In my last post, I was fairly noncommittal about my feelings toward the strike. I was leaning toward supporting the strike, but I wasn’t convinced either way. Now I’m still not sure, but I mostly support the strike, and I certainly support the MUNACA members. But it’s more complicated than that. Much more complicated than that.
Let’s start with the picket line and move inward, shall we? The picket line is huge, it’s loud, it’s getting a lot of “noise support” from honking cars on Sherbrooke street, and it’s a constant reminder that something is seriously amiss at McGill. Every day when I get to school, and every day when I leave school, I’m reminded of the strike. And I try to be courteous as I cross the line; I try to go around the circle rather than through it, I try to smile and excuse myself as I walk through, but I do walk through. Here’s why: I’m a student. I’m 1) paying my own tuition, 2) working in a research lab at McGill, and 3) can’t afford to fail classes because of my previous Engineering debacle. First, my “job” at present, is to get myself through school so I can have a life. Not going to classes interferes with and quite effectively damages my chances of completing my degree at all, not to mention completing it on time. Not only will missing the first month or more of classes damage my chances of graduating, I’m not making very much money. In fact, I’m making substantially less this semester than my tuition for the same period, so failing is, if not financially ruinous for me since I live at home, pretty bad. Second, I can’t get to my job if I can’t cross the picket line. My job gives me money that I need to pay my tuition. Also, I’m not being supported during the strike by a union. I think union support is a fantastic idea, and I don’t begrudge the picketers any of the financial support they’re getting from MUNACA, but I am not supported by the same organization and shouldn’t be expected to stop attending classes or not show up to my job without that kind of support. Third, my GPA, quite frankly, is in the toilet after my harangue with Engineering. Academically, I can’t afford to fail classes.
So while I fully support the strike, I can’t afford not to cross the picket line. My non-rhetorical question for you, MUNACA, if you’re reading, is: What can I do to support the strike and the picketers (other than sending an e-mail to the McGill administration) without crossing the picket line? Should I come picket when I have free time? Should I bring the picketers coffee? Should I make signs? Noise makers? Scare crows? I’d like to help out when I can and so, I’m sure, would many other students! Quite simply, there are more than ten times more of us than there are of you. If one in ten students decide to help picket, we’ll more than double your numbers.
Let’s move in beyond the picket line though, and discuss life inside the University. The average student who is going to classes, sitting in lectures, and going home immediately after will not notice any changes. However, if you go to a doctor’s appointment, you’ll notice that some of the scheduling systems are down and are not being repaired, and the secretarial staff are not there, so some (or all, I’m not sure) of the doctors aren’t getting their charts for their appointments. Anyone who needs to resolve issues with tuition payment or other issues will find McGill’s Service Point understaffed and operating only during minimal hours. Any job that was performed by a striking worker can only be performed by the manager, and if a volunteer or anyone else is caught doing that job, there are severe financial penalties. My point is, no matter what the University says, or how many students are quoted by local newspapers as saying it’s not a big deal, the strike is making a serious dent in University life, and it’s a matter of how long the University can hold up the facade that nothing is wrong.
And, finally, let’s move all the way in to the near center of campus: the administrative building. When I looked at the main administrative building yesterday, I saw four security guards hovering around the entrance. Four. There were no students on the walkway, no picketers near the building, but four security guards guarding the entrance. The University has sent several e-mails that do a very good job of foisting most of the blame for the strike on MUNACA, but there are holes in their logic that me suspicious. Michael Di Grappa, McGill’s VP of Administration of Finance, is quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying: “I think you have to look at all elements of what makes up a compensation package – salary, benefits, pension, vacation, other time off. And if you look at all of those together, I think that you’d find that compensation at McGill is comparable and reasonable compared to other Montreal universities and other public sector organizations.” Looking at the entire compensation package together isn’t necessarily relevant. If I’m a McGill employee and you make me pay for 100% of my healthcare plan (one of the issues I’ve heard is on the table,) I don’t care how many vacation days you give me in exchange: it’s still money out of my pocket. It’s an effective pay decrease on what is already a reduced pay scale (it takes around 37 years, apparently, for a MUNACA employee to reach full pay from when they first start working.) And how do you measure what is “comparable” or “reasonable” if the details of the plans are different? What kind of benefits make up for how many vacation days? How many vacation days make up for a more slowly rising salary? There are no metrics for these things, so to say they’re “comparable” is a fallacy. But if I were getting paid as much as the VP of Administration and Finance is getting paid, I’m pretty sure I’d find this compensation to be pretty reasonable as well.
And how much does the VP of Administration and Finance get paid? I’m not sure. It seems that the only section of the McGill website that might list that information is conveniently down at the moment (probably due to the strike,) but according to an article in MacLean’s, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum makes nearly $600 thousand a year, and has the highest salary of any University administrator in Quebec. Michael Di Grappa was number 6 on the same list when he worked at Concordia, and I’m assuming (though it’s total speculation,) that he wouldn’t have left his old job for a pay cut.
So by how much have the Principal’s benefits and salary been cut? If McGill wants to win me over in this scenario, I want to know that the administration has been making “comparable” and “reasonable” cuts to its own salaries as well. I have no reason to believe that they haven’t, but if they have, then that information is conspicuously lacking from any information I’ve read from the McGill Administration. In the meantime, I’m going to keep crossing the picket line with as much deference to the picketers as I can muster.