On Monday, January 9, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) voted in favour of ratifying a new collective agreement drafted by the union to address the need for better and more equitable pay and labour conditions for many on-campus jobs. AMUSE represents many student and non-student employees, all of whom occupy temporary or ‘casual’ labour positions at McGill. These employees are perhaps the most susceptible to an infringement of workplace rights by the University. The vote passed with an 84 per cent majority, and while the content of the proposed agreement was not perfect, significant progress was made in gaining fairer working conditions and wages for employees. This is a victory. However, within the same week, the Human Resources subcommittee of the McGill Board of Governors rejected the agreement they had arrived at with AMUSE’s bargaining team on the matter of Floor Fellow negotiations, which included agreements on the establishment of a salary for floor fellows. In the face of tumultuous relations between AMUSE and McGill administration, it is crucial that non-AMUSE students, staff, and community members actively support the union’s demands and initiatives, and work to recognise the obstacles faced by AMUSE in gaining employment equity.
However, opposition from the University is not the only challenge AMUSE has had to face. For instance, during the general strike, which took place last semester between October 21 and 25, demonstrations held just outside campus had their visibility considerably reduced by construction in the vicinity. Additionally, short term contracts for AMUSE members have made it virtually impossible for the union to keep track of its membership, and to communicate with them in order to organize an effective movement. Moreover, last fall’s Edward Snowden lecture was a testament to how quickly the student body can turn against a union strike when that strike appears to inconvenience them. The delays of entry, which were aggressively blamed on the AMUSE picketing, were actually caused by the choices of McGill security and the organizers themselves. Students at the Snowden event were not simply annoyed – some even threatened violence, and many were quick to voice their distaste for worker’s rights. The prevailing feeling that night was that personal inconveniences shouldn’t be tolerated in any capacity, not even when one of the largest unions on campus is attempting to fight for their rights.
This hostility must be left in the past – there is no space for it, nor for apathy, at the negotiation table among AMUSE, the University, and the non-AMUSE campus community. There is a role for non-AMUSE members in the forthcoming stage of the union’s struggle. This role is one of support and solidarity, one that allows for a greater movement towards employment equity at this university. Although it may not seem significant, the solidarity of non-AMUSE McGill staff and students is key in, firstly, boosting morale among AMUSE employees during negotiation and demonstration, and secondly, pressuring the University to meet the union’s demands for greater rights. As AMUSE president Claire Michela said to The Daily: “We’ve gotten stronger as a union and the biggest challenge that we face will be continuing to grow. With short term contracts we are precarious both individually and as a union. I believe that we will continue to overcome that challenge as we continue to fight for our rights through pay equity.”