Commentary | Editorial: We like AMUSE, with qualifications

The Daily is pro-union, and pro-student initiatives that recognize flawed systems and seek to fix them. But we’re holding back on the praise for AMUSE, the proposed union for McGill’s undergraduate employees, until they explain how they plan to work and what they hope to do.

The nascent Association of McGill Undergraduate Student Employees, which made its campus debut at Activities Night, is scurrying to advertise its campaign, rally undergraduate employees, and convince at least 35 per cent of them to sign union cards. The union’s main purpose, according to organizers, is to provide protection to student employees, a luxury sadly absent from many of their work experiences at McGill.

We commend AMUSE for endeavoring to remedy the problem. Employment conditions for undergraduates at McGill are far from perfect – few things here are. No standardized wage scale exists for McGill undergraduate employees, who generally work without contracts or any real job security. It’s not right, for example, that a student working for three years in McGill’s computer store has only seen one raise, doesn’t know if she can expect – or if she even deserves – another, and is afraid to ask. Such conditions are unacceptable in any workplace, but seem prevalent among undergraduate employees here. Unionized protection could go a long way to resolving these and other problems.

But employment conditions for undergraduates are also incredibly varied. Often, the only thing that undergraduate employees have in common is that their paycheques come from McGill.

Student workers are also very unique. Most do not hold long-term employment, as they work for only one semester, or sometimes less. The Bookstore adopts a team of cash-strapped undergrads at each semester’s start, but when the book-buying rush ends, so do the their shifts. Such conditions make undergraduate employees potentially difficult to unionize. Despite these reservations, however, we know that unions can function well with similarly diverse members.

Still, we have many questions and concerns about AMUSE, which means undergraduates do as well – and that’s a problem. If formed, will the union accommodate every undergraduate employee? Will they all be forced to join? For how long will students be tied to the union past their employment terms?

These uncertainties are compounded by the fact that McGill undergraduates tend to be extremely apathetic. A free beer and pizza event that AMUSE hosted last week to attract undergraduate employees garnered few relevant guests – the Shatner Ballroom was embarrassingly empty, with AMUSE organizers and freeloading Daily editors comprising the bulk of the crowd. Over boxes of free pizza, it hit us: if student employees can’t be lured with free booze, AMUSE has some pretty lofty hurdles to clear.

Undergraduates employed at McGill need to know how AMUSE affects them, why it’s relevant, and how it may change their working conditions. Ultimately, it is up to them to decide the union’s future. Right now, we can’t say what we want that future to look like; we only know that we want it to be decided appropriately and fairly, and that it needs be decided by the people it seeks to help.

If AMUSE gets its feet off the ground – and we truly hope that it does – we urge undergraduate employees to be informed, passionate, and to simply care. AMUSE organizers need to get the word out, need to motivate students to be informed and interested. We’re all for more free beer and pizza, but we’re also for seeing AMUSE getting the chance it deserves. For now, it’s in your hands, AMUSE. Keep advertising and pushing those signing cards – it’s annoying, but it’s worth it.


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