Strike update: negotiations continue; parties in court over replacement workers, picketing tactics

Published: 29 September 2011


A message from Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance)

As reported in previous messages, we are continuing to meet with MUNACA/PSAC representatives with the assistance of a conciliator. As agreed by both parties following the conciliator’s suggestion, we are focusing for the time being on issues other than salary, pension and benefits. It is fair to say, however, that negotiations are going slowly at the moment and we have only made progress on a couple of minor issues in the most recent session.

I will say no more while this process is in place, as both parties have agreed to keep the specifics of the discussions at the negotiating table.

The conciliator, with the co-operation of the two parties, determines the timing and agenda of the meetings. Our next meeting is tomorrow. The process is currently scheduled to continue until the end of October.

Following last Friday’s report by an inspector from the Quebec Ministry of Labour on whether people performing the tasks of striking MUNACA workers are eligible to do so, McGill is before the Quebec Labour Board today to present its view that the inspector’s report contains errors of both fact and interpretation.

Meanwhile, allow me to expand upon my Monday update concerning the injunction McGill sought in connection with the MUNACA/PSAC picket line.

This injunction, which was granted late Friday afternoon and remains in effect through October 3, restricts the size of picket lines, curtails noise levels and calls for unimpeded access to our campuses.

The matter will be back before the Court on October 3 for a decision on whether it will be extended, amended or lifted.

In recent days, I have received several questions about this injunction. In some quarters, it is being portrayed as an attempt by the University to stifle free expression.

There is no place where the exchange of divergent views is more important than in the context of the University, but that is not the matter in question here. Let me reiterate why McGill took the step of applying to the Superior Court for the injunction.

As this strike proceeded, there had been increasingly more serious attempts to limit free access to and from our facilities. In some instances, this had the effect of impeding timely deliveries of perishable materials that were essential to the research activities many McGill professors and students. As well, the mass picketing tactics we saw last week on Durocher and University Streets effectively blocked the sidewalks and as a result forced some pedestrians onto the street or the bike path. In addition, a substantial number of students complained to the University that noise from the picket was hampering their ability to study and get their classwork done. These are just a few examples of the kind of actions that prompted the injunction application.

Please note that in granting our request for some clear rules about picketing that would respect our right to remain open and continue our operations, the judge has not prohibited MUNACA members from picketing nor from making their opinions known. Nor did the University seek that. Rather, the injunction places limits on how those actions are expressed.

At the same time, we have also received questions on whether students have a right to protest on campus. The Charter of Students’ Rights and Responsibilities makes clear that “every student enjoys within the University the freedoms of opinion, of expression and of peaceful assembly.” But the Code of Student Conduct goes on to describe certain limits to that right. In particular, it prohibits actions that knowingly obstruct University activities, which “include but are not limited to teaching study, administration, public service.” So, like all rights, the right to express one’s views, individually or collectively, comes with a concomitant responsibility. In this particular case, the right to peacefully protest should not impede the right of other students to study and learn, or work to be carried out.

Disputes create tension within our community. Nonetheless, we all depend on the mutual respect knowing that all employees of the University are valued colleagues, that we aim for a timely resolution of the strike and, that we act in a manner that will have us all come back together as a community once the strike is over.  There is a range of opinions within the McGill community regarding the MUNACA strike, as there is on a number of matters. It is important, however, that debate takes place in an environment of civility, honesty and respect.

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