Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Quiet Revolution

I was all ready to write about 2010 as a stealth issue in the Guelph negotiations, but it turns out that CUPE 3913 settled, preventing a strike.

However, you will notice that CUPE 3913 settled for a one-year deal, so Guelph is still in play for CUPE's 2010 strategy, and these issues may come up again. Further, it is still valuable to examine the role of 2010 in current contract negotiations, such as at the University of Toronto.

From the example of CUPE 3906's negotiations at McMaster, we see that CUPE chooses not to make a public issue of coordinated bargaining, in spite of the high importance attached to it by union executives. In particular, here is CUPE 3906's "bargaining update" to its members, dated April 11; and here is the summary of a solidarity rally held on May 5. From these, we read that the union's main demands concerned benefits, job security, and wages. There is no mention of contract length or coordinated bargaining.

Yet here is (allegedly) a view inside the bargaining room, written by a member of the bargaining team. We read:
... the conciliation officer told us that they did have something for us beyond the 9% over three years they were offering us, but that we'd only see it when we agreed to their 2011 contract. It was a terrible position to be in. In good conscience, we could not abandon the issues upon which the entire mobilization process had been built just to secure a two year contract. At the same time, we knew that only when all 20 000+ university sector workers align their bargaining and strikes in solidarity, and even finally bargain at the same table with the province on key issues, could our relatively small and less strong local have any chance of winning real benefits and pensions, fair wages, and job security.
So it's clear that the union executive was prepared to sacrifice gains in order to secure the contract length they wanted, despite never mentioning it in public as a bargaining issue. But there's more:
The employer moved on wages: 7% in year one, 4% in year two and 3% in year three (the same, in the first two years, as the current 3903 wage proposal, if I'm not mistaken.) The employer said, that's it, accept it or everything is off the table. We said, as we had been for months, that we would not and could not accept a three-year contract ...
Again, despite the moral dilemma from the previous quote, and the secrecy of the issue in public, in the end the union executive was perfectly willing to sacrifice gains for contract length. (It should be noted that, in the end, the union won much of what they wanted: a two-year contract and a higher wage offer.)

Now consider today's situation. To CUPE 3903's credit, they have never been coy about coordinated bargaining. On the other hand, we have a union at Guelph that never mentioned contract length in negotiations, and that ended up settling for a one-year contract, leaving themselves open to participate in coordinated bargaining. We also have a union at the University of Toronto, CUPE 3902, that is expressly bargaining for a two-year contract, but for vague reasons:
It would not be responsible for us to lock our members
into a longer-term contract negotiated in a time of
economic uncertainty as the university would like us to.
And not because you want to coordinate bargaining with your fellow CUPE locals?

Coordinated bargaining is a public issue, with implications for all university stakeholders; for this reason, it is not acceptable for union executives to hide the issue in the bargaining room. CUPE 3913 and 3902 need to come clean about their relationship with the coordinated bargaining issue.

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