At the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council meeting on October 8, councillors and departmental representatives passed a motion to endorse a union drive by the Association for Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), McGill’s labour union for teaching assistants and invigilators, and another motion on universal public transit passes for students. Council also discussed a joint statement on student aid by PGSS and other student associations.
Support for AGSEM union drive
During the announcements period, AGSEM president Justin Irwin told Council that the union was seeking to expand membership to teaching support workers doing similar work to post-graduate teaching assistants (TAs). Isabel Harvey, History and Classics Graduate Student Association representative, put forward a motion for PGSS to endorse the union drive.
Irwin explained that teaching support workers, such as graders, markers, tutors, notetakers, and course assistants, are not currently unionized, meaning that these employees must represent themselves if labour disputes arise.
AGSEM also hopes to introduce equitable pay conditions for teaching support workers. “Essentially, people in these positions […] do very similar work to graduate TAs,” said Irwin. “While they’re doing very similar work, and oftentimes identical work, especially in the case of undergrads working these jobs, they’re being paid very different sums of money.”
Irwin added, “We’ve spoken to plenty of people working as graders or as undergraduate TAs who are basically paid minimum wage for something I can be paid $15 more an hour to do.”
A departmental representative asked Harvey to explain whether higher salaries for undergraduate teaching support workers would have repercussions on the wages of post-graduate TAs.
“We don’t have a way of knowing exactly what the effects will be. But it is quite clear that these types of students are necessary to the functioning of McGill,” responded Harvey. “[TAs are] not just hired for fun, the[se] are necessary positions, and as such it is likely that the[se] would be carried forward.”
The motion to endorse AGSEM’s union drive passed with a large majority, but with several abstentions.
Universal public transit pass for students
The PGSS executive moved to create a student card which would serve as both a McGill identity card and a reduced-rate public OPUS card, in partnership with Je Vois Montréal, a movement that aims to stimulate development in the city.
“It will be like a new universal pass: it will be a student ID pass, on top of that it will serve as a public transit pass, [and] as a rebate coupon,” said PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet. “It’s basically like Montreal’s student master card.”
The proposed transit pass generated particular interest among PGSS Council members and departmental delegates because it would be made available to all McGill students, regardless of age. As it stands, students over 25 years old are not eligible for reduced fare in public transportation in Montreal.
“What we want to push is [for] graduate students who are over the age of 25, [to] have the same rebate on the fee,” Ouellet explained.
All delegates who spoke to the issue expressed their support for the motion, and the only questions raised related to points of clarification. The motion passed with an overwhelming majority.
Memoir on student aid
In cooperation with a number of other Quebec student associations, PGSS co-signed a memoir on student aid in September, which was presented to the Commission d’examen sur la fiscalité québécoise, an agency that reviews tax expenditures within Quebec.
The memoir recommends that tax credits to student savings accounts be cut and that the savings be funnelled into direct student aid instead. Co-signing student associations argue that the current tax credit system only benefits middle-class students and does not promote access to higher education.
However, former PGSS president Jonathan Mooney raised the concern that, if the student aid memoir is adopted, international students – who can seldom access provincial aid – will feel the pinch.
“This is a very, very complicated issue that we’ve been working on. Unfortunately, [though] it is true that 90 per cent of this memoir is good for our students, 10 per cent could be affected,” said Ouellet.
Referring to the recommendation that affects international students, Ouellet admitted that it was “a bit controversial.”
“[The recommendation] allocates about $48 million, take[n] away from the tax that you get from tuition and student fees, and puts it into bursaries and scholarships. According to the equation that Jonathan [Mooney] and I made, about $15 million of that money could potentially go to international students if they know about this program, and meet certain criteria, and if they choose to stay in Quebec.”
“I want to make it clear to international students that we’re not abandoning them,” he continued.
During his statement, Ouellet emphasized that the PGSS External Affairs Committee was also working on getting access to provincial health care plans for international students. However, he admitted that if the memoir on student aid is adopted, he was unaware of how many international students it would impact.
“[We] still don’t have the information to know how many of our international students will be affected.”