No Two-Tiered Labour Relations

  • Graphic Paku Daoust-Cloutier

Concordia President Alan Shepard is “obsessed” with improving our school’s reputation.

He wants to shout our name off the rooftops. He wants to grab every single stranger off the street and tell them how great Concordia is—and he wants your help.

At the last Board of Governors meeting, Shepard presented the Board’s response to questions about upper administration salary increases.

Besides referring to the increases as comparable to other unionized employees (they’re not), he also justified it with a common argument from Concordia: We need competitive salaries to attract the best in order to build our reputation.

Fair enough, but it would be nice if that philosophy extended beyond the employees making six figures a year.

When it comes to changing our reputation, making this university a place where people want to work is just as important as is making it a place where people want to learn.

In fact, they’re sort of the same thing.

When our teaching and research assistants are unhappy, it sends a message to potential graduate students that this isn’t a school where they’ll be prioritized.

The quality and prestige of our graduate students could go a long way in changing the minds of people like Gazette columnist Henry Aubin, who, in a recent column calling for a two-tiered funding system, dismissed Concordia as nothing more than a degree factory.

We can’t afford to scare away a pool of excellent graduate students with hourly rates that make restaurant jobs look appealing.

But even if we bump up their paychecks, what student wants to go to a university without a reputable faculty?

It’s difficult enough for universities to convince gifted individuals to forgo the lucrative private sector for teaching. As a department head told us in a previous interview, recruiters must convince them that Concordia’s excellent work environment makes the pay cut worthwhile.

Right now, our part-time professors have a strike mandate and the full-time profs are not far behind, as their union’s executive just unanimously approved holding a strike mandate vote.

Leaders from both unions feel like they’re being ignored. That’s not exactly the great work environment department heads are trying to convey.

And there is so much behind the scenes that could make this a great place to be a student.

Concordia brags about an outstanding visual arts program, one of the best in the country. But without the technicians running everything from the wood shop to the darkrooms, that program based on practical learning could crumble.

Our basic infrastructure would crumble in a much more literal way without the hard work of our steel workers. But almost five years without a contract have made it nearly impossible for the Concordia USW to hire anyone new.

To his credit, Alan Shepard is trying to address this—sort of. Under his guidance, our human relations team has grown to address the ridiculously small number of employees we had trying to bargain with several unions all at once.

Unfortunately, it’s about a lot more than the number of people around the table. Union leaders across this university have repeatedly told us that there is a systemic lack of respect.

One went so far as to lament that they are trying to negotiate with “Joseph Stalin across the table.”

Until that culture of fundamental disrespect is shaken off, we’re never going to be the university that Shepard believes we can be.

With several unions on the verge of a strike, and even more just about ready to join them, the whole school is in a pretty precarious place.

Upper administration salaries need to be competitive—fine, point taken. But that premise is pretty hollow if we lose everything below them.

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