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McMaster’s Academic Librarians have their contract up for re-negotiation this year. Collective bargaining, which began on July 22, started out smoothly but has since faced several roadblocks, according to a press release issued by the McMaster University Academic Librarians’ Association on Oct. 9.
MUALA filed for conciliation with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which brings in a conciliation officer to help mediate the disagreements between the union and the university. The union represents 24 full-time Academic Librarians who work at McMaster’s libraries.
“One of our key roles is that librarians act to support teaching, learning and research needs of the campus community. Specifically, we are supporting [students’] learning and research needs and of faculty members and other research teams. How we do it varies by the individual role that the librarian has,” said Laura Banfield, MUALA’s President and chief negotiator.
Prior to the conciliation talks, which began on Oct. 14, at a MUALA meeting with 92 percent of their membership present, all attendees voted in favour of a strike mandate.
Andrea Farquhar, McMaster’s Assistant Vice President Public Relations, said that half of the contract had been agreed on prior to conciliation talks.
Although neither the university nor the union can speak to the details of the talks, the general points of contention were addressed in MUALA’s press release. These include compensation and academic rights of Academic Librarians.
MUALA states that the employer — the university — wants to “rollback compensation and limit salaries far below inflation.”
However, Farquhar said that there are no rollbacks to compensation being proposed.
“The university has tabled salary increases exceeding inflation. That includes a combination of across-the-board increases and a merit pool that members are eligible for based on their individual performance each year,” added Farquhar.
The disagreement in interpretation between the two parties is clear, much of it founded on the meaning of “inflation” and how they individually define fair and reasonable compensation.
As for MUALA’s claim that the university is trying to remove Academic Librarians’ right to participate in academic decision-making, Farquhar commented that the meaning of this was “unclear.”
Based on previous bargaining updates on MUALA’s website, the union has shown concern about the university’s proposal to “delete substantial portions of procedures and criteria” for promotions, evaluations and other decisions, which would leave these decision entirely up to the university’s discretion.
MUALA claimed that this would seriously degrade working conditions.
When asked if the vote would mean that in the case of unsatisfactory conciliation talks the Academic Librarians would go on strike, Banfield said that the vote simply gave MUALA’s executives the ability to call for job action if the situation requires it in the future.
“Our desire it to settle things through conciliation … even once a ‘no-board’ report has been filed then there is the situation in which both sides decide to go to mediation and still try to settle things before the lockout or strike mandate is acted upon,” said Banfield.
A “no-board” report by the third party would signify that an agreement was not reached through conciliation meetings.
“The issues that we’ve raised are the ones that resonate within our population,” said Banfield.
Both parties hope the conciliation meetings will address these disagreements and help them effectively move forward with negotiations.