The Board of Representatives for the McGill University Association of Support Employees (AMUSE) held an open meeting Tuesday night for members to add input on the union’s first-ever collective agreement with McGill.
AMUSE represents 2,500 casual workers at McGill and became officially recognized as a union last December. Casual employees are part-time employees who often replace full-time staff, represented by the union McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), when they are on temporary leave of absence.
AMUSE and McGill will begin negotiations on their collective agreement March 23.
McGill Associate Vice-President (Human Resources) Lynne Gervais said that McGill employs 10 per cent of the student body as casual workers.
“[Casual workers are] the only support staff group in McGill that are not unionized, and they don’t have any benefits that MUNACA workers have,” said Fariduddin Attar, president of AMUSE. “As we get to this point right now where we have 2,500 workers, we need to have a collective agreement that includes some of the benefits that MUNACA workers have.”
“We do have specific issues that we’re fighting for with McGill that are unique to casual workers,” he added, highlighting three key issues: contracts, fair wage increases, and a push for general increases in wages.
“We do know that casual workers in UQAM and UdeM who are already unionized, they tend to get higher pay after the collective agreement, so we want to push that,” said Attar.
Attar explained that casual employees who replace full-time MUNACA workers do not recieve the same rate of pay. He noted that casual workers are often paid about $9.50 per hour – a rate Attar called “deplorable.”
According to Attar, AMUSE will wait to see what McGill presents in terms of the administration’s budgetary concerns.
“We want to see what McGill offers on the table and then work with that,” he said.
“We’re kind of in uncharted waters,” said Gervais of the upcoming negotiations. “We haven’t even had a dicussion with them yet.”
Regarding the challenges that AMUSE will face in the negotiations, Attar pointed to the diversity of the union’s membership. He said that casual employees range from employees like himself, who has worked at Printing Services for five years, to referees at the Athletic Centre working one hour a week.
“There’s no sense of solidarity that is constructed in the usual way as unions do, which is meeting in the workplace,” he said.
He identified another key obstacle to mobilization as one of “self-perception.”
“Most of the workers are students and they don’t really see themselves as workers – they see themselves primarily as students,” he said.
AMUSE has conducted outreach to casual workers over the past several months through a variety of different methods, including a newsletter sent out to all casual employees. However, the union has experienced difficulty obtaining up to date employee lists from McGill in order to send out the union’s newsletter. Until last November, the most recent list of casual employees that AMUSE had recieved was dated June 2010.
“It’s still a process, we’re still a very young union and we’re still working at developing a culture, and we’re hoping that the collective agreement and bargaining process will help that. I think it’s a matter of time,” said Attar.
AMUSE’s temporary office is located in MUNACA’s building at 3483 Peel. Attar stated that the two unions have a strong working relationship and have formed a Joint Bargaining Committee.
“We are in a very funny way interdependent on one another,” he said. “What we do is share information and share strategies.”