McGill’s teaching assistants (TAs) will be on strike on April 16, the first day of final exams, to put pressure on the University and express their disappointment with the lack of progress in negotiations, ongoing since the TAs’ collective agreement expired in June 2014. A vote to that effect passed at the April 7 General Assembly (GA) of AGSEM, their union, by a margin of 129 to 68.
Although the organizational details of the strike were left to the discretion of a newly formed strike committee, the GA did vote to hold a ‘soft’ picket line, meaning that individuals will be discouraged, but not prevented, from crossing it. Invigilators, also unionized under AGSEM as a separate bargaining unit, have the legal right to refuse to cross a picket line preventing access to an examination location.
“It was great to see this many people out, and have an actual debate with so much of the membership about what McGill has offered and how we respond,” said AGSEM Mobilization Committee Chair Mona Luxion, speaking as an AGSEM member. “I think it’s going to take a lot more than this to get major concessions from McGill, but […] I really see this as the first step in an ongoing process.”
The TAs’ current bargaining priorities are a wage increase and the codification of a limit on TA-to-student ratios. McGill countered the TAs’ demand for a 5 per cent yearly wage increase with an offer of an increase equal to that of the Quebec public service workers, with a one-year lag. As the public service workers’ agreement is currently in negotiations, the amount is as of yet undefined.
According to AGSEM TA Bargaining Committee Chair Giulia Alberini, the administration has staunchly refused to compromise on the TA-to-student ratios, as well as on the TAs’ other demands, such as a new harassment-related grievance resolution policy. The last two bargaining sessions were held in the presence of a mediating conciliator, and at least one more session is planned in the coming days.
“What I think is absolutely clear from this meeting is that the membership is really disappointed in what McGill has offered,” said Luxion. “I think that a visible action, especially one that is a strike and does have a real disruptive effect on McGill and in TAs’ lives, is going to start a lot of conversations […] and I think this is the perfect time to do it – while we’re talking about austerity across the province.”