Correction appended, September 1.
On July 27, Quebec’s Ministry of Education announced that McGill’s funding may be further cut for violating provincial Bill 100, which restricts the way in which pay raises can be given in order to combat provincial debt.
According to Bill 100, “no bonus, allowance, premium, compensation or other additional remuneration based on personal performance for either of the fiscal years beginning in 2010 and 2011, may be granted to […] a senior executive or the management personnel in the education network or a university.”
According to the Montreal Gazette, Julie White, spokesperson for Education Minister François Blais, believes that the performance-based bonuses provided to McGill administrative staff in the last five years may have been illegal.
In addition, this June, the Journal de Montréal reported that McGill’s former principal Heather Munroe-Blum allegedly received two years’ worth of paychecks – amounting to more than $750,000 – from McGill after leaving the university in 2013, while being a member of McGill’s faculty on leave, but doing research at Stanford University. Munroe-Blum’s term at McGill was marked by student strikes against an attempted tuition hike and the exacerbation of an already tense relationship between students and administration.
Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), one of the campus unions, has found both of these allegations concerning, especially as McGill continues to face unprecedented budget cuts as part of the provincial austerity measures.
“It’s sad that the Quebec government, which has a reputation as being one of the most corrupt in Canada, has to be the one to call the McGill administration out on its illegal pay raises,” Molly Swain, president of AMUSE, told The Daily.
Swain further explained that it would be concerning for AMUSE, if the allegations about McGill’s decision to continue paying Munroe-Blum for two extra years were true, despite the mass cancellation of Arts courses in the 2013-14 academic year and other austerity measures.
In an email to The Daily, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications, Doug Sweet, responded to the allegations regarding Bill 100 and Munroe-Blum’s post-employment salary. Sweet stated that the administration believes it “[has] been following Bill 100 directives. In a recent meeting with the government, we realized we are using different definitions of terms and therefore more clarification is needed by both parties.”
Regarding Munroe-Blum’s continued pay, Sweet said, “It is normal practice for a senior academic administrator to earn a one-year leave following a five-year term in office. Additionally, faculty members are eligible for the academic retirement program, to which the Principal Emeritus was entitled.”
“In the current economic system, a decent wage is one of the few things that shows an employer’s respect for workers, and the low wages support staff receive show a serious lack of respect from the administration.”
“15 and Fair” campaign
According to Swain, McGill has a history of poor treatment of its faculty and support staff. “[McGill] is, and always has been, a factory for the elite – and the administration [is] very proud of this,” Swain explained.
As an example, Swain pointed to the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA)’s strike in 2011. Notably, during the strike, McGill filed two injunctions against MUNACA, which restricted the union’s picketing ability on campus and around senior administrators’ houses. In addition, there were reports of scab labour – workers going to work despite the strike – though the university was cleared of all charges.
“The administration dismisses, downplays, and ridicules those who try to change things. In the current economic system, a decent wage is one of the few things that shows an employer’s respect for workers, and the low wages support staff receive show a serious lack of respect from the administration,” Swain explained.
According to AMUSE, many of its union members, especially students in the work-study program, are paid at or barely above the provincial minimum wage of $10.55 per hour, which the union does not consider a living wage in 2015.
AMUSE is also part of the 15 and Fair McGill campaign, which calls for a $15 per hour minimum wage on campus. Other unions that are participating in the campaign are the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), McGill’s teaching assistants’ and invigilators’ union AGSEM, McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU), and MUNACA. In addition, the campaign is supported by the McGill Chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG).
One way by which the McGill administration has implemented provincial austerity measures is the institution of a hiring freeze on non-casual positions. According to 15 and Fair McGill’s website, this means that “full-time employees with benefits are slowly being replaced with casual employees with unpredictable hours and little job security.” The effects of these measures are especially drastic for students, coupled with their low wages and student debt, and dramatically decrease the accessibility of education for students in the work-study program.
Swain explained the two options McGill has: “Either the administration must suddenly realize that their pay system is flawed and change it on their own, or we, the workers and support staff who really make the university run, must try to change things and work for a more ethical and fair pay system.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that former Principal Heather Munroe-Blum was paid a salary by Stanford University. In fact, she was a member of McGill’s faculty on leave while doing a research fellowship at Stanford. The Daily regrets the error.