The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) has recently begun a campaign to unionize all teaching support staff that are not currently unionized. This includes graders, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants.
According to Benjamin Elgie, AGSEM Teaching Assistant (TA) Bargaining Chair and Daily Publications Society Chair, the campaign stems from a growing need for union protection of currently non-unionized teaching support staff.
“Graders and tutors have both seen greatly increased use,” Elgie wrote to The Daily in an email, “but while they do very similar jobs as TAs, they get paid quite a lot less, and enjoy none of our protections in terms of hiring, leave, the ability to file grievances, etc.”
Over the past several years, TAs have seen increases in their salaries, and a decrease in the amount of work they do. Elgie noted that it was possible that the increased use of graders and tutors, along with the decreased use of TAs for doing almost the same job, may be the University’s way of decreasing the amount that it pays its employees.
According to Elgie, AGSEM had made two previous attempts to include graders in their union: first in 2001, and then again in 2008, when invigilators were added.
“But because the original 1993 unionization drive had excluded graders, the province ruled against us,” Elgie told The Daily in an email. Currently, AGSEM represents only invigilators and TAs.
“Unions can only officially bargain on behalf of those bargaining units (groups of employees such as ‘graduate Teaching Assistants’ or ‘casual non-academic employees’) for which they have been legally accredited,” AGSEM Invigilator Grievance Officer Jamie Burnett told The Daily in an email.
To represent these positions, AGSEM must apply to a provincial labour board to become accredited as a union that represents the currently non-unionized teaching staff. This means it must receive membership forms from at least 50 per cent of each employee group it hopes to represent, or, if it wins a union election, between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in order to prove that their bargaining is in the interests of the employee groups in question.
AGSEM also hopes to reach out to the undergraduate teaching staff, a population that has grown significantly since 1993. As of now, this would be against its collective agreement, which states that TAs are graduate students.
“But [the exclusion of undergraduate teaching staff] comes from 1993,” said Elgie, “when it was extremely rare for undergrads at McGill or elsewhere to work as TAs. The practice is much more common now. And again, undergraduate course assistants/TAs lack union protections, are paid much less for doing the same work, etc.”
Though the campaign only recently became public, it has already garnered support from various groups.
“We’re planning on unionizing teaching support staff as a unit of AGSEM,” Elgie told The Daily. “At the moment that means we’re working on this project ourselves, but we’ve had some unofficial indicators of support from some campus groups, and we’ll be receiving assistance from our affiliate the Confederation of National Trade Unions.”
As AGSEM’s campaign will be completely public, affected employee groups will have many opportunities to determine whether or not they would like to be unionized under AGSEM.
“We chose to make the campaign public partly because we think it will make it a lot easier to reach potential members,” said Burnett, “but we also think that it gives teaching support employees a clearer, fairer choice about whether or not they would like to be represented by AGSEM.”