Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About a Potential Sessional Faculty/HRSMF Strike or Lockout at McMaster

STRIKE VOTE QUESTIONS:

  • What is a strike vote and why is the Union calling for one? 

It is normal for a Union to ask for a strong “strike vote” during the process of any legal contract negotiations in Canada.  In fact, CUPE 3906’s TA and RA (in lieu) and Sessional Faculty/Hourly Rated Sessional Music Faculty (HRSMF) bargaining teams have asked for a strong strike vote from its membership in virtually every single contract negotiations in the past 35+ years, and there have only ever been 2 TA and RA strikes (and 1 “wildcat” Sessional Faculty strike) since our unionization in the late 1970s. 

A strike vote is called by the Union’s bargaining team when the Union requires more leverage at the bargaining table.  Generally speaking, the bargaining team feels that it has negotiated as much as it can with the Employer, and needs to demonstrate the membership’s support for the union and the membership’s bargaining priorities before any more progress can be made. 

The exact wording of the strike vote question may vary, but it always asks the same basic question: do you authorize your bargaining team to call a strike if negotiations fail at the bargaining table?  A strong “yes” to this question with as many members voting as possible is the best scenario: it says to the Employer that they have a “last chance” to return to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith to get a deal or else the members are prepared to proceed to the “next steps” in the legal bargaining process: conciliation, mediation, and, finally, a strike.  

  • Why should we vote yes if there’s a strike vote? 

It is important to vote yes during a strike vote for a number of reasons. First of all, more people voting yes means that we’ll end up with a strong vote. In this situation, a strong vote means that we have 80 – 90 percent of the membership voting “yes”. Based on past experiences, what we’ve seen time and time again is that when we have a strong strike vote, we end up with a strong collective agreement. It sounds counter-intuitive but the stronger the strike vote, the less likely we are to go on strike. This is because a strong strike vote sends a clear message to the employer that we mean business and are not interested in dragging things out at the negotiating table. 

Secondly, voting yes in a strike vote is a great way to be involved in the collecting bargaining process so as to ensure that your union works for you. Being a Sessional Faculty and/or HRSMF automatically makes you a part of the union but that is simply not enough. This is a way for your voice to be heard and for you to be a part of the decision-making process of your union. As with so many things in life, if you do not make a decision, someone else will end up making the decision for you and more often than not, the decision made for you is not going to be one that you like. 

Finally, a strong strike vote often leads to a strong collective agreement. Paying union dues is part of being a member of the union.  Put it this way: you’re already paying dues so why not be involved? Also, you will keep paying dues in the future regardless of what kind of collective agreement we end up with. If that is the case, don’t you want to ensure that you will be paying dues towards an agreement that you’re happy with? It makes more sense to pay dues towards a collective agreement that works for you as opposed to one that negatively affects you.

  • How many strike votes are there?  What is the difference between a “strike vote” and a “strike mandate vote”?  

Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, there is only one “strike vote” (which is commonly called a “strike mandate vote”).  The strike vote/strike mandate vote asks you to give your elected bargaining team permission to call a strike in the event that the Parties reach an impasse at the bargaining table.  There is no “second” vote or additional vote required (or recognized by law) to call a strike.  

  • Who can vote in a Unit 2 (Sessional Faculty and HRSMF) strike vote? 

Only members of Unit 2 (Sessional Faculty and HRSMF) may vote in a Unit 2 strike vote.  The following members of Unit 2 may vote in a strike vote: 

  1. Members who are working as Sessional Faculty and HRSMF this term; 
  2. Members who hold an Appointment to teach as a Sessional Faculty and HRSMF from Sept 1, 2020-Aug 31, 2021;
  3. “Political” members of the union (i.e., members who have held a contract work as a Sessional Faculty and/or HRSMF in the last two academic terms—i.e., winter 2020 or spring/summer 2020).

Please note that all members require personal identification to vote.  Some members (especially those members in categories ii and iii) may require proof of membership to vote (see: next question).   

  • What do I need to vote in a strike vote? 
  1. All members must bring photo ID to vote in the strike vote.  Photo ID includes your student card, and/or a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license.  (Please note that we cannot accept health cards for privacy reasons.)  
  2. Members who are not working as Sessional Faculty and/or HRSMF in the current term should bring proof of membership to the vote.  A Sessional Faculty/HRSMF Appointment Letter is acceptable proof of membership.
  • Why is the Union sequestering ballots?  

If the polling station staff cannot find your name on our membership list (or if you fall into categories ii or iii in the “who can vote” question above), they will ask you to “sequester” your ballot.  This means that you will be asked to insert your completed ballot into a blank envelope, which you will then place into another envelope on which the polling station staff will write your name, student number, department and term in which you are, were, or will be employed as Sessional Faculty and/or HRSMF.  Sequestering ballots allows the union to include as many votes as possible because it gives the union the opportunity to verify your membership in other ways if you aren’t on this term’s membership list (e.g., by looking you up in our copies of letters of Appointment).  Once the union has verified your membership, the blank envelope containing your ballot is removed from the outside, identifying envelope, and added to a pile of other anonymous envelopes.  Once all of the sequestered ballots have been added, the scrutineers open all of the blank envelopes and count the ballots as marked.  This way, the union can be certain that you are actually eligible to vote while preserving the anonymity of your ballot.  

  • Is there proxy voting?

Proxy voting in strike votes is prohibited by law.

STRIKE QUESTIONS:

  • How likely is a strike?

It is impossible to say in advance if negotiations will break down to the extent that a strike is required. No one wants to go on strike; it’s really a last resort in the legal bargaining process.

