Two weeks ago, a collective agreement was officially signed between the University and the invigilators unit of AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union, after ratification by the members of the unit earlier in May. Nearly three years in the making, contract negotiations left the AGSEM bargaining committee feeling pressured to settle for less in terms of pay and working conditions in order to move the contract forward. More insulting are the grievances that AGSEM was forced to file the week after the contract signing, regarding online postings for invigilators that contravene the new agreement.
More than one-third of McGill’s graduate students are members of AGSEM, due to work as either teaching assistants (TAs) or exam invigilators, and AGSEM’s struggles with the administration have a direct impact on each of these employees’ working conditions. Undergraduate students, in turn, should consider the noticeable difference in quality of education when a sufficient number of TAs and invigilators are available to facilitate learning and evaluations. Having an outspoken and active union only serves to better the educational environment for everyone involved.
A considerable number of undergraduates themselves are unionized as casual student employees on campus, and the importance of collective bargaining should not be underestimated. Individual students have much less bargaining power than an entire group of students. Furthermore, all students – workers or not – should be aware of their daily interactions with unionized workers, and support the betterment of working conditions for everyone on campus, whether they be TAs, Student Services staff, or custodial staff, among many others.
Two non-academic labour unions, the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) and the Service Employees Union (SEU) have encountered recent frustrations with McGill’s hiring policies in light of budget cuts. A retirement incentive program has been put in place alongside a hiring freeze, leaving some units – such as audiovisual equipment employees and internal delivery drivers – with a debilitating dearth of employees. Representatives from both MUNACA and SEU have also complained about McGill’s hiring of managers or casual workers to do the work previously done by those emptied positions (a violation of the MUNACA collective agreement and potentially of Article 39 of the Quebec Labour Code). Similar complaints have been made regarding the hiring of contract workers to fill these gaps, as contract workers are not union members and thus not protected by collective agreements. In this way, the University’s hiring undermines the work of existing campus unions.
Many students picketed and advocated in solidarity with MUNACA during its 2011 strike, in an effort to show the University that workers’ interests are inextricable from students’ interests. This show of support should extend beyond strike actions, as unions are always in the process of advocating for their members.
It is imperative that students who are in unions take it upon themselves to become aware of and involved with the work of their unions. With more participation, unions can better advocate and become a stronger force within the community – one that disallows McGill from mistreating its employees, as it is currently.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board