CUPE 3906 Postdoctoral Fellows Bargaining Blog

April 29, 2009

Bargaining Bulletin #6 – April 29 Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 6:22 pm

April 29, 2009

Dear Member,

As you know, we have been bargaining a first contract for Post-doctoral Fellows here at McMaster. We have been at the table since November, and the process has been slow – but we are close to a conclusion! While bargaining has gone smoothly in places and we have made important gains, the process has ground to a halt because the employer has not moved on four essential components of the final agreement:

  • Wage erosion protection
  • Benefits
  • Academic freedom
  • Complete participatory rights as members of the McMaster community

As part of our commitment to reach a fair settlement, we have moved significantly in our proposals, and particularly in our monetary proposals. However, we remain committed to the principles established at the beginning of the process. On April 17th we presented what we feel is the minimum package we can agree to. We met the Employer today (April 29th), but did not receive a response to our proposals. They have indicated that we will receive a comprehensive response at the next meeting on May 5th.

Today, you may have received an email from the Dean of Graduate Studies, Alison Sekuler, regarding the bargaining process. Regarding the content of “Setting the Record Straight”, the Union stands behind our earlier communications.

  • A base salary that is $15,000 below the current average sets the stage for wage concessions. Further, a wage rate that has no annual increase to match the cost of living is, in effect, concessionary.
  • The Employer has tabled no new benefits or money in any category for PDF support over a three year contract. This is a freeze. Indeed, in the context of an economic recession, it sets the stage for rollbacks if funding is reduced (please see the Employer’s package posted on our blog at ).

Dr. Sekuler also states that we have proposed language that would enable a PDF to be replaced or “bumped.” This is fundamentally and categorically inaccurate. Our top priority is job security. What we have tabled is a proposal that stipulates that in the event that laid off employees are recalled, they must be recalled in order of seniority, provided they remain qualified to do the work.

In Dr. Sekuler’s email, she implied that the Union is planning to take action without first consulting our members. Again, this is untrue. We have always, and will always, operate at the direction of our members. Throughout bargaining we have endeavoured to keep PDFs informed of our proposals, and to engage them in our decisions. Our office continues to be open and we welcome your contributions, questions and participation. Our final proposal package is available online at .

Please visit the blog, post comments and questions, and feel free to contact us. Further, in the FAQ section there is information about Conciliation, Mediation, Arbitration, Strike Votes and other elements of the bargaining process and how they work. Please ask us any questions that may arise from this – or any other- material.

We are holding a Special General Membership Meeting for Post-Doctoral Fellows on Thursday May 7th at 4pm at the Union Office (B108 Wentworth House). Please come out, see the package, ask your questions and participate in the process. Your engagement at this time is crucial!

We hope that our next meeting will be productive in resolving the remaining issues, and that conciliation (bringing in a government mediator) will not be necessary. To help us achieve a resolution, please send a letter of support to the Employer by visiting

In Solidarity;

Your Bargaining Team

CUPE 3906


April 18, 2009

Bargaining Bulletin #5 – April 17 Update

Filed under: Bargaining Bulletins,CUPE 3906,Uncategorized,Updates — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 10:29 pm

Bargaining Bulletin #5April 17 Update

April 17, 2009, saw the university administration and the union representing Post-Doctoral Fellows at McMaster University making important progress on non-monetary items, but in a continuing stalemate regarding wages, benefits and professional development supports.

Union Movement

The day saw movement on both sides, with the Union tabling modified academic freedom protections, and moving substantially on monetary items, proposing a package that includes a total compensation increase of less than 6%, including:

* a 2% wage increase (less than the university sector average of 3%)

* an employer contribution of 50% of the dental plan premium (as opposed to 100% provided at all other staff)

* a 2% RRSP contribution (as opposed to the larger contribution to pensions provided to all other staff)

* a small guarantee of $500/year for professional development support (much less than afforded to Faculty)

Employer Movement

The Employer provided meaningful language pertaining to hours of work and the job postings protocol, but retained their position of a o.o% increase to total compensation over 3 years.

Update on Remuneration

The Union had previously reported that on April 6 the Employer signaled willingness  to seek a greater monetary mandate from their principals.  We regret to inform members and supporters that they have clarified their position.  They have asked that we confirm their position that, while any increase in compensation and benefits beyond the proposed 0.0% increase over 3 years would require that they “ask” for a modified monetary mandate, they have NOT committed to “seek” such a mandate.

