On Mar. 26, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum released an email to the McGill community detailing the first measures that the university will take to address the Quebec government’s recent cuts to its operating budget. Among the measures were salary and hiring freezes, a reduction in the operating budgets of senior administrators’ portfolios, and a voluntary retirement program.
According to the MRO, McGill is seeking to cut back approximately $43 million—in response to the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) cancellation of the former Liberal government’s tuition increase, as well as to the budget cuts—and is initially targeting salaries.
The email lists six cost-saving initiatives, three of which affect administrative and support staff: a hiring freeze, a temporary freeze on “special salary requests,” and a voluntary retirement program for staff aged 60 and over.
Both freezes went into effect on Apr. 2. The details of the voluntary retirement program were announced the same day.
Three other measures announced in the email will take effect on May 1, including a three per cent salary cut and salary freeze for all senior administrators, a seven to nine per cent cut to “the operating budgets of the Vice-Principals’ portfolios and the Offices of the Principal and Provost,” and a one-year salary freeze for members of the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT).
In her email, Munroe-Blum explained that the administration also asked all of the other campus employee groups to accept a one-year salary freeze. MAUT is the only group that has agreed to this request so far.
In a memorandum released to its members on Mar. 25, representatives of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA)—a union which represents 1,700 non-academic employees across campus—wrote that they had discussed the proposed one-year salary freeze at a Board of Representatives meeting, and that the Board voted to reject the McGill administration’s request.
“[MUNACA’s] collective agreement remains intact and increases will be paid as scheduled in June 2013,” the memo reads.
MUNACA Vice-President Finance David Kalant told the Tribune that accepting a salary freeze would undermine MUNACA’s recent progress with regard to its agreement with the university.
“In our latest collective agreement, MUNACA finally won the type of payroll scheme—the wage grid—that other Quebec universities have had for many, many years,” he said. “I would like to point out that taking a salary freeze when the cost of living always increases amounts to a de facto salary cut.”
Justin Marleau, vice-president of teaching assistants at the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), also said that the teaching assistants’ unit of AGSEM “voted overwhelmingly” against a salary freeze.
Jaime MacLean, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), said that AMUSE’s Board of Representatives is still reviewing the administration’s request, and will announce its decision by the end of this week. However, MacLean expressed concerns about the effects of such a freeze on AMUSE’s members.
“Our members … are the lowest wage earners at the university,” she said. “A wage freeze … would be especially difficult for [those] who are students—approximately 65 per cent of our membership—as tuition is scheduled to increase by 3 per cent this fall.”
Overall, the three unions’ representatives did not express much support for the administration’s current measures to address the budget cuts. In particular, Marleau expressed concerns about the impact of the cuts on the quality of teaching at McGill.
“Spending on teaching assistants has not kept pace with increasing enrollment, exam invigilators are barely paid minimum wage, and cuts to course lecturers cannot help but impoverish course offerings,” he said.
Marleau expressed the opinion that McGill should adopt a similar system to that of Université Laval. The Quebec government had originally asked Laval to cut $36 million from its operating budget. However, the school has negotiated a plan in which it will make $3 million in cuts in 2013 and $6 million in 2014, with additional reductions to come from the government’s promised reinvestment into the university system.
Marleau said that AGSEM has been asked to meet with the administration again in April, however, the union has not yet confirmed its attendance.
Last Tuesday’s MRO notes that the university has also planned to implement “$7.5 million of suggested non-salary related cost-savings initiatives.”
McGill will implement its budget cuts in two phases, the first of which is comprised of the finalized measures detailed in the email. A second phase to the cuts, which the MRO says will likely include layoffs, will follow the first one detailed in last week’s MRO.
Kalant explained that although MUNACA members are protected by their collective agreement, those who are in the lowest 10 per cent of the seniority list do not have job security, and are therefore vulnerable to potential layoffs. MacLean and Marleau have expressed similar concerns over their members’ job security.
McGill was unavailable for comment.