The Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) is the union that represents the 1,500 casual employees at McGill, most of whom are students, and is currently engaged in negotiations with the McGill administration about its collective agreement with the University. On October 20, AMUSE held a special general assembly. 82 per cent of the membership present at the event voted to approve tactics, up to and including a strike, that would pressure the McGill administration to comply with their basic demands. The collective agreement covers the working conditions of all temporary full-time and part-time support employees on campus. In these negotiations, the University must prioritize the rights and livelihoods of AMUSE workers, and meet AMUSE’s core demands.
AMUSE’s current collective agreement expired in April 2015. While the union is in the process of bargaining a new contract with McGill, union members have continued working under the expired agreement, which fails to adequately secure their labour rights. For example, McGill’s Work Study program, designed to provide financial aid, fails to guarantee either employment or minimum wage for students deemed “in need” by the University. According to students who have participated in the Work Study program, hours are often erratic, and students work for more hours than they are paid. Moreover, temporary workers, who fall under AMUSE, are sometimes paid as little as half the wages of their permanent counterparts, and have no guarantee of minimum hours or contract renewal. They receive no health and dental benefits or parental leave, even if they are replacing a permanent employee who received them. Under the current agreement, AMUSE itself is also prevented from gathering important basic information on its members, including the exact membership numbers, which impedes its ability to organize. AMUSE is thus unable to call meetings with all of its members, and to inform its members of the rights they have access to as part of a union – in fact, many are not even aware they belong to AMUSE.
One of the priorities outlined by AMUSE during its assembly meeting was the creation of ID cards for non-student employees. ID cards are necessary to access the buildings in which employees work, and to allow them to use the washroom – two things that non-student employees have had to depend on students and coworkers for. AMUSE is also working towards creating clearer categories for the employees, as unclear job titles and descriptions have led to job casualization, in which employees are being made to perform substantial tasks which are neither listed in their job descriptions, nor adequately compensated in their wages.
SSMU and the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) endorsed AMUSE’s demands last week, calling on the University to pay its workers a living wage of $15 per hour, and to prioritize adequate student employment. AMUSE members are subject to untenable conditions of employment, and the administration needs to acknowledge this and take decisive action to remedy it. We stand in solidarity with AMUSE, and call on the administration to accept their demands in order to improve worker conditions under the organization.