By Steve Arnold | The Hamilton Spectator
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour has ordered an investigation into the way McMaster University has been negotiating with its lowest paid workers.
The Ministry moved Tuesday morning to seal the ballot boxes in a final offer vote being conducted at the institution.
McMaster and the Building Union of Canada are locked in a struggle over raises for the lowest-paid workers at the university. Tuesday’s vote was held under a clear threat that if workers did not accept the university’s final offer they would be fired and their jobs turned over to private contractors.
Union president Craig Bromell said such tactics are illegal.
“We complained about that and we threw everything we had into the complaint,” he said. “Now we’re just waiting for instructions from the Ministry.”
In an e-mail exchange university spokesman Gord Arbeau called the union’s complaint “unfortunate.”
“It is very unfortunate the union has delayed the counting of the votes, and for today at least, denied the employees a chance to be heard,” he wrote. “Seventy per cent of the membership took part in the vote but with this delay their wishes remain unknown. We’ll work to get the ballots counted as soon as possible so employees can have their say.”
The university has stressed repeatedly that its offer will get the employees to Hamilton’s living wage target by next year, raises pay grids, provides lump sum payments and preserves existing benefits, sick time and holidays.
Arbeau added the university has accepted an invitation to meet with the provincial mediator again on Thursday.
“As has been the case for the past eight months, we’ll be focused on securing an agreement that is fair, reasonable and allows the University to fulfil its mandate of providing the highest quality teaching, learning and research,” he wrote.
Bromell’s union represents 260 cleaning and maintenance workers at McMaster. About 180 of those workers are female cleaners and the lowest paid of them earn only $13.75 an hour – less than the $14.95 living wage identified for Hamilton.
The university has offered to bring them up to that wage by October of next year, but the union says that’s not fast enough.
Bromell said about 180 union members turned out for Tuesday’s vote.
“Everybody is trying to read into this but we’re just going to wait for the investigation,” he said. “This has to be properly investigated because you just can’t treat people like that – telling them they have to accept a bad offer or lose their jobs.”
That tactic has been soundly condemned by over 200 McMaster faculty and other staff as well as the founders of an anti-poverty coalition in the city.
Watch thespec.com for updates and see the full story in Wednesday’s Spectator.