of your union, I would have wanted to give you the right to strike, but given the circumstances I wouldn’t have voted for a strike.

  2. Oddly enough, from what I’ve heard, many TAs and RAs are still working or planning to work during the strike (me excluded of course). But I am just wondering if the voter turnout was just like the one in 2006 stated here, what would the situation be. I am sure a large portion of those who are ‘scabbing’ wanted to support the union, but they might be merely economically not well-supported (which forces them to ‘scab’).

    I support the union, but I am worried.

    • JH: I’m under the impression that the strike pay should at least make up for the pay they would get to continue working. As such, they would be able to make their decisions and be financially on equal footings.

      Can someone clarify on this please?

      • The monthly pay for a full time graduate now is $1235 or so. Many graduate students would find that working 4hrs per day is highly impractical for them, as they have their own courses and research to do; not to mention the pay is still not enough, especially for international students (whose tuition fee is so high…)

      • “Many graduate students would find that working 4hrs per day is highly impractical for them”
        By working I meant picketing. A full-time picker would get about $800 for a month.

  3. Point taken. I was not aware of the strike pay arrangement.

    Thank you for the clarification, for myself and hopefully other members as well.

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