Oddly enough, a strong strike vote with a high turn-out is the best way to avoid a strike, because it gives the bargaining team the leverage they need to make the Employer return to the table and address the membership’s proposals and priorities.

  • Are we going on strike during a pandemic? Or, what will a strike look like during a  pandemic? 

We need answers!  Some from CUPE National!

  • Can I cross a picket line for classes? Are classes still going on?

Undergraduate and Graduate Classes usually continue in the event of a strike or lockout.

Some grad classes may be held off-campus if tenured faculty choose not to cross a

picket line. The union understands that some Unit 2 members have a “dual” role as

Employees and students at McMaster. In the event of a strike or lock-out, we ask you to

cease all assigned Sessional Faculty duties and come join your colleagues on the picket

line. You may continue to go to academic classes or perform your personal academic

research if we are on strike or involved in a lockout. 

  • What do I do if my students ask me questions about a strike?

When you are in the lab or the classroom, you have a responsibility to fulfill your duties as a Sessional Faculty Member. That being said, questions may come up in conversation about the likelihood of

a strike or lockout at McMaster. Feel free to inform students that they have rights and protections in the event of a strike or lockout. These rights and protections are outlined in

McMaster University’s Policy on the “Rights and Responsibilities of Undergraduate Students During Work Stoppages that Substantially Disrupt Academic Activities.” (Please see the link to this policy [insert link].) You can also feel free to direct students to our website, www.bettermac.ca, for answers to commonly asked questions about the negotiations.

  • How much is strike pay and when does it start?

From Day 1 of a Strike, CUPE National takes on the burden of paying out strike pay and making sure that members’ benefits are maintained in the event of a strike or lockout.

Strike pay is calculated as $300 per week for 20 hours of strike duties performed per week.

It is CUPE National’s policy that members must perform 20 hours of strike duties to receive strike pay. Strike duties generally include picket line duties (however there are alternate

duties for those who cannot walk a picket line due to accessibility concerns). Strike pay is

non-taxable. Only members who are currently working as Sessional Faculty eligible

for strike pay, but everyone is welcome to show support at the picket line.

  • I’m an international student member. Is it legal for me to participate in a strike?

It’s entirely legal for international student members to participate in a strike, perform strike

duties, and/or show support for the Union during contract negotiations. Receiving strike

pay and performing strike duties are allowable under your permit to attend McMaster as a

student and worker. A strike or lockout doesn’t change the fact that McMaster University is

your Employer and/or the place where you are going to school.

  • Can I work while I’m on strike or locked out?

We ask Sessional Faculty to stop performing any and all duties that fall under your Sessional Faculty contracts in the event of a strike. Working as a Sessional Faculty while your peers are out on strike (known as “scabbing”) weakens the union’s position and actually prolongs the strike. It jeopardizes every right and protection that your peers (and Sessional Faculty members before you) have been struggling to attain for your benefit. If you do not want to walk the picket line and receive strike pay, please just stay home! Or, better yet, find out what your elected peers are fighting for and join your colleagues on the picket line. At the end of the day, you will be enjoying the rights and benefits that your peers are fighting to protect, and they can only be successful with everyone’s support and participation!

*Please note that if you hold other, non-CUPE 3906 Unit 2 job positions on campus (e.g.,

Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Postdoctoral Fellow member, UNIFOR member, hospitality staff person, etc.), you are probably contractually obligated to continue to work under the terms of your non-CUPE 3906 Unit 2 employment. That being said, you likely have provisions in your contract under which the Employer cannot ask you to perform the work of Sessional Faculty if they are on strike or locked out. If you are a Unit 1 member (TA or RA in lieu of TA) or a Unit 3 member (Postdoctoral Fellow) and have a question about your rights and responsibilities in the event of a Unit 1 strike or lockout, please contact the union at staff@cupe3906.org.

  • Can my supervisor compel me to work as a Sessional Faculty during a strike?

No. It is not legal for your supervisor, department chair, or a member of the University

Administration to compel you to perform your regular Sessional Faculty duties (or those of

other Sessional Faculty) during a legal strike or lockout. Your supervisor should know this, because:

  1. a) they are protected from “scabbing” (or performing “replacement worker” work) in the event of a strike or lockout under McMaster’s Policies and Guidelines, and likely also under the terms of their own Collective Agreement(s) or employment contract(s);

and

  1. b) the Employer usually briefs other Employees on campus (including Faculty in supervisory roles) on what is legal and what is not legal in the event of a legal strike or lockout.

If you are asked by your supervisor or your Department Chair to continue your work as a

TA/RA (in lieu) or to work as a “replacement worker” in the event of a legal strike or lockout, please let the Union know and we can help you.

  • Do I keep my benefits during a strike?

Thankfully, CUPE 3906 and CUPE National are currently able to maintain members’ benefits in the event of a strike or lock-out. If there are any changes to the administration of the benefits (e.g., where to drop off claims, etc.), we would give the membership plenty of notice of such changes.

  • What is a lockout?

The Employer has the legal right to “lockout” its workers during the negotiation process if they follow the appropriate timelines set out by the Ontario Labour Relations Act. If

McMaster University “locks out” its Sessional Faculty, all of the strike pay and benefits provisions will be in effect, and we will set up picket lines just as if we were on strike.

  • To whom do I refer questions about the negotiation process or the strike vote?

Please check out our website, www.bettermac.ca or http://cupe3906.org with any

questions you may have. If you don’t find an answer on the website, please contact our

Mobilizer, Sylvia, at mobilizer@cupe3906.org, or our Staff Representatives at staff@cupe3906.org.