The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met on October 13, where they discussed four notices of motion, including a notice of motion regarding the free menstrual hygiene products policy, a fund referendum question for said policy, the Midnight Kitchen’s existence referendum question, and the creation of Musicians Collective fee.
Three motions were passed, including a motion regarding the amendment of SSMU’s internal regulations of governance, a motion regarding the election of student senators from the Faculty of Medicine and School of Nursing, and a motion to support the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE)’s collective bargaining efforts.
Council also heard a presentation on SSMU’s 2015-2016 audited financial statements and a presentation regarding representation on McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG).
McGill BoG Representation
SSMU Alternative and Equitable Governance Researcher Leslie Anne St. Amour presented a report concerning representation on the BoG., focusing on student representation, the appointment of members at large, and lack of transparency at BoG meetings.
The BoG has 25 voting members, 12 of whom are members at large from the community, St. Amour explained. There are two student seats on the BoG, one representing SSMU and one representing the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS).
Members at large are nominated to the Board and approved by a committee, she said, but the criteria used to approve them is not known to the public. Unlike many other universities, McGill does not have public applications to become a member at large.
St. Amour also discussed the lack of transparency at BoG meetings. “In terms of accountability and transparency, so much of what the Board of Governors does is done during closed sessions where interested students and community members can’t witness that decision,” she said, “and that can lead to a lot of lack of understanding and cynicism.”
She further highlighted that a few other universities across Canada have strict consultation protocols with students on decisions that impact students directly, but McGill limits the students’ role in decision making.
St. Amour made several recommendations in line with her findings. She recommended that the board look into developing consultation with students, and make procedural changes addressing how much happens during closed sessions of BoG meetings and tracking how members vote. She also suggested the Board create an open forum and question period at meetings so students’ voices will be heard.
A fee for menstrual hygiene products
Council discussed two notices of motion regarding the potential adoption of a policy that would provide free menstrual hygiene products, including pads and tampons, and approving a referendum question that would ask students to support the creation of a non-opt-outable fee of $1.68 per semester per student to supply said products.
These products would be provided across campus in Healthy McGill kiosks and in both gendered and neutral gender bathrooms, SSMU VP Student Life Elaine Patterson and SSMU President Ben Ger explained.
There were concerns regarding what would happen with surplus funding if only a portion of the products were used: “The original idea is that if there is a surplus in the fund we would use it to purchase alternative [menstrual] products,” Patterson explained. “In terms of the fund continuing to build up, I don’t believe any provisions have been made but we can certainly look into that in editing this motion.”
Debate over supporting AMUSE
A motion was brought to support AMUSE’s collective bargaining efforts. Currently, AMUSE is engaged in the bargaining process for a new collective agreement with the University.
Over 50 per cent of AMUSE employees work for minimum wage, which is $10.85 per hour.* According to the motion, independent research has found that the average living wage in Montreal is $15.38 per hour.
AMUSE President Claire Michela spoke to Council regarding AMUSE’s bargaining demands, which include “equal treatment [and] respect for casual workers, including hiring priority for jobs you’ve already done,” accurate job descriptions and wages, stable jobs, a $15 minimum wage, and a better online job posting system as well as more student input for work study jobs.
The motion spurred debate regarding the demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage and hiring priority.
Last year, SSMU didn’t take a formal position on the 15 and Fair McGill campaign, which seeks a minimum wage of $15 per hour for all workers at McGill. Senate Caucus representative Joshua Chin raised concerns, saying “last meeting at Council, I asked specifically why SSMU cannot endorse the 15 and Fair Campaign […] and the answer I got was that because SSMU itself is not able to pay their employees a minimum of $15 an hour.”
“Given that now we’re presented with this motion to endorse AMUSE bargaining positions, is this not kind of counterintuitive, [since SSMU did not endorse 15 and Fair] and would this not also detract from the bargaining itself?” he asked.
Many councilors noted that SSMU, unlike McGill, does not have the budget to pay its employees a minimum wage of $15 per hour. This is largely because much of SSMU’s budget goes to paying rent to the University and the failure to raise the base fee last year.
“We keep making comparisons to SSMU not being able to pay its workers $15. McGill is not SSMU. McGill has money […] McGill has a responsibility to pay its workers the minimum wage. That’s not an argument,” Environment representative Tuviere Okome said in support of the motion.
SSMU VP University Affairs Erin Sobat noted that SSMU could look into adopting a $15 minimum wage for its employees if Council wanted it to be explored further.
Engineering representative Richard (Tre) Mansdoerfer raised concerns regarding the demand for hiring priority. “I […] feel very uncomfortable supporting appendix number one [which outlined hiring priority for applicants that had already held the same job] because I feel this really does propose a barrier for a lot of members.”
AMUSE employees who are students are limited by the government to performing the same job for three semesters. However, Michela said, many AMUSE employees are doing work study jobs, which essentially act as financial aid, and are often not rehired after one semester. If they are not re-hired for the same job – which, according to Michela, is a common occurrence – that reduces their chances of having a steady income.
Council voted to approve the motion regarding support for AMUSE collective bargaining with one abstentions and two against.
*The Quebec minimum wage is $10.75 per hour, however, AMUSE employee’s minimum wage is $10.85 per hour.