Next Steps

The Union’s bargaining team has made it clear, based on ongoing guidance from the Post-Doctoral Fellows we represent at the bargaining table, that we CANNOT accept a contract that freezes wages and benefits at unacceptable levels for the next 3 years.   As such, while further monetary movement may be possible depending on the will of the membership, the monetary package offered by the Union on April 17 will NOT be reduced until the Employer has provided a monetary package that at least keeps pace with inflation and the increases afforded to other McMaster staff.

Bargaining dates have been set for April 29 and May 5, 2009, and the progress on these days will indicate whether any further negotiations will be possible in the absence of a government-appointed conciliation officer.

Should a meaningful proposal be tabled by the Employer in the coming weeks, the planned end of May deadline for negotiations may still be possible.   Otherwise, negotiations will continue through the Summer, with the assistance of the Ministry of Labour, and the Union will call together members to consider all available options.

Watch this blog for updates as they unfold.

April 15, 2009

Annual Membership Meeting

Filed under: CUPE 3906,Meetings,Uncategorized,Updates — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 5:04 pm


WHEN: April 22nd, 2009, 5:30 P.M.

WHERE: Divinity College, Room 136

This is a reminder that our next GMM and Annual General Meeting will occur next Wednesday, April 22nd, at 5:30 P.M. in Divinity College room 136.

Refreshments will be provided at 5:00 P.M. and childcare costs can be covered by the local.

Since this is the Annual General Meeting, a number of important items are on the agenda, including the election of executive officers, the ratification of Unit 1 bargaining priorities and the election of a unit 1 bargaining team, and an update on the Unit 2 job cuts and Unit 3 bargaining. All members can run for executive positions, and all Unit 1 members can run for bargaining team positions.

This is one of the most important meetings of the year–please come out, vote, and have your voice heard.

April 13, 2009

April 6 Negotiations Update

Filed under: Bargaining Bulletins,CUPE 3906,Updates — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 2:28 pm

On April 6, 2009, the CUPE 3906 Unit 3 (PDF) negotiating team met with the Employer (the university administration) after a 2-week hiatus.

Though neither party tabled an amended proposals document, agreement was reached on a number of outstanding non-monetary items.

Setting aside an ongoing dispute between the parties about the Employer’s proposed “base rate” of pay for Post-Doctoral Fellows of $25,000/year, the parties have now focused attention on the total % increase in total compensation each PDF will receive this year, and beyond.

The parties discussed the framework for a financial settlement package, based on an agreed current total compensation figure.   The Employer and Union cost the total compensation (wages, benefits and support funding) to be approximately $5.5 million.   Based on this figure, each 1% increase in total compensation is calculated to be valued at $55,000, spread across the bargaining unit of 130 Post-Doctoral Fellows, or approximately approximately $423 dollars per year per member.

The Union’s most recent package proposed an increase of approximately 10-12% in the first year.  This includes a 3% wage increase, a provision to afford PDFs “employer-paid” dental coverage, benefits for PDFs with less than 1-year contracts, and small funds to ensure that all PDFs have access to guaranteed research, professional development and conference travel funding.

The Employer has proposed only to “freeze” total spending on benefits and other supports at current levels,  maintaining that they have a “status quo” mandate.   As such, for the duration of their proposed 3-year contract, they have offered a 0.0% increase to total compensation, and a $0.00 yearly increase per member for wages, benefits and funding.

Through discussions we’ve had during ongoing consultations with Post-Doctoral Fellows, the Union feels confident asserting that this offer is not acceptable.  As such, on April 6 the Union asked the Employer to seek from the Board of Governors (and specifically the Remunerations Committee) a greater monetary “envelop” for yearly increases for PDFs at McMaster, stating clearly that a yearly increase in the realm of “full percentages” was needed to allow the parties to reach a speedy and collegial resolution.

In response, the Employer stated that, as it currently has a mandate of securing a wage and benefits freeze for 3 years (“status quo”), providing even modest monetary improvements to the key areas of the contract identified by Post-Docs (such as dental premiums support and a small yearly cost of living increase) would require that the Employer’s bargaining team “ask” for increased flexibility from its “principals” to what types of improvements to the contract its allowed to offer.

It is unclear at present whether the Employer’s bargaining team will “ask for” and/or be afforded the ability to begin to bargain small monetary improvements.   Watch this blog for updates on this important question.

In the meantime, the Union is working to draft a refined proposal that includes gains in priority areas identified by Post-Docs, but that is mindful of the constraints imposed by the current economic situation.    The package will be created with vast input from Unit 3 members themselves, and will be tabled on Friday, April 17, 2009.

Following this date, negotiations will likely not resume until the administration has sought and secured some monetary flexibility (in the range of a few percentage increases per year) from the BoG Remunerations Committee, and will likely re-convene by the mid to late May.

The Union had initially set the goal of having a tentative contract for consideration by the membership by the end of May.  However, this will only be possible if the Employer returns to the table with a reasonable offer that meets the priority needs identified by PDFs in Unit 3.

Failing progress by the end of May, negotiations will continue through the Summer, and the Union will begin internal discussions as to how to most effectively proceed, and may seek the assistance of a government appointed officer to mediate the talks, so as to ensure the quickest and most fair settlement possible.

We will continue to update this site as details unfold, and expect to have a significant update following the bargaining session on scheduled for April 17, 2009.

April 5, 2009

CUPE 3906 Letter to CRA re: PDF Employment Status at McMaster

Filed under: CUPE 3906,Letters — CUPE 3906 - McMaster University @ 11:16 am

06 February 2009

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of National Revenue
555 MacKenzie Avenue, 7th Floor
Ottawa ON  K1A 0L5

Mr. William V. Baker
Commissioner – Chief Executive Officer of the CRA
555 MacKenzie Avenue – 7th Floor
Ottawa ON  K1A 0L5

Re: Post-Doctoral Fellow Status

Dear Minister Blackburn and Commissioner Baker,

I understand that the CRA is presently undergoing a broad internal review of policies pertaining to the status of Post-Doctoral Fellows (PDFs), and specifically regarding their eligibility to be issued a T2202A and to have some or all of their income qualify for tax exemption status. As the certified bargaining agent for approximately 130 PDFs at McMaster University, CUPE Local 3906 has been attentive to the ongoing discussion concerning this issue amongst various associations of PDFs and across many universities. Having reviewed the recent University of Alberta (Bekhor) appeal on the subject, and aware of the implications of the upcoming decision on the matter, I appreciate that this is indeed a complex issue. I provide the information below in hopes of assisting the CRA in developing a policy for the determination of the status of PDFs which reflects the reality of their relations to their institutions, and accounts for the nature of their labour.

While cognizant that the nature of PDF employment is diverse across and even within universities across the country, this letter shall confirm that, in the case of McMaster, the relationship between the vast majority of PDFs and the university is foremost one of employment, as distinct from that between a student and their academic programme. As is mutually recognized by the union and the employer, which are presently bargaining the first PDF collective agreement at McMaster, these relations are governed at our university by contracts of employment in which each PDF sells their labour in exchange for wages, rather than by guarantees of financial assistance for PDFs in support of their continuing academic studies.

The relationship described above is articulated and reinforced in a variety of ways. The university formally recognizes and classifies the vast majority of PDFs as “employees,” rather than as students, trainees, apprentices, or independent contractors. Further, PDFs are subject to university policies which apply to staff, rather than to those which apply to students. Additionally, as employees, PDFs are entitled to the full-time employee benefits plan, rather than the graduate student plan, and the university withholds and remits all statutory employment deductions and benefits contributions from and for PDFs. Finally, even preceding a collective agreement between the parties, there exist elaborate procedures for hiring, directing and terminating PDFs in the university’s employ.

While I will reserve comment on debates regarding the possible benefits and dangers of assigning PDFs the status of students or apprentices, rather than workers, as a labour union representing both undergraduate and graduate student workers and non-student contingent and full-time workers at McMaster, CUPE 3906 believes that all workers have the fundamental right to have their labour recognized and valued, to be remunerated fairly for their labour, and to collectively assert their labour power in an effort to secure the protections of a binding collective agreement. However well intentioned, any move to alter or mystify the status of Post-Doctoral Fellows which seeks or effects a claw-back of these fundamental rights, for example through the introduction of tuition or ancillary fees, which some have suggested may be the eventual result of a reckless blanket classification of PDFs as any category of students, would surely be to the long-term detriment of these workers, their associations and their employing institutions.

Please contact me at should you require clarification or further discussion regarding the above.


Mary Ellen Campbell – President, CUPE 3906

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