Volume 96, Issue 58
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

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McMaster TAs prepare for strike one

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

The union representing McMaster University's 1,800 teaching assistants has decided to hold a strike vote after contract negotiations reached an impasse last week.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3906 is demanding wage increases to offset the spiralling costs caused by tuition deregulation, said Mike Skinner, chief negotiator for the union.

"It's a cost of living issue, as far as [the union] is concerned," Skinner said, adding there are many other issues on the table, including the potential workload increase caused by the double cohort and the university's call for the tuition freeze on TAs to be removed.

"They decided to take that away from us," Skinner added, referring to the tuition freeze. "They're just not listening to us."

The university has requested a provincial government conciliator to resolve the impasse, a move the union is calling unfortunate. "I preferred [the university] to continue negotiating," Skinner said.

Jerry Meadows, a senior policy advisor with the Ministry of Labour, said the conciliator can only advance negotiations provided there is bilateral support. "It's sort of up to the parties as to how much they want to accomplish," Meadows said, adding a first meeting has been set up for late January.

Even if the union wins a strike mandate, Meadows said there are still many alternatives to an actual strike. "There is no obligation that you go on strike if you come to that deadline," he said, adding both parties can stay at the bargaining table.

McMaster President Peter George said he is confident both sides can work together to reach a collective agreement with the assistance of a government conciliator.

"I have every confidence that, with the aid of a conciliator, the two bargaining teams will work hard to successfully negotiate a new agreement," George said in a statement.

Three years ago, CUPE 3906 held their first strike ever, disrupting December exams and causing traffic congestion across campus. The contract resulting from those negotiations expired on Aug. 31, 2002, requiring a new round of negotiations.

McMaster Students' Union president Evan Mackintosh said the last strike caused problems for students in tutorials and also prevented them from seeking extra help, especially during the exam period. "There is only one clear loser, [and] that's the student," Mackintosh said, adding he is optimistic concerning the outcome of the current impasse. "I do believe a strike can be averted."

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