Union Votes for Strike Mandate

Concordia’s Trade Workers Seek Better Wages

  • Photo Pierre Chauvin

  • Photo Pierre Chauvin

  • Photo Pierre Chauvin

After months of stalled negotiations with the university, the 62 trade workers at Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus voted unanimously in favour of a strike mandate on March 31.

The mandate gives them the option to strike if negotiations with Concordia’s administration continue falling apart. But for now, the workers’ representatives are still meeting with the university.

“We could strike at any moment,” said Eddie Ginocchi, Vice-President of the United Steel Workers local 9538, which represents Concordia’s trade workers. “We’re going to keep talking to the university, but we’re going to turn up the pressure tactics.”

For weeks, the trade workers have been using their lunch hour to demonstrate outside of the six buildings they maintain and repair on a daily basis. Using placards, chants and even a Vuvuzela, the tradesmen are hoping to send a clear message to Concordia’s administration.

“We’re gonna get even louder this week,” said Joe Luciano, the USW union representative for Concordia’s trade workers. “I can assure you they will hear us.”

The workers haven’t had a cost of living or salary increase since May 2007. Since that time, their contracts have expired, their workload has increased dramatically and the consumer price index has jumped by seven per cent.

In 2009, Concordia’s downtown campus continued its decade-long expansion with the opening of the MB Building. Meanwhile, at Loyola, the Genomics building and PERFORM Centre are slated to open later this year. The addition of new infrastructure has increased demand for skilled labour at Concordia. But rather than make additional hires, Ginocchi said the university’s labour pool has actually shrunk.

“Buildings [at Concordia] have sprouted up like mushrooms and there haven’t been any new hires to ease the burden,” he said.

“We’ve been running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” said Luciano. “Before I can finish one project, I get a call that says they need me somewhere else. We’re working like dogs.”

Since the summer, the university elected to bring a conciliator into negotiations with the USW, but Ginocchi remains frustrated with the process.

“You could call it a game of cat and mouse or a game of dog and cat, but either way it’s not good,” he said. “The offers we’ve been getting are insulting. […] We’re the most energy-efficient university in the province, our own administration tells us we’re the hardest-working staff in any Quebec university. But we aren’t paid like the hardest workers.”

During the initial negotiation period with university administration, the USW conducted a study examining the salaries and benefits of skilled labour in Universities across the province.

“When the administration compares us to other institutions, they include colleges and school boards,” said Ginocchi. “I say let’s compare an apple to an apple. And when you compare us to workers at other universities we’re near the bottom [in terms of salary].”

In the event of a strike, crucial parts of the university’s infrastructure would be left unattended—electricity, plumbing, and ventilation systems, to name a few—a prospect both the administration and the trade workers would like to avoid.

“We just want a fair deal. We want to feel respected,” said Luciano. “We love working here, we love to help the students however we can.”

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 29, published April 5, 2011.

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