Concordia back at the table

Par P.A. Sévigny le 18 septembre 2008

Just days after classes resumed at Concordia, the university’s part-time faculty association is getting ready to pull the rug out from under the administration’s feet.

“We’re still talking,” said CUPFA (Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association) president Maria Peluso, “…but time’s up. If the university doesn’t come up with a serious offer within the next few days, we’re prepared to go out on a full strike.”

Once again, the university’s administration is facing a crisis. After more than six years without a working contract, all of the university’s part-time teaching staff plan to walk out of their classrooms if the university still refuses to negotiate a new contract. Once last year’s sporadic series of rotating strikes finally convinced the university its part-time staffers were serious, the university’s administration resumed its negotiations with the CUPFA in order to avoid further trouble. However, many part-timers believe the university is still not taking them seriously and more than a few believe a strike is inevitable. Last Sunday evening, only days before Peluso is scheduled to call a strike, the university put a serious offer on the table which Peluso says “…was interesting.” While both parties support the principle of pay equity, Peluso said the discussions are now being reduced to how much the university owes its part-time staffers.

“Equity is the big issue,” said Peluso. “We’re looking for internal parity with the university’s own faculty as much as we’re looking for external equity equal to whatever part-timers at UM (Université de Montréal) and other universities are making.”

After a six year hiatus, that could be very expensive because the wage gap has become one of the big items on the table. Concordia’s part-time faculty make only $5400 for each three credit course taught over a semester while part-time staff at other universities across the country make an average of $7200 per course. As the administration neglected to deal with the issue for over 6 years, any settlement will be retro-active which invariably means the university will have to make up the difference or face a strike. Peluso also insists the administration must stop hiring full-time staff to fill in part-time staff positions.

“The university must respect its own contract,” she said. After years of labor arbitration, court dates and endless legal obfuscation, Peluso said the university is still hiring full-time staff to fill in part-time positions.

Teaching conditions are another big issue. Peluso and other working professors believe the quality of the university’s education is beginning to suffer because of excessive class size and negligible facilities. While both Peluso and the university’s administration say there is a lot of good will at the table, she also said her members are quickly running out of patience.

 “I have over a 1000 members who do not have an office where they can receive and talk to students,” she said. “They don’t even have a place where they can leave their hat and coat.”

While Chris Mota, the university’s head of media relations, said she could not comment about the university’s ongoing discussions with its part-time faculty association, she did say she was optimistic about the negotiations and their ultimate results.

“There’s a lot of good will,” she said. “…and this university will do everything in its power not to harm the education of its students.”

Mota then went on to briefly discuss the university’s financial difficulties, particularly as the university is still carrying a $4 million dollar deficit after all the efforts made to reduce expenses. Peluso said she is well aware of the university’s financial situation but she also knows the difference between Concordia’s $4 million dollar deficit and UQàM’s $300 million dollar train-wreck.

“If they’re so concerned about their deficit,” asked Peluso, “… why do they keep handing out bonus checks to their senior administrators?”

As both the university and its part-time staff continue to negotiate their new contract, both sides know there is far more at stake than money and assorted working conditions. 